Home (Alone) for the Holidays

IMG_2299I have a ridiculous, impossibly adorable two year old daughter. I spend Christmas Day without her. It’s reserved for her father. It’s the only day each year that his entire extended family gets together. It’s Emmy’s chance to see her paternal second cousins, great grandparents and such, much less all of them in one place. Because of that, our custody arrangement sets forth that Dad will have Emmy Christmas Days, indefinitely. I insisted on this, over Dad’s assurance that he was, in fact, willing to alternate it with me. (Even though things didn’t work out between us, he’s a really awesome guy like that.) I have no quarrel with the arrangement, though, because Emmy needs to spend time with her whole family. It’s a good thing for her.

But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s heartbreaking for me. On Christmas morning, I’ll barely have time to feed and clothe her before she goes to her Dad’s. And then I’m alone. Last year was the first that I didn’t spend Christmas with Emmy. Luckily, I had pneumonia and a collapsing lung, so I didn’t really have the wherewithal to process the loneliness. Spending the day by myself on the sofa, under a down comforter was great! But assuming my health holds this year, I’m staring down the barrel of Christmas Day, the quintessential family holiday, without Emmy. I’ll drop her off and come home to…I don’t even know. I have options. I have family on the Northshore. I have friends that I can visit. And I have my faithful bulldog, who will happily snuggle in for popcorn, champagne and a Christmas Story marathon.

It can be nice having a break from parenting on a major holiday. I can wear a dress that’s dry clean only, because there will be no slobbery chocolate milk and sugar cookie kisses. I don’t have to be home for bedtime. I can take a cab, because I won’t need a carseat. I can stay home and bask in the silence of my house. I can work in a 10+ mile run for that upcoming half marathon I’ve been ignoring.  No offense to my family, Argos, or my friends, none of this fills the emptiness, the gash in my heart, that I suffer whenever Emmy isn’t around on days like this. I think most parents agree, the longer you are separated from your child, the more you look forward to going back home to her, to confirming that she’s sleeping safely in her bed. No matter what I do for Christmas, Emmy’s bedroom will be empty.

Everything that’s great about unattached adulthood flies out the window when you know what you’re missing — and I think that’s exponentially true during the holidays. As Emmy gets older, the excitement of the holiday season is going to build for her, an experience for which I’ll only be partially present. I think all parents hope the time they spend with their children is meaningful, and I think that when you know ahead of time that you won’t be around for some milestone event, there’s a need to recapture what you know you’re losing, however you can.

Emmy will have Christmas Day — just not with me. And so I have to construct our own holiday traditions, something that she and I Christmas Bulldogcan recreate for years, so that Christmas stays meaningful for us even if we never celebrate the culminating event together. I don’t want to overcompensate for my absence with the Best Christmas Experience Ever: never-ending parties and ponies and a boatload of presents. I want rituals and events that allow us to enjoy the spirit of the season. I’m fortunate that there are so many options in New Orleans, so many events that allow us to create Christmas memories outside the 24-hour timeframe arbitrarily designated as “Christmas Day.”

My goal is to build traditions for her that we can celebrate every year, regardless of the schedule of the rest of the world. This year, we are trying out the Teddy Bear Tea at the Roosevelt Hotel, and the Celebration in the Oaks Run. If one or both of these work out, maybe they become the foundation of “our” Christmas. Nothing too crazy, but something that she can I can look forward to doing together, until she outgrows it or refuses to be seen in public with me. At the very least, something fulfilling enough that being childless on Christmas Day won’t distract me from the spirit of the season, when it matters most.

 About Kat Rito


Kat first moved to New Orleans in 2000, to attend Newcomb College at Tulane University. Despite her best efforts, she could never bring herself to leave New Orleans, staying at Tulane for law school, and then returning to establish her career here as a corporate/defense litigator after practicing law for two years in Lafayette, Louisiana. Kat’s here for good now, having cemented her roots in the city as mother to Emmy, a NOLA girl through and through. Kat co-parents Emmy with her father, but shares in-house parenting duties with her sister Sarah (a pediatric resident — how lucky is that?) and Argos, the best American Bulldog ever.


  1. it seems empty, but i wish a merry christmas to you. I believe in Santa Claus like i believe in love. i hope you enjoy the 24th and 26th all the more. thanks for sharing this.

    • Thanks, Sally! We will have Santa, and a really awesome family and network of friends, so something’s bound to work out. Merry Christmas to you and yours, as well!

  2. Dear home alone for the holidays,

    Thanks for sharing your story. It has touched my heart and placed a drive for me to strive to fix my marriage. My husband and I have been married for 7years with no infidelity issues only communication. I must work a littler harder at listening versus being heard so that I may repair this marriage. It breaks my heart when we have to split her up on weekends but as the holidays approach it’s becoming harder for me. I love him But we both weren’t being heard so we decided to separate and have been for the past five months. Thanks for touching my heart and confirming what I need to do to bring my family back together.

  3. Thank you for this, I have an amazing 2 year old and his father and I are having problems. This makes me want to work harder to get along so we don’t have to alternate holidays etc.

  4. This must be so hard. Hopefully as time passes you’ll find your own groove. My inlaws only celebrate on Christmas Eve, which is weird for me- Santa comes to their house while they are at church. My husband says he has to start early to make it all around the globe! It’s very strange but that could work for you and it’s probably ok that Santa would leave her a little something at your house too, right? I don’t know how that works- does one parent get the whole Santa experience when mom and dad don’t live together? Also maybe you could develop a tradition of your own like volunteering somewhere on Christmas Day, maybe in a hospital with non-contagious patients. Merry Christmas!

  5. Since this post went up, it’s amazing how many people I’ve heard from, here, on Facebook and in person, who are going through this as well–or working to save relationships so they never have to go through it… It’s definitely tough, and you and all your families are in my thoughts and prayers!

    I have NO idea how presents and Santa will ultimately work out… We have a reprieve insofar as (1) Emmy is so little, and won’t remember the next year or so very well; and (2) she’s terrified of Santa and does NOT want him anywhere near our house. I think it will be something along the lines of Santa maybe doing something little over here, then most of it being at her Dad’s… If I have the excitement of getting her to bed, he should get the excitement of “Oh, boy! It’s FINALLY Christmas morning!” It’ll definitely be trial and error as far as working our transfer timing down.. We shall see. I don’t think we will have any issues even if all her Santa presents are primarily at Dad’s place, because Emmy’s clothes, toys, etc., travel with her as she pleases… We view all of Emmy’s things as _hers_, no matter who bought it, and she is free to take a toy, article of clothing, etc., whereever she wants. Maybe that might be problematic when she’s older, but we can figure something out…

    UPDATE: Em’s Dad has given up part of his standard weekend time with Emmy so I can bring her to my parent’s house for a “Cajun Christmas” this weekend. That might be how things work out too–I bring her to my parents’ place for a full weekend, and we do “our” Christmas there? I’m sure my Dad and brother can rig up a Christmas alligator or something (*ahem* Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, get on it!)

    And I guess that’s where we come full circle on Christmas being about love, forgiveness and family… Her Dad is making a huge sacrifice on his time with her, for her and my family. When we were coordinating the next few weeks via e-mail, he offered to let me take her, coupled with the promise that he will always do everything he can to encourage Emmy to spend time where I grew up, and to let her see my parents and kid brother as much as she can. I know, especially with all the fun things to do this holiday season, that it’s hard for him not having her on his expected time, but I think it does go to show, no matter how things work out in any family dynamic, things can still work out really, really well, in the big scheme of things.

  6. You have a great daughter. I have three daughters. I also miss them when I travel. I hope all will be fine with your family.

    • Based on your comment above, I’m glad things have worked out between you, Emmy, and her Dad. As for my children, they were very happy to learn that their going to ride a plane for our summer vacation to Manila. Even though they’re cheap flights, but we’re going there together.

  7. Hey there- thanks for sharing your vulnerability. I just wanted to share with you what I do with my three kids now. I’ve been single for nearly 5 years, and at some point my counselor had suggested that I pick a different day to celebrate. So the past two years we have made the 24th our Christmas Day. And it’s been so awesome. We are having our own special celebration when everyone else is still stressing, gone is the loneliness of Christmas Day for me when I’m alone… The emotional charge of the aloneness has been removed. I’d suggest maybe giving it a shot. My kids love it. 🙂
    Blessings over you and your girl.


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