4 Tips to Enjoy Your Childless Christmas

clock strikes midnight

For many childless women, the best day of Christmas is the 26 December… when it’s all over again for another year!

Having worked with hundreds of childless women face-to-face, and thousands of women online over the last few years, the topic of ‘coping with Christmas’ is never far below the surface, and once summer is over it looms on the horizon like a troubling iceberg. Although each woman’s situation is different, similar feelings consistently arise about the upcoming holidays: fear, shame, loneliness, isolation, stress, secrets, pressure, exposure, dread, sadness, anger…

I’ve come to think that Christmas is, in many ways, the perfect storm for childless women – four winds that together to combine the perfect storm. 

misteltoe

1. A dark internal world of difficult thoughts and feelings

Some of the really difficult feelings that come up around Christmas-time are some of the hardest human emotions to deal with – feelings of worthlessness, inferiority, anger, loneliness, futility, isolation and depression. At a time when everyone else seems to be getting into the holiday spirit, feelings like this can make us feel like freaks. However, what these feelings may point to is not that you are a miserable old humbug but that you are grieving.  Because we live in a culture that neither recognises nor acknowledges the right of childless women to grieve, we often don’t realise ourselves that that’s what’s going on. Imagine this: if you had lost your children through a tragic accident, nobody (including yourself) would expect you to be able to join in the Christmas celebrations until you had fully grieved your shocking loss. And, frankly, nobody (including yourself) would ever expect Christmas to be slam-dunk easy for you. Our children are, or were, real to us. And we grieve their absence.

What could you do differently this year to manage your grief?

  • Show yourself the compassion you deserve, rather than beating yourself up for being the ‘difficult one’, or giving yourself a hard time for not ‘getting over it yet.’ Whether you’re still hopeful of having a family, or are reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that it’s not to be,  you need to allow space for the incredibly complex feelings that arise at this time of year. Honour your depth, don’t deny it; it’s OK that it’s tough. You’re human. Try to let your feelings wash through you and over you, like a cleansing shower. If you’ve ever watched a small child processing emotion you’ll see that they can go from happy to sad to bored to joyful to angry and back to happy in a couple of minutes!  It’s the way us grown-ups ‘hang on’ to our feelings, that causes the trouble – not the emotions themselves. Acknowledge them to yourself, feel them, and let them go on their way without needing to make them ‘mean’ too much, and you may find that your internal weather gets a lot smoother.

your opinion

2. Dealing with other people’s opinions and comments

Although mothers and others don’t mean to hurt our feelings or insult our intelligence, they often manage to do so anyway! At Christmas, when everyone’s walking on eggshells around the subject of our childlessness, the opportunities for awkwardness and upset are magnified.  We’re all fairly used to the ‘have you thought of adoption / IVF / doing it on your own / just relaxing / internet dating’ or any of the other stock suggestions that get floated past us with relentless regularity. This year we also have ‘egg freezing’ (experimental, expensive and usually fails) and ‘womb transplants’ (experimental and not a ‘fertility option’) to add to the list of impossible things that may be suggested, so have your answers ready! However, additionally at Christmas we may also have to deal with the lecherous uncle who nudges you and your partner as he says ‘your turn soon’, as well as our parents perhaps taking us to one side to tell us that it’s ‘best we don’t talk about it in front of [insert name here] in case it upsets them’, or perhaps coming up with the sterling idea that we sleep in the outhouse so that our sibling’s children can sleep in ‘our’ bed! Add to these the assumptions made by harried peers who are parents that our childless life is a breeze – What do you do with all that time! – and that perhaps it’d be ‘better not’ to leave us with the children because we’re ‘not used to them’ and you’re all set for a disastrous conversation or two! And that’s even before you add alcohol…

What could you do differently this year to handle those awkward conversations about your childlessness?

  • Don’t expect anyone to read your mind! If you keep your childlessness off-limits for conversation, it’s bound to lead to misunderstandings. Although it sounds scary, being more open about your situation could dispel a lot of myths and defuse some tension.
  • However, a word of warning: if you’re not used to talking about your situation (ie: if you haven’t had a chance to do your grief work yet), your family this Christmas is probably not the perfect place to choose to open up. It might work, but there again, it might blow the roof off. Uncorking your pent-up emotions in the supportive company of other childless women first might be less stressful.
  • Think about forwarding this article, or another GW article to your mother or whoever it is you need to understand better how hard this is for you. Sometimes hearing it from a ‘third party’ can be what others need before they can really begin to understand that it’s not just ‘you being difficult’ or ‘oversensitive’. You might like to set up a ‘new’ tradition which is that one year people come to you, one year you go to them. Unless we tell our family how hard it is never to be the ‘hostess’ because we don’t have children, many of them have no idea!

Some helpful resources for getting more comfortable talking about your childlessness:

really-its-my-pleasure

3. Happy Christmas = Happy Families

Let’s cut to the chase: Christmas is the ultimate ‘miracle baby story’! It’s a celebration of birth, of motherhood, of a child who didn’t just change his mother’s life, he changed the whole world! It’s a whole holiday guaranteed to push our buttons. Add to this the relentless media focus on mothers, children and happy families in the TV adverts, and the cultural and community focus on togetherness, and it can be really hard to bear. Also, for those of us who want or wanted to be mothers, we may have spent many Christmases thinking, ‘one day I’ll be able to do this with my own children’. However, as the years of hope and disappoint mount up, our delight may sour into bitterness, and we become negative and dismissive of Christmas, and its rituals. We become the Bah, Humbug! killjoy. And that too can feel like yet another loss that we have to cope with: the loss of that part of us who loved and enjoyed Christmas.  It’s also worth remembering that the whole media ‘happy family’ frenzy is a cultural mirage, projected large on every screen to make everyone feel that they’ve got something to live up to (and buy their way into).  It’s all smoke and mirrors and we can choose to see past it if we want too. It’s not real and January 2nd is the biggest day in the divorce lawyer’s calendar…

What could you do differently this year to enter into the Christmas spirit?

  • Whether we have children or not, Christmas is a celebration for all of us. To deny ourselves Christmas is a way of punishing ourselves for being ‘defective’. No one can make us feel like oddballs without our own permission! Whilst you may not be able to join in all the celebrations with the required amount of gusto, choose a few and see if you can throw yourself into it. Life is hard enough without us denying ourselves the chance to spend intimate time with our family and friends.
  • Could we perhaps take the risk of giving ourself a break from our ‘story’ as the ‘childless one’ just for a couple of hours, or even a whole day? Could it perhaps be a gift that we give to our family and friends that we open our heart and laugh with them again for one day, rather than skulking around and cutting them out of our lives? I realise that this may be a tough call for some of us – it really depends where you’re at with your grief and I wouldn’t suggest this for everyone.  I couldn’t have done it ten years ago, or even five years ago. But now, bring on the silly hats!

Some helpful resources for getting into the Christmas spirit (and recovering from doing so!)

fortunately prozac

4. High pressure family celebrations

Perhaps the part of Christmas that seems to bring up the most fear and anxiety for us is the prospect of attending our family celebration as ‘the childless one’. It’s such an incredibly public display of our difference and many of us build ourselves up into a frenzy of anticipation of how this will appear, and how we’ll feel on the day. If we’re single and childless, the only roles open to us seem to be either the cautionary tale of ‘how not to screw up your life’, or the ‘fun’ aunt.  It’s a day when we may have to watch our siblings enjoy and tussle with parenthood, and it can feel like we have somehow been personally selected by the universe to be the joker. Some of us dread seeing the sadness in our parent’s eyes, and feeling that we’ve somehow let them down by not giving them grandchildren. Others dread the casual and subtle denigration that childless (and particularly single & childless) women face, like being given the worst seat at the table, or being expected to do all the chores so that the ‘parents’ can have a rest. Add to this powder-keg situation lashings of alcohol, the usual ‘family buttons’, rich food, not enough sleep and being away from home… and it’s hardly surprising that Christmas starts to feel more like a swear word than a celebration.

What could you do differently this year to cope better with any ‘family’ celebrations?

  • Perhaps the most important thing you can do differently this year is to understand why it’s so hard for you, and to both make allowances for that and plan for it. Don’t set yourself up to fail by expecting it to magically just ‘be easier’ this year. That’s about as sensible as asking Santa to sort it for you. Know your limits, and if possible get your coping strategies in place before Christmas.
  • Make contact with another Gateway Woman via the private GW+ Online Community and get a date in the diary to meet up during/after the holidays.  If you feel like you’re about to lose it when you’re with your family, instead of being a martyr to your feelings and your situation, get some fresh air and take the dog for a walk. If you don’t have a dog, arrange to borrow one or invent one! The main thing is to have a strategy, get support, and be proactive about taking care of yourself.

Some helpful resources for getting your Christmas strategy in place BEFORE you need it!

Join the GW+ private online community and make some online friendships with women that you can be in touch with over Christmas. You can access the GW+ Community (once you’re a member) from a smartphone, so it’s perfect for a sanity check in the bathroom or car to keep you on track during difficult moments. Don’t leave joining until Christmas Day as we have to ID check all members to keep the Community as safe and confidential as possible and neither myself nor our wonderful Community Manager Helen B. will be working on Christmas Day.

I do hope that these ideas help you to plan a more peaceful Christmas this year, one that you can look forward to and enjoy, rather than dread and endure. It takes courage to speak out and ask for what you want and need, but expecting others to read our minds is guaranteed to fail! Do share your tips in the comments below. Sisters, let’s #ReclaimChristmas!

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Click here for a list of all currently scheduled Gateway Women workshops

And if you love Anne Taintor’s visual humour as much as I do, visit her store here to cheer yourself up with some deeply sarcastic Christmas humour!
http://www.annetaintor.com/

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Photo of Jody Day, Founder of Gateway Women (UK)

Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women and the author of #1 Amazon best-seller ‘Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children’ . She set up Gateway Women in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women (like herself) as they develop meaningful and fulfilling lives without children. Jody runs private sessionsworkshops and retreats for women coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them as well as private meetup groups in the UK & Ireland, Europe, USA, Canada, Australia,  NZ and South Africa as well as thriving private online community.  She speaks regularly in public, in the media and online about issues and prejudices facing childless women in our society today and is becoming known as ‘the voice of the childless generation’. 

About Jody 81 Articles
Jody Day is a British author, trainee integrative psychotherapist and the founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. She’s a founding member at AWOC.org (Ageing without Children) and a former Fellow in Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. She's the author of 2016’s 'Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children' (Bluebird/PanMacmillan). Gateway Women hosts online communities, workshops, retreats, courses, social events and private sessions for childless-not-by-choice women. Jody lives alone in London with her cat, a stereotype that she warmly and humorously subverts.
Contact: Website

29 Comments on 4 Tips to Enjoy Your Childless Christmas

  1. Oh silly me! I should have read this a few weeks ago.Instead, I woke up ridiculously early on Boxing Day (today!) incredibly glad that Christmas Day is over, but also suffering a kind of seasonal PTSD! So only just now did I decide to see what Jody and the Gateway tribe have to say about the bitter-sweet time that is Christmas. Better late than never!

    I’ve been philosophical about the challenges of Christmas in recent years; but yesterday ended up being a privately very painful day. I won’t go into details now; but let’s just say that my sister-in-law made a couple of extremely insensitive comments to me at the beginning in the day. A “we mothers, you non-mothers…” kind of comment, was especially agonising. I had an open wound for the rest of the day. I didn’t want to argue with her, for the sake of my adorable niece & nephew (aged 10 & 7) with whom I’m blessed to be very close. It was lovely to see them over Christmas, and spend quality time with them, and I would have endured anything to ensure they had a perfect day. Just a shame about their blooming mother! I need to forgive her, but I’m not ready to yet. I can’t decide whether to have a chat with her or email her about how hurt I was? I’ll leave it a few days, and see how I feel.

    Anyway, I know I’m not alone – Christmas is a bitter-sweet day for many, for all sorts of different reasons. I’m sure there are many people breathing a sigh of relief this morning! In fact, I think I may celebrate with a cup of tea – Christmas Day is over – yay!

    • Hi Katie

      Ah! Those wonderful insensitive comments – I do so love them. The ones from family are the real sucker-punches though aren’t they? These are the ones that have always re-opened the wound for me too, so you’re not alone.

      I commented below way back in 2014 – see below and do you know what I still hate Christmas. I think you’re brave doing what you do and seeing family. I have to shut myself away – with the most painful thing being taking presents over to my niece and nephew. It was lovely getting the thank you text from my brother, but when he asked how I always buy great presents, the answer always sticks in my throat…because they would have been what I would have got my own children.

      Maybe when you’ve had time to reflect on what she said you’ll come up with your answer on how to address this. I’m yet to find one that helps me other than finding somewhere private to have a sob.

      I hope you heal and I shall join you in a post-Christmas celebration.

      Take care.

      Sarah

      • Aw, Sarah, thank you soooo much for your response. Your empathy & understanding has really helped.

        I have indeed just scrolled down to read your 2014 comment, and I had a tear in my eye thinking about how hard that Christmas must have been for you. We have to be so brave sometimes…

        I’m still reeling from my sister-in-law’s delightful comments! She probably has no idea how much she hurt me. But I find it bizarre that anyone can think such comments are acceptable?! I often wonder if I’d be capable of saying such things if my life had gone to plan, and I’d had children young as I’d wanted? I really hope not. But who knows… I definitely think my situation has made much more understanding of loss and grief in general. I’d honestly say it’s made me a kinder, and ironically more maternal person than I would otherwise have been! Though I’m grateful to have many friends with children who are very kind, and who wouldn’t dream of saying anything hurtful about motherhood, or lack thereof. So it takes all sorts!

        Anyway, thank you again so so much. You really have helped me.

        Take care,

        Katie x

  2. I am making our own christmas traditions, starting from this year. So we will be having a christmas lights date night – stop at costa coffee, get a christmas coffee / hot chocolate take out and drive around looking at christmas lights listening to christmas music. Let me know any other ideas, we will be having movie nights, board games, christmas mocktails night and so on. I am now quite excited where as yesterday I was dreading christmas! <3

  3. Thank you for your compassion for all of us childless folks, Jody. I was okay with my singleness and childlessness (or perhaps had just managed to convince myself of that but I wasn’t really?) until a couple years ago when I had a brief but very intense relationship that “made me realize” I still could be a mother and wife and have that white picket fence. I knew I was on the old side to be having kids (I turned 40 this year) but my guy liked the idea of adoption, which felt like a huge burden lifted off of me. No more race against the clock, we could “just adopt” any old time,when we were ready! Pffffft.

    I’ve been having a hard time since that relationship ended, as it now seems like it was my last chance to have a family. The reality is that ship had likely already sailed years before. After doing one of the exercises in your book I also realized that I carried with me the “everyone who wants kids will have them” attitude that my mother instilled in me. Like it would just magically happen for me if I didn’t worry about it. And since it didn’t, this thing that happens to ~everyone~, I must be a complete loser.

    I’m still doing my grief work. Or NOT doing it, perhaps… I think part of me still wants to cling to being the pathetic one, the one “uniquely designed to fail at life” (I really related to that expression in your book!). But for the first Christmas in 3 years I decorated my office at work like I used to. There are strands of lights decking the walls, and garlands and mini trees and stuffed reindeer. Also a candy dish I keep refilling with Christmasy-wrapped chocolates for stressed-out coworkers (as well as myself!) to enjoy. People smile and tell me how festive it looks in there, and no one asks me why I bother doing it since I don’t have kids. I have as much right to enjoy the beauty of the season as anyone. When I read that you got a tree this year, I thought YOU GO, GIRL! Thanks for sharing with us 🙂

    • Hi Wendy – so great to hear that your old Christmas spirit is returning! I hate that ‘why bother if you don’t have kids?’ things about Christmas. Christmas isn’t JUST for kids, Christmas is for everyone. I’m not a practicing Christian, but I’m pretty sure that the message of the gospels didn’t say that childless women aren’t allowed! Pah! Hugs to you and thank YOU for sharing 🙂 Jody x

  4. I have dreaded Christmas for all of my 30s. I am single and after 12 months of fertility treatment realised it was not going to happen. I now celebrate Xmas mid December and will cook a turkey on 13th for the family . Then be off skiing for 10 days in the mountains doing what I want. 🙂 this has become my ritual. I can’t cope with Xmas on 25 th but I can cope on 13 th! Love to all my fellow non- moms xxx

    • Hi Kit – I love your solution! Doing Christmas when it works for YOU! Brilliant! Enjoy the turkey and the skiing. Hugs, Jody x

  5. Thanks for this Jody – this is the first Christmas since finding out that I am unable to have children and its also the first Christmas I have taken no interest or pleasure in the run up to it.

    My husband and I have decided that we are going to be selfish and do what we want to do on the day with no family, We are also not organising anything family orientated, which we usually do. We’ll simply wait for any invites that come and if they don’t we’ll visit everyone separately to avoid any awakward conversations that tend to take place when in a group setting.

    Maybe next year I’ll feel more excited Christmas, but this year the best present to us is to have the Christmas we want.

    • Hi Sarah – thanks for taking the time to comment. I think ‘selfish’ is perhaps a tough word to use – it sounds to me like what you are both doing is more like ‘self care’ and even ‘self compassion’. We all spend so many Christmas’s doing the opposite – I think it’s great that you are allowing space for your loss to be held with tenderness this year. The excitement will return – it’s taken me many years so don’t pressure yourself with a deadline – grief has its own exquisitely wise timetable. Sending you both a big hug, Jody x

  6. Thanks for all these great ideas. I quite like spending Xmas with my extended family BUT it really is hard for me too.

    I’m thinking the way around it, like others have said to enjoy the build up to Xmas as much as possible. I’m doing this by slowing down. I’ve actually taken a lot of unnecessary meetings and appointments out of my diary for this month and am nurturing myself as much as possible – enjoying the sun, having a weekly massage, sleeping as much as I feel and eating good food (with a frequent drink or two).

    For Xmas Day my ideas have been to break up the intensity of family getting together by inviting friends to share lunch with my extended family. This is a new one for me and I’m hoping it will stop awkward questions and topics of conversations, help me not focus on what I don’t have and breathe a bit of fresh air into the day. I like the idea of Xmas being about something larger than family and I always enjoy getting
    a very mixed group of people together, so we’ll see how it goes.

    The other thing I thought is that Xmas is a trying time not only us for but also for those who do have kids. Nothing like Xmas to ignite a family feud!

    Merry Xmas Ladies!

    Anna.

    • Hi Anna – thanks for your Antipodean perspective – relaxing in the sun and putting self-care top of the agenda looks like an excellent way to prepare for Xmas. I like the idea of taking along some ‘wing-sisters’ too on the day to provide some deflection and protection from the intrusive and unhelpful questions that spoil the experience for so many of us nomos! I agree, Christmas is tough for families too – I’m under no illusions there! Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope it goes well for you – come back and let us know! Hugs, Jody x

  7. A few years ago I decided to “redefine” Christmas and just enjoy the various social occasions, parties etc that tend to happen just BEFORE Dec 25th, then just spend the day vegging out on the sofa. This year I’ve gone one step further – I’ll be volunteering for a few days with a charity. For the first time in years I am relaxed about the whole thing and feel I’ve totally reclaimed Christmas.

    • Hi Celia – thanks for commenting. Volunteering is a great idea, as is focusing on the time BEFORE Christmas! I’ve found that a single, childless woman who works for herself, those pre-Xmas invitations don’t seem to happen nearly as much as they used to. But then again, I really don’t miss “Christmas Office Parties” either! Do let us know how the volunteering goes for you. It’s great that you feel relaxed about it too – I wouldn’t have believed it were possible to get to that stage, but so am I! Hugs, Jody x

  8. Jody rocks as usual!

    As a Jewish woman I won’t have a tree up, but there are all those nights of Chanukah ahead! I always find a way to give gifts on each of the days, but it is usually something like a wrapped book at a donation center, a pair of mittens I make myself to a local coat drive, etc.

    Essentially, I adopt as many unknown kids every year as I can and send them a little holiday love. I also stockpile coins and any extra money and do one SmileTrain donation. This way I know that I am responsible for a life – I have saved at least one life of a child who may not be able to suckle, eat or survive without surgery.

    Of course, it doesn’t have to be materialistic/financial/or kid related. I can make it better just be knowing I am not sucked, against my will, into the holiday funnel. I feel really fortunate, a lot of times but not always, to be able to keep my time, resources, and energies to myself rather than in the whirlwind that is the Halloween through Christmas season here in the states.
    I have to admit that I avoid holiday gatherings that are family-oriented or built around kids…I just don’t have the words or patience for people who say thoughtless things at a bit of a tender time.

    And then there is my Christmas Day movie a thon! I make a pile of movies I haven’t seen or want to re-watch, and on Christmas Day I let myself eat what I want, sit around in PJs and just feast on one of my favorite things in the world – the movies! What a glorious day…of course, the next day requires some extra time spent on the daily walk, but it is worth it!

    So, I am thinking about all of my sister Non-Moms out there in the world and sending you all holiday love too. Great big hugs to each of us…we are a gift to the world!
    Toby

    • Toby – thanks for taking the time to share your strategies for getting through the holiday season, body & soul as intact as possible! I love the way that you have found a way of giving gifts to those in need. I too feel that I am not being sucked ‘unwillingly’ into the holiday madness but am choosing to embrace the parts of it that resonate with me and feel right, and ignoring the rest. I’m heading to a Winter Solstice celebration with drumming and singing in a beautiful church in Central London so I’ll get my fix of ‘ritual’, my style, too 🙂 Hugs from London stretching across to you dear sister. Jody xx

  9. I have spend many years dreading Christmas and hating the day itself, always hoping that next year would be the year that I was pregnant. Now I have done a lot of grief work I have started to reclaim Christmas and spend some time enjoying this time of year. I started this last year but this year I am really going for it. Due to family commitments I can’t spend the day as I would like so I am arranging to do things in the run up to Christmas this year, so hopefully by the time it actually arrives I will feel like I have already had my Christmas. Sometimes that run up can be worse than the day itself – all those happy family adverts and the incessant Christmas music on the shops. So things I am doing include:
    – having a stir up weekend and making Christmas pudding and stollen
    – going up to London for the day to drink mulled wine and look at the Christmas lights
    – going to the Gateway Women pre-Christmas retreat
    – making Christmas cards
    – leaving work a couple of hours early one day and having a wander round the Christmas market
    – meeting up with some friends that I have met through Gateway Women for a pre-Christmas catch up
    The way I get through the day itself is to be kind to myself, give myself time and space, have a cry if I feel like it, allow myself to be happy if I feel that way and be in contact with my Gateway friends by text or on the forum. Oh and I also really really try to get out and walk as much as possible.

  10. Yes I totally agree.
    The two worst days of the year for me were Christmas and Mothers Day. Nowadays , at 64, I always make sure I do something special .This year it will be hanging to with my husband at a beautiful beach resort In Kerala, south India. YEEEEE!
    Teresa

    • I love that you are able to enjoy Christmas YOUR way again! Kerala is a beautiful in December – have a fresh coconut for me! Hugs, Jody x

  11. Thanks. Yet again, you have made me realise that I am not alone with my feelings. It is really tiring putting a happy hostess face on all the time. I do love a lot of Xmas, but the thought that it would be more ‘worthwhile’ if we had kids together is never far away. Ali x

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