Fatherhood and Finances: Hardship During the Holiday Season

There are no doubts about it; this year has been extremely difficult for many Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the U.S. economy and has led to an unemployment rate of 6.7% in November, with approximately 5.64 million men facing unemployment in November 2020.

What can you do if you’re one of the millions of men facing financial hardships during the holiday season? How can you mentally prepare yourself for the upcoming holiday?

Accept Reality as It Is

The truth is, being a father who’s unable to buy his family gifts for Christmas is a situation that feels awful. How could it not? When you’re family is looking to you to help provide an “authentic” holiday experience, how else are you supposed to feel when you have to tell them that it’s not going to happen this year.

The first step to addressing these feelings of guilt and inadequacy is to accept reality for what it is: the pandemic has affected the economy and now money is tight. It’s not exactly something you can control, is it?

What you can control, however, is how you respond to this situation. Rather than getting wrapped up in these feelings of guilt, you have the opportunity to choose a different way to react; a more productive way that can still allow for some holiday celebrations.

What to Do When Money’s Tight

There are several things that you can do to help keep this holiday season enjoyable for the family, even during financial hardships:

  1. Prioritize your holiday – Who or what do you need to spend money on this year for the holiday? Who is most important to you during this time? Are there any traditions that you aren’t willing to give up? Ask yourself these questions before moving forward.
  2. Create a budget – Decide what spending to prioritize and then create a budget. From there, consider your budget sacred and inviolable!
  3. Forget about the gifts – The holiday season is supposed to be about spending time with the ones you love, isn’t it? Forget about stressing over buying gifts and instead prioritize activities that can be done as a family. This season provides an excellent opportunity to teach children about the true meaning of the holidays.
  4. Be creative! – Coming up with creative, low-cost (or even free) gifts for your family can be a bit tricky, but it can also be more meaningful—especially if the gift is your time or is handmade. Taking your child on a father/child outing can be the gift that creates memories that last a lifetime.


Facing down financial hardships, while undoubtedly difficult, does not have to create a terrible holiday situation for you or your family. Yes, you will have to be honest with yourself and your family about the situation. Yes, you may have to sacrifice certain time-honored traditions, too. In the end, accepting the reality of the situation and using a little creativity can still allow you to make the holiday season one of joy for you and your family.

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Dad’s Holiday Blues

The holiday season is usually thought of as a time of joy and thanksgiving; of gathering with family and friends to revel and give gifts to one another while enjoying delicious food and drink. For others, the holiday season is a time of sadness, loneliness, and pain.

The “holiday blues” are feelings of sadness and anxiety that usually last throughout the holiday season during November and December, and while not as serious as conditions such as clinical depression, the holiday blues can exacerbate the depression and anxiety that you are already experiencing. This time of the year can be difficult for men—especially African American men—who often feel that sharing their feelings with loved ones would not be the manly thing to do.

So, what can men do to improve their mental health during the holidays when there are already so many challenges to face? What can loved ones do when the men in their lives are having a difficult time regulating their emotions?

Understand the Signs

Understanding how men are affected by depression is the first step in learning to cope with it. Different men experience different symptoms, but there are usually a handful of symptoms common among men suffering from depression. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Anger or irritability; aggression
  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety, restlessness
  • Self-medication with alcohol or drugs
  • Isolation from family and/or friends
  • Loss of interest in work, family, hobbies, and other activities once considered pleasurable

Knowing what symptoms to look for is only half the battle. The next thing that must be done is taking the steps needed to cope with these feelings in a healthy, safe, and effective manner. So, what is there to do to alleviate these symptoms during the holidays?

How to Cope

There are many ways for men to keep the holiday blues at bay and you may be surprised at how simple these methods are:

  1. Speak with a therapist, even if you don’t think your symptoms are extreme. Avoiding the conversations that will allow you to process your feelings and regulate your emotions will only make things worse.
  2. Avoid isolating yourself. Even if you don’t have family to celebrate the holidays with, it’s important to find ways to enjoy your social connections—don’t be afraid to reach out.
  3. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and will only make things worse, so limit your consumption to one or two drinks and at social functions only.
  4. Get some exercise. You don’t have to go hardcore every day, but even just one hour a week can help

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to get you on the right track.


The holiday season isn’t always easy to get through, and for men, it can sometimes feel unbearable experiencing a mental health crisis—especially when they’re taught to “grin and bear it.” Instead, we should strive to be open and honest about the way we feel.

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