Childless at Christmas: The Perfect Storm

Peace on Earth & Goodwill to All (Wo)men

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

Earlier this December, I hosted an online webinar for Gateway Women on the theme of ‘Coping with Christmas’. Women from all over the world joined us on the call and shared their very different experiences, but very similar feelings, about the upcoming holidays. Themes such as loneliness, isolation, stress, secrets, pressure, exposure and dread came up in many of our stories.

I’ve come to think that Christmas is, in many ways, the perfect storm for us childless by circumstance women. I see it as four winds blowing up a storm:

  1. A dark internal world of difficult thoughts and feelings
  2. Dealing with other people’s opinions and comments
  3. Happy Christmas = happy families
  4. High pressure family celebrations

Add these four together, and you have a day that many of us spend our whole summer in denial about, and the autumn and winter dreading.  However, perhaps if we tackle each of these four winds at source, we can chart a smoother course through Christmas this year.

1. A dark internal world of difficult thoughts and feelings

Some of the really hard to manage 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.  If you had lost your family 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 we could do differently this year:

  • 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.

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. 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.” Add to these the assumptions made by harried parents that our childless life is a breeze What do you do with all that time! and also perhaps that 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!

What we could do differently this year:

  • 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. For all of you.

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.

What we could do differently this year:

  • 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!

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 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 we could do differently this year:

  • 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 alllowances 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 over the next week and have a check-in call booked with each other during the holidays to share war stories! (Join the Gateway Women G+ Group or Facebook Group, or just use the comments box at the bottom of this post to offer and receive support from each other). 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.

Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All (Wo)Men.
That includes childless women, and it definitely includes you.

This may not be your best Christmas, but it doesn’t have to be your worst unless you let yourself play the victim. You may not have a choice in your circumstances, but you do have a choice in how you respond to them. Meaning is what we give to life, and we get to choose our own meanings, no matter what the Christmas propaganda would have us believe.

Yule Blessings

Before we were Christians, the Winter Solstice (21 December) was celebrated as Yule – the darkest night of the year – and therefore the one that heralded the return of the sun. We too, can make it through our dark night of the soul, and we too will smile again and feel the sun in our hearts.

Happy Christmas

Happy Hanukkah

Yule Blessings

***

Photo of Jody Day, Founder of Gateway Women (UK)Jody Day (48) is the Founder of Gateway Women: an organisation she founded to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. She was nominated as a 2012 Women’s Champion by the Jo Cameron Achievers Academy and her work is a recommended resource by UCLH Reproductive Medicine Unit. She’s based in London and works with women from all over the world (in person and via Skype) who are still hopeful of becoming mothers as well as those for whom that time has passed.  She holds a certificate in integrative counselling and is training towards becoming an integrative psychotherapist. Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, as well as offering one-to-ones. A Godmother & Aunt many times over, but never a mother, she speaks regularly at events and in the media, and is always looking to share her empowering message with new audiences. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her at jody@gateway-women.com

For priority booking for all future Gateway Women events including further dates/locations for UK and international workshops and online groups, please add your name or update your details on the mailing list.

About Jody 91 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

31 Comments on Childless at Christmas: The Perfect Storm

  1. I’ve just found your website and enjoying it very much, as it’s really helping me to understand I am not the only person feeling this way. Have just gotten through what turned out to be a very rough Christmas season. I was taken by surprise too, as I’d been dealing relatively well with my situation, or so I thought.

    Holidays have always been a bit bittersweet for me. My mom passed away when I was a child and my father is essentially not in the picture. Luckily I do have a sibling and a grandparent so not totally alone at the holidays, but we’ve often felt a bit out of sorts during the holidays as the image of happy families is so prevalent everywhere, and it kind of reminds all of us of what we are missing. I had so hoped as the years have gone by that I would have my own husband and children at some point, and finally have the family I felt I’d been missing all these years. I identify with that statement of spending years going “someday I’ll get to do this with my own children” so very, very strongly, then being sad that it hasn’t happened yet. I got divorced five years ago, and also each year I’ve thought, maybe by next year I’ll have a partner again…. and then that hasn’t happened either, which has been very disappointing, to say the least.

    I’d considered having a child on my own, and friends have suggested it. However I’m torn on it. So many resources I’ve seen for single mothers by choice go on about how important having support from your family is. Lots of the women go on about how very wonderful their own parents have been, particularly mum, has been and how difficult or impossible it would be without them. So I am left feeling that because I don’t really have a family, I wouldn’t be able to have my own kids as a single woman. It’s been hard. I am really lucky in that I do have a lot of very close friends who are like family to me. However I don’t mean to sound sour grapes, but really it’s just not the same, is it?

    Anyway, I am sorry to hear that other people feel the same pain I did during these holidays, but thank you for writing this article. It made me feel a bit less alone and less bad about myself for feeling the way I do.

    • I am childless and familyless. This article suggests ways of thinking and opportunities to notice that I have employed on and off for many years. Some years it works, some years it doesn’t 😉

      I didn’t think I would be childless and didn’t think I would be an adult orphan either, I lost my father at 12 and my mother at 35 and that event is in part how I ended up missing my boat for children. The relationship was new then, it isn’t particularly working out now (aged 42) so there may be a silver lining in there somewhere.

      As your article suggests, this longing and missing out doesn’t go away, it’s primal, I find the same with the lack of original family around me. But, it does mean we learn how to be part of community or to seek the ways to express our womanhood that are different from the norm. It isn’t easy though and this year sucks so far. I seem to have used my positive, genuine loving energy on my friends children and partners nephews and nieces and now wish for that quiet time without the “guilt” or the notion of “being different” when I just can’t see anymore people, great aunts or anything family related.

      Wishing you all some peace, positive regard and feel good factor just for yourself this Christmas and thank you Jody for providing this space to share.

      • Hi Sally

        Thank you for your comment and I know other childless women who are have also lost their parents young – the isolation can be extreme. I also know of women who have helped care for their parents and how that has impacted on their life during their fertile years. One of the (many!) things that often makes our situation hard to bear is the very simplistic notions that others have about ‘why’ we are childless – usually that we ‘didn’t wan’t’ or ‘couldn’t have’. When, in truth, each situation is different. The room called childlessness has many doors!

        I’m glad that you’ve found us here at Gateway Women, and I hope that with our sisterhood, we can support each other through the holidays, and make next year a better one for us all.

        With love

        Jody x

  2. Thank you Jody for this thoughtful and timely post and for the suggestions of things that could be done differently this year. I am finding the familiar feelings of “another childless christmas” weighing heavy (some days more so than others). This is my first Christmas since deciding not to persue any more treatment and therefore rather than the usual (albeit unlikely) hope that next christmas I will be mother I am feeling rather more despondent and final about things. However, on a positive note I am full of hope that 2013 will be the year that I find my mojo again (I must have it somewhere!) and work through this tunnel I am in to find light at the end. My first step towards that was taking part in the webinar recently and afterwards I realised that that was the first time in the 15 years I have been trying to have a baby that I have actually spoken to anyone who is in a similar situation. So thank you Jody for bringing us all together – I have hope that things can get better and right now that means a lot.

  3. I have had a cute baby-t-shirt hidden in my drawer for 8 years – “bought in times of hope”. This christmas I gave it away as a present. It felt strange.
    Soon I`ll go to Sicily (for the first time) to celebrate christmas and new year there –
    and I feel like it is going to be allright.
    I wish all the best for 2013
    for us gateway-women
    🙂

    • Hi Newcat

      Giving away ‘hidden’ baby things is a big step in letting go – and I applaud you, as no doubt others do. I’ve let go of all of mine – and it actually feels quite good (afterwards!).

      I ADORE Sicily, and the idea of Sicily at Christmas and New Year sounds fab. My favourite spot is Siracusa (old town) which has to be up there as one of my top ten places in the world to see.

      You’re right; it is all going to be OK 🙂

      Love, Jody x

  4. This time last year I had a bout of clinical depression, triggered by the news that my husband and his ex-wife were expecting their fourth grandchild together (primal stuff!) combined with the stress of the up-coming holiday season. We host all the family as we’re the ones with an ’empty’ house – no kids. And Jody, you are so right about the ‘ultimate miracle baby story’… such a powerful narrative yet such a painful one for many of us! Thanks for saying that out loud. This summer however (during another bout of depression) I went to a Gateway Women Reignite seminar and realised that I wasn’t a bitter old hag of a woman but a grieving one. That put the brakes on some of the self-loathing that erupts so easily in my emotional landscape. And so far, despite having a difficult time at work having to fully explain the reasons for my lack of productivity in some areas over the last five years (six rounds of IVF, donor eggs, miscarriage of twins, ensuing depression and failure to produce at work, all adds up to equal ‘uber-failure!’) I’d still say I’m not at this minute depressed. If someone asks me if I’m “getting over it” I’ll slap on a smile and lie ‘maybe’ whilst raging and swearing internally. But the truth is I am a bit less fragmented and a little more integrated than I was. Reading this post and the comments from my tribe has helped galvanise me for what’s ahead. The idea that we will all be sparing a thought for each other amongst the chaos about to hit will make it – at least in some respects – what I think of as ‘a proper Christmas’.

    • My dear Wendy

      So lovely to hear from you – and so eloquently put, as usual 🙂

      I’m glad that the work we did together this Summer is still helping you come to terms with things and get your life back. In my experience, gradually we find ourselves able to say “this happened to me” rather than “this is happening to me” and we realise that we have integrated our loss and are looking outwards again.

      My experience of grieving is that it’s usually not until I’ve come through a stage that I realise that I was in it! As you know, not having children broke my heart; but it has healed bigger, and has given me access to a level of compassion for others that I didn’t have before. And that in turn taught me to show myself a great deal more kindness and compassion too!

      I do hope that 2013 is the year where life feels like it starts moving forwards for you again – just knowing that you are facing Christmas this year NOT feeling depressed (sad seems only reasonable!) sounds like a FANTASTICALLY good omen for the future.

      With a huge hug & love to you both
      Jody xxxx

  5. Thank you for writing and sharing this post. The tears came today and this post brought me so much comfort and affirmation. As the oldest of six, I love being an aunt to 13 beautiful kiddos and it hurts deeply that I do not have my own.

    • Hello Cool Aunt and welcome to Gateway Women!

      I have 10 nephews and nieces, through my ex-husband (who is one of 6, whereas whereas I do not have siblings). The wonderful thing about having grieved my childlessness is that my heart is once again open to being around other people’s children without it tearing me apart. Yes, I still get those bittersweet twinges, but that’s only to be expected…I’m never going to ‘forget’ or ‘get over’ the fact that I wanted to be a mother, to have a family! However, my pain no longer gets in the way of enjoying the company of children & young people, and fully embracing the unexpected life I now live.

      Having thought I’d choose to spend Christmas on my own this year, I’ve actually chosen to spend it with my sister out-law and four of my darling nieces (ranging in age from 16 to 23).

      I am so glad that this site, and this post brought you some comfort. Knowing that we are not alone in our situation, particularly at this most ‘family focused’ time of year, is a great help. I could never have got to the place I’m now out without the support of fellow travellers like yourself, so I’m glad I can return the favour to you through my writing and the Gateway Women community.

      With love

      Jody x

  6. Thank you for this article. It was right on the mark in capturing my holiday struggles in recent years. One of the points that was helpful to me was that we are not only grieving our childlessness over the holidays, we are also grieving our onetime ability to fully enjoy and celebrate the holidays. Remembering how I used to feel about Christmas makes me wistful. Finding your Gateway Women group has been a highlight of 2012 for me. Even though I live across the ocean (USA) I don’t feel quite as alone now, knowing there are other women going through similar struggles.

    • Hi Liz
      Lovely to hear from you. I’m glad that the site and community is helping you. I’m going to be starting an online group next year, so that Gateway Women outside London and outside the UK can join in.
      I only recently realised that I had lost ‘that Christmas feeling’ on top of all the other losses, and this year I’m making an effort to get it back!
      With love
      Jody x

  7. Thank you all. It is so heartening to read your emails. I am in my sixties now and have experienced most of what has been mentioned. My way of coping is to go on holiday out of the family situation and RELAX.
    Love to you all

  8. Seeing all these comments above is heartening…great to know we are all in the same boat. Safe passage to all of you through the choppy waters of this ‘family’ season! clarab x

  9. This post came at the perfect time. Last night i had a wobbly about Xmas, it arrived like a sledgehammer, out of nowhere. I realised i felt like a leper. At 11pm i contacted via e mail one of the other GGs and poured out my thoughts, i received an e mail back half an gour later that soothed me. A reminder that im not the only one out there and that i didnt even need to explain how i was feeling, she totally understood. xx

    • Hi Jules

      Sorry to hear of your wobble, and glad that the timing on this post worked for you. Yes, the community of other women who’ve been through one of my workshops (the GG’s!) is something that makes me very hopeful for all of us.

      I’m not quite sure why it seems so hard for women who haven’t faced our situation to understand how very devastating it is. However, I hope that in time, and through all of us gradually healing our wounds enough to be able to talk about them more openly, we can fill in this massive cultural ‘blind spot’.

      I’m so glad you got the understanding you needed, when you needed it, dear Jules.

      Love & hugs

      Jody x

  10. During what’s been a particularly bad week for me in respect of childlessness and feelings of isolation, I just wanted to say thanks for your encouraging and proactive post.

    • Rachel

      You are welcome – I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a shitty week. Isolation is so hard to deal with, and so often mothers and others envy us the ‘time’ we have on our hands without having any idea how oppressive it can feel sometimes!

      Do stay in touch, and join one of our online communities on either G+ (private) or Facebook (public page).

      Love & support

      Jody x

  11. Thank you for this Jody… have pinged it to some family members as it captures so eloquently what I try to share with them, but just end up sounding even more bitter! Hopefully it means I won’t end up being the only one on the inflatable mattress yet again, just because I don’t happen to have a partner or children!

    • Hi Sophia

      Thanks for commenting. I’d love to know what your family members make of it. Do you know, you’re the second single, childless woman I know who gets given the ‘inflatable mattress’ because of her perceived lack of status! It does make me want to bang my head against the wall sometimes, these casual social and familial cruelties. If you had had a family and lost them, would they treat you with such casual disregard? No. And yet?… *sigh* It’s such a failure of imagination and empathy by individuals, and supported and encouraged by the culture.

      Lovely to hear from you and hope to see you soon

      Love, Jody x

  12. Thanks Jody for these suggestions for taking off the pressure. I decided on another 3 years ago, at 42 years old, that has helped a lot with being single and childless: I treat myself to a trip and simply check out of the holiday. Sure the family doesn’t appreciate it, but I have to take care of myself first right now. I send a few gifts to my brother’s kids from wherever I am. Simply being in another society and experiencing the season from a distance eases the pain, I find. The other strategy is one Carol C mentioned which is to shift the focus to the 21st and even getting together with friends to celebrate the turning of the seasons. Soon we will be in January and the difficult period will be over for another year. We just have to take care of ourselves in the meanwhile.

  13. As usual, you’re spot on Jody. I decided a couple of years ago to celebrate Yule, the 21st December, I much prefer the idea of celebrating the return of lighter days and Spring around the corner. It switched my focus away from the dreaded 25th, it’s helped a bit for me anyhow. I do find this time of year difficult as I know others do, the expectation, the exclusion (it’s easier for some so-called friends and family to leave you out thinking they’re helping you, what’s that all about?!), the well-meaning words that are actually quite hurtful but you can’t say anything because you’ll offend someone who was only trying to be nice. This year I find I have a support group, Gateway Women, some women who get it and that is one very nice Christmas present. It took me a great deal of courage to reach out, put my feelings out there, but it’s helping, thank you.

  14. All of this rings true. I feel a terrible lack of self-worth because I am both eternally single, and now more and more likely to end up childless. Having a sister who has the much loved only grandchild, I feel just useless and invisible. Anyway, self-pity is no use but thanks for an intelligent and resonant post. CB.

    • aqua, in my case it is even worse – i’m also single have joined dating site last year but with no success and to top it off two nieces are pregnant and a nephew whose partner is expecting again-. I dread that at some point one of my less considerate relatives will pop the question about whether I will ever have any children or a man.

    • I can’t believe how much I cried reading this…..it’s not self pity I dont think..well not for me anyway….it’s emotions I cannot help. I do try, by trying to have fun and appearing positive, dancing, laughing but then I am branded a joker and party animal, then of course self centered when I chose to stay away from all the celebrations….I have been told several times, that everything happens for a reason..I could have had kids that died or turned out bad….so I guess I need to force myself into thinking that that indeed would have happened if I did choose to have children years ago. Nonetheless, only one more day to go and it will soon be over.

      • Hi Ritavagabond & Welcome to Gateway Women – the one place that nobody will insult you with fatuous remarks like your childlessness has happened for a ‘reason’. Even if it were true (and how would they know?!), such remarks deny you the empathy that you deserve and the respect that your grief is due! One more day, as you say, and then you have 364 days to hang out with us at Gateway Women so that next year you’re in a much better place about your situation. With a big hug, Jody x

        • Thank you JK! What a difference 1 second makes. I swear at 12:01 this morning, the fog lifted! I bought 3 bikinis online for my holiday on the beach where I shall be spending my 40th with myself and I. Now I’m gonna figure out how to use this blog thing properly and join you guys into 2013. Hugs back. Rita x

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