Never again, you say, after each Christmas…

One Truth Many Songs

Well, we made it through. Another Christmas done.
Thank God: any, all or no God.

How was it for you? Did you #ReclaimChristmas and shape it into a celebration that suited your life, your situation, your needs as a solo or couple, or did you endure some version of the same old shit you’ve been dealing with these last few years?

Each year, from September onwards many childless women’s concerns about the holiday season escalate, many of them discussed publicly on the Gateway Women Facebook page, or privately in our online community, at our free Meetups or in our weekend workshops.

The theme is often that they don’t know if they can face another year as the ‘single one’ at their family gathering, with all its covert concerns about what might be wrong with them or perhaps as part of a couple grieving their failure of their final fertility treatment yet being expected to be absolutely thrilled by the latest whoops, got pregnant again! announcement of a tactless sisterOr maybe it’s the slow, quiet sadness of a family that has shrunk almost to extinction, the single, childless only-daughter heavy with guilt for her parent’s grief over not having grandchildren, yet somehow not being able to get their understanding that she didn’t choose this life, it chose her… Or then again, it might be a Christmas spent alone, and worrying about how it will be to do it yet again…

But, despite all of these worries, what has struck me increasingly is how few women, knowing FULL WELL that things are unlikely to be significantly different this year, go ahead and do the same thing again… It really does seem to show that sometimes the devil you know does win out!

Perhaps it’s a fear of doing something (anything) else ‘different’ in a life where your difference is already such a big deal to everyone (including yourself). Maybe it’s a reluctance to cause waves, of potentially upsetting parents and perhaps damaging the tenuous and fraying thread between siblings with and without children. But most of all, I think perhaps it’s the last dying gasp of denial, some strange beast within us that thinks that this year, maybe this year, it’ll be fun and we’ll find our place amongst the family again.

The feeling of ‘belonging’ is a core human need, one of our most basic survival needs and, even though the experience of spending the holidays with our families of origin can be painful and serves to highlight how we don’t ‘fit’ because of our childlessness, we’re often still reluctant to give it up, or even to change it up a bit. It may be about as realistic as expecting Santa to fix it for us, but logic and emotions run on two different operating systems, and perhaps never more so than when we’re either falling in love or passing through grief, which are really two halves of the same coin. So if you’re wondering why you keep on doing what’s not working, be self-compassionate with yourself about it. It’s a basic human need you’re longing to get met here, you’re not a masochist!

Once we become more aware of what’s going on, we can begin to work out what will meet that need for belonging, and work out how to get some of that. One of the many pleasures of being amongst ‘the tribe’ of childless women that gather at Gateway Women, both online and offline, is a real boost to that feeling of ‘belonging’. As I, and many other women have found out, once you get your ‘belonging tank’ topped up, it’s then much easier to spent time around people and situations who deplete it, without becoming so worked-up about it.

Making next Christmas different doesn’t mean that we have to abandon our families and sit at home alone (not that that’s not a great option if you choose it freely) but it does mean that we need to get a bit smarter about the whole ‘planning for the holidays’ thing.  And that’s why I’m writing this blog now, just after Christmas.

Because what I’ve also noticed amongst us is that as January slips past, then February and March and the seasons begin to change, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security about next Christmas. Surely it’s ages away, we don’t need to be thinking about that yet.

But no, not so. I wonder if because it’s uncomfortable to think about it, many of us do a really good job of putting off thinking about it until, BAM!, it’s October again and we realise that we’ve left it too late and our options are a bit limited. By then, it might feel to late to tell ageing relatives we’re not going to be around, or to let our sister who ‘always’ hosts Christmas know that we’d like to do it this year. It might be that we haven’t saved enough money for a holiday somewhere warm, or that it might feel a bit melodramatic to make plans to stay home alone or go away after you’re already been presumed to have accepted the usual plan. And then again, although the idea of having an alternative Christmas with other childless women or couples seemed really attractive on Boxing Day last year, it turns out that you haven’t put enough effort into actually getting to know them this year, and so you’re worried that it’s too late now to be sure that they’re not actually the weeping oddballs that you secretly fear other childless women might be…

And so on…  and so on… until it becomes easier to let ourselves slide downhill towards another Christmas-as-usual and yet another version of the same experience that didn’t work for us last year. Can’t wait!

So, start planning to #ReclaimChristmas next year NOW. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make a list of at least three options of what you’d like to do next Christmas and start researching and planning them.
  • Make a reservation for an amazing Christmas lunch in a fabulous hotel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who you’re inviting yet – book the table anyway!
  • Set up a savings plan for a holiday fund. (If you can’t save, maybe start decluttering and selling on eBay to create that fund).
  • Attend or organise a meetup of other Gateway Women in your area and start getting to know them so that you can spend Christmas together next year. Maybe at one of each other’s homes, maybe in some lovely hotel.
  • Book a holiday with some Gateway Women you’ve already got to know either via the online community, meetups or attending a workshop – you could rent a holiday home together or travel up the Amazon!
  • Find a Gateway Women yoga teacher and work with her to create a nomo yoga retreat for next Christmas and New Year somewhere warm. (You’ll find a few of those in our online community!)
  • Etc. Really. Get creative.

By New Year’s Eve, be talking about your plans for an alternative Christmas next year. Drop it into the conversation as often as you can. Ask people for their dreams of what they’d do if they could. Make it your project for next year to #ReclaimChristmas however you want. Make it happen! As many other women I’ve worked with have found, having a holiday season to look forward to can change the shape and feeling of your entire year.

‘But it’s hard!’, I hear you say. You’re right, it might be a little uncomfortable. But let me ask you this: if you HAD had children and had wanted to make something special and different happen for them next Christmas, don’t you think you’d have found a way to do it? Don’t you think you’d have been up to having the uncomfortable conversation with your parents (or whomever) in order to give them plenty of time to make alternative arrangements too? Often we think that the logistics or conversations are too confronting (and maybe they are tricky), but might it not also be that we have internalised society’s devaluation of us as childless women and have forgotten that we are mature, self-determining, responsible adults, not some left-over booby prize?! We get to choose how we live our lives. Millions of women around the world cannot say that, but we can.

And you never know, maybe everyone might like a change for Christmas, but no-one’s got the guts to say so for fearing of hurting someone else’s feelings! It doesn’t mean you’ll never do Christmas ‘the regular way’ again (whatever that means for your family of origin or your partner’s, if you have one). It just means that next Christmas will be different…

I’ve been through the heaviest of my grief for at least five years now and one of the ways I know that is that my last five holiday seasons have been increasingly joyful experiences. Yes, there can be griefy moments – it tugs at my heartstrings to see my own dwindling family of origin as my mother ages without  grandchildren, and when I’m around other people’s families. But those pangs pass pretty quickly these days as I honour and acknowledge that pain as part of my heart, part of my story. I am a Jody and childlessness is part of my identity. But it’s not the whole story – it’s not who I am any more.

So, start working out NOW how you’re going to #ReclaimChristmas as a holiday that works for you. If you need some new great friends to spend it with, come and join our private online community – we’ve got members from all over the world. And if you’re feeling really brave, the very best way to form a bond with other women who totally get it is to come to a Gateway Women ‘Reignite Weekend.

Hugs

About Jody 93 Articles
JODY DAY is the British founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women, and the author of 2016’s 'Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children'. A founding and board member at AWOC.org (Ageing Without Children), she’s a former Cambridge Judge Business School Fellow in Social Innovation, a TEDx speaker and a trainee integrative psychotherapist. Jody takes great pleasure in helping childless women get their groove back and find their tribe via the Gateway Women workshops, social media communities and live social meetups across the world. www.gateway-women.com
Contact: Website

26 Comments on Never again, you say, after each Christmas…

  1. Thank you Jody for that thoughtful piece. I will make plans I’ve decided now. I felt lucky that my closest friend and her husband for the first time ever for them, had no children or grand-children to visit since it just happened that their son and daughter-in-law and grandchild were going to the daughter-in-law’s family for Christmas.They have s huge tribe scattered about and kids and grandkids popping up all the time and this was quite the anomaly. But Jody, I could feel their longing to be with family and though we made the best of it, I know it will never happen again and I now refuse to work as I have for the last five years, during Christmas so that leaves me to as you say, plan now. I will also try to get on a ferry to Vancouver for a meet-up so I do connect with women like me.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I had some “griefy moments” myself this Christmas. It’s nice to get the reminder that it’s okay to have a moment of sadness. It doesn’t mean I haven’t accepted my childlessness nor that I don’t enjoy my life. But because I am childless not by choice, there will always be twinges (especially when your niece announces your step-sister’s pregnancy….) So glad to have found this tribe!

    • Hi Brandi – thanks for stopping by. Geez, those ‘announcements’ at Christmas or other big family gatherings can be so hard! Can it really be so hard for others to take the time to let us know in private first?! (That is a rhetorical question!) Hugs, Jody x

  3. Thank you Jody. This was lovely to read and quite needed! Will you be having any Reignite weekends in Canada? I have been thinking of coming to the UK, but as I live in Vancouver, I wanted to make nomo friends here, rather than there.

    • Hi Colleen – I’m glad this post helped you. I am currently in the process of training GWS (Gateway Women Sisters) in Portland, Oregon and Toronto, Canada who will be running Reignite Weekends from the Spring 2018 onwards. I also hope to be able to offer them in Vancouver Canada in the future, but possibly not till 2019. However, there is a GW Meetup Group that meets in Vancouver if you’d like to meet some local women? http://www.meetup.com/gateway-women-canada (you’ll need to apply to join the group to see all the details). I’d also really recommend that you take a look at our private online community (not on Facebook) as our membership is international (and awesome!). Hugs, Jody x

      • Thanks Jody. I’ve looked into the meetup, but not the private online community. Good news that there are more of us out there 🙂 Colleen

  4. My youngest sister, at 38 years old, is pregnant with her 4th. The news was announced during Christmas dinner. Most of those present already knew she was expecting. I’ve struggled with the knowledge of my childlessness for well over a decade, and I can say that there are times when I am okay with it. Right now, I am not. I am not okay. I sent my sister a note to tell her that I wished she had told me in private, and she responded by telling me I didn’t know how hard raising kids was, and that there were more important things in life than my feelings. I’ve always been good to my sister and her children. I can’t function. I’m so crippled with sadness right now.

    • Dear Sweet-Aunt, I am so sorry to hear that you were not only blindsided by this announcement, but that your own pain was diminished and belittled so cruelly by your sister. I too would have been devastated by this; it’s heartbreaking. I wish such behaviour were unusual, but sadly not… I REALLY recommend that you join our private online community (not on Facebook) as right now you NEED ‘sisters’ who get you, rather than shame you for your perfectly NORMAL feelings. Sheesh. I just want to cry thinking of how this must have hurt (and no doubt still does). Hugs, Jody x

    • Dear sweet-aunt,

      I was so sorry to read about your Christmas. If you don’t mind me saying, your sister sounds incredibly selfish and insensitive. I wish I could say that I couldn’t believe anyone would do that but unfortunately my younger sister made a similar announcement. I can really relate to everything you say. I understand the ‘crippled with sadness’ feeling. I wish you all the best and really hope your family will be kinder to you. You sound like such a lovely person, and you deserve much more.

      Katie

  5. Hi, “pity dinner” hits the nail on the head! And I also now refuse the invites, and use the time to recharge the batteries. For me the lead up to Christmas in the workplace is the worst part of it all, listening to all my colleagues’ plans and preparations, showing the children’s presents that they’ve bought at lunchtime, which you have to ooohh and aah over if you don’t want to seem churlish! Plus, the annual pitying looks when I tell them I spend Christmas on my own; I used to lie and pretend that I was going to family, partly to avoid the pity and partly to avoid the sort of embarrassed silence that would sometimes descend in the office, but it always felt wrong to lie, so I don’t anymore. I’ve worked as a temp for years, so this happened many times in various offices. But once work is over and the holiday begins, phew, what a relief!

    • Hi Mhairi – thanks for your comment. It is strange how shocking people can find the idea of us being alone at Christmas when they don’t really give it a thought the other 364 days of the year! And the idea that it might actually – shock – be enjoyable! Time to recharge the batteries is something to be cherished – deep down, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them would like that too! Hugs, Jody x

  6. Hi Jody, good to know that other childless people around the world are rocking the Christmas boat! We skipped carols this year, probably for the first time ever, simply because the child-centric nature of carols has become too much for us. People were surprised to hear we would not be supporting our local carols for once – we actually do support our local carols, just not in person and not at the expense of our own sanity.

    Instead, we rested, stayed well and entered Christmas happy.

    Here’s to doing things differently!

    • Hi Steph – thanks for commenting. I’m happy for you that you skipped the child-centric nature of the carols. I went to a choir service at 7.30pm in the evening here in rural Ireland and it was lovely, and not at all the schmaltzy kidfest that I’ve learned to avoid too! Hugs, Jody x

  7. Great to see role models negotiating their way through life without children. My partner and I set the table and had our own Christmas for two with all the trimmings. It was life affirming.

  8. It gets easier. I am over 4 years past the end of the road for fertility treatments and then hysterectomy. Now we have a quiet routine. I politely decline all the invites to my family members and friends to join in their child centred and bustling Christmas days. My partner and I relax in comfortable clothes (sometimes pyjamas), listen to Christmas music, cook nice food and watch TV. It is pleasant and it is being kind to myself.

    • I love that you say “it is being kind to myself.” I think we all need to remember (at least I know I do!) that it is more than okay to be “kind” to ourselves and not just to our extended family members.

    • Hi Susan – thanks for your comment, glad you liked it. Come next Spring, there will be GWS (GW Sisters) trained in Minneapolis and Illinois and perhaps one of them will lead a weekend in Michigan – or you might like to attend one in Toronto instead. Do join our update list to be sure to find out when the new ones are announced, 2018 is going to see a lot more of them happening from Spring onwards! Hugs, Jody x

  9. I read this one cause yes I am the single childless “bad” one in the family. I started not flying home cross country every holiday, not being the aunt who visits, not being to one who goes to mom and dads as they got older and all my sibs had kids…I refused to do it anymore and I paid the price by being shunned a lot..and called, guess what? Selfish.

    This Christmas I talked on the phone and texted with so many wonderful friends, some with kids and MANY not. And I realized too that there are plenty of men who never had families. (oh I’m in my 50s) They never got the career or car or success they felt they required to get the hot super model and they woke up alone, no wife no kids. So it’s not just us.

    But I didn’t cry or feel sad one minute on Christmas. I worked on my creative projects and finished some! I ate peanut butter and jelly and lit candles. And I thought about my life and how all the crazy amazing experiences I have been lucky enough to have because I went after my dream instead of having babies. Thought about all the art I created that would never exist if I had done what society deems to be the only path.

    I decided my creations are my “children” and they will go out into the world and shine! Thanks for writing this!

    • Hi FT – thanks for commenting – yes, being that ‘odd one out’ can be painful. Why fly across the country to play that role, eh?! I’m sure there are plenty of other less pressured times of the year we can spend with our family when others won’t feel emboldened to treat us like the joker in the pack… Your Christmas of peanut butter and jelly sounds delicious, by the way – I lived in America for a short while as a child and I never forgot my first one! Hugs, Jody x

    • Oh that word–“selfish.” I hate the feeling that I’m being selfish for trying to guard my own heart. (A couple of family members have actually told me I abandoned my family because I moved states.) Above, Wendy said she was “kind” to herself. I quite like that and think I’m going to say that to myself–“I’m being kind to me”–rather than allow myself to believe what others may say about my being “selfish.”

  10. Wow, Jody. This is so incredibly spot-on and pertinent. You’ve covered every thought and feeling I’ve experienced the past 5 years or so surrounding the holidays. The crux of the problem for me is — as you said — not planning for myself and what will support my well-being. I always think, “who am I to suggest or do something different, when it’s just me?”. And so every year I go with “tradition,” and every year I say, “never again!”. Thank you for addressing this and giving me ideas (and hope!) for a better holiday next year.

    • Hi Meg – thanks for commenting and I look forward to hearing what plans you make for next year. We are just as entitled to spend the holidays as we wish as anyone else – we just have to realise and believe it… then act on it! Hugs, Jody x

  11. As an older single and childless woman, with a rebel nature, I’m not afraid to say no to well-meaning cousins who invite me each year. I love to be invited, it’s true, but I also need to say no, as the pity dinner is too much to stomach. I am content to be able to recharge my batteries, and get some rest. This year I have also come off Facebook for Xmas, as all the glorious family Xmases are presented there. I know also, that they don’t tell the full story, they don’t reveal the family tensions. They are glossed up versions, yes, I’m a Christmas cynic. I have some happy family Xmases behind me, and some lovely solitary ones. The thing is not to give into peer pressure, and to be able to stand alone and enjoy it. I know it’s not for everyone, but next year give it a whirl. It’s only 2 days if you count Boxing Day. I find it a wonderful way to recharge my batteries, but maybe not ideal if you are an extrovert. Happy New Year!

    • We need more older, single, childless, rebel role models like you! Thank you for sharing your experience and encouragement that Christmas Day and Boxing Day alone might actually be QUITE NICE! Hugs, Jody x

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