Having made it through yet another childless Christmas, all of us childless by circumstance women can breathe out a huge collective sigh of relief!
It’s over and we can get back to our daily lives, and the coping mechanisms and busy routines that serve to protect us, most of the time, from the feelings of isolation, sadness and loss we often feel. Now Christmas is over, we can move back into the mainstream again; we can pass for normal women again. Well, most of the time, anyway.
But there comes a day, maybe after we’ve had just one too many mediocre Christmases, when we begin to wonder if this is really all there is for us. Are we really doomed to eat the scraps at other people’s celebrations for life? Are we not ‘enough’ as people that we too deserve a celebration where our lives are at the centre?
We begin to find the chair that society keeps for us at the table of life, the one marked ‘superfluous woman’, too uncomfortable to sit in any more. We’ve sat there for a while, and done our best to bear it, but eventually, we either accept the chair and the ‘poor woman’ role that comes with it, or we decide that we’ve had enough of this damn chair and that we want something different. We think: “that’s it – next year it’s going to be different.”
However, ‘it’ is unlikely to change. And neither are the people around us, even if they say they’ll ‘try’. Because the inconvenient truth is that we have no power over how other people view us, or treat us. The only thing we have any control over is ourselves, and even that feels pretty shaky. But it’s all we’ve got and, actually, it’s all we need.
In my experience, change only happens when it’s absolutely necessary. When my back’s against the wall and there’s no alternative left. When I absolutely bloody have to change, because not changing is no longer a viable option.
With 2013 around the corner, no doubt a few New Year’s resolutions are surfacing in your mind. Generally, these involve trying to ‘improve’ ourselves by either giving up a bad habit, or taking up an improving one. But I’ve come to realise that such resolutions start from the wrong place, particularly for those of us who are childless by circumstance. They imply that there’s something ‘wrong’ with us that requires ‘fixing’. In my opinion, anything that reinforces the idea that there’s something ‘wrong’ with us is unhelpful at best, and highly damaging at worst.
I have an idea that all change, good or bad, starts when a pattern is broken. And it doesn’t have to be a big change, to make big change happen. For me, the biggest change I’ve made, and which is changing everything in my life, is that I gave up the idea that there’s something wrong with me.
I choose not to agree with our culture’s view that as a single, childless woman there’s something broken about me. By allowing myself to grieve the loss of my longed for identity as a mother, I’ve created a space for a new identity to blossom. And the ‘me’ that is arising from the ashes of my broken dreams is someone I’m learning to like, learning to respect, learning to trust. Because there’s nothing ‘broken’, or ‘superfluous’ about her!
A favourite quote of mine from Eleanor Roosevelt is that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” The fact is, we don’t have to agree with what others think of us.
If you want next Christmas to be different; if you want every Christmas to be different from now on, break the pattern. Stop believing that there’s anything wrong with you because you’re not a mother. It doesn’t matter if the world doesn’t agree with you. They’ll come round. And even if they don’t, what have you got to lose except your unhappiness?
Imagine if every childless woman were to stop beating themselves up for being ‘wrong’ in 2013. Breaking a pattern like that could change more than Christmas, it could change society! It could begin to break down the barriers between mothers and the childless; between men and women. It could cause all kinds of trouble! Childless women are a radically destabilising force in the culture – that’s why it wants to keep us in the naughty chair. However, we don’t actually have to sit there if we’ve had enough of how it makes us feel.
I have had a wonderful Christmas surrounded by families and children. And I didn’t have to sit in the naughty chair once. Changing the way we feel about ourselves can have a remarkable effect on others too…
If you’d like a shot of New Year’s inspiration, please do come along to a talk I’m giving: “Rocking the Life Unexpected”on Tuesday 8th January, 7pm in London’s Covent Garden.
Jody Day (48) is a London-based writer and 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 holds a certificate in integrative counselling and is training towards becoming an integrative psychotherapist. Jody runs groups, workshops & retreats for Gateway Women, as well as offering one-to-one consultations. A godmother & aunt many times over, but never a mother, she speaks regularly at events and in the media. Her book: “Reignite:A 12-week Plan to Create a Meaningful & Fulfilling Life Without Children ” will be available on the Gateway Women website as an e-book in January 2013.
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.
Wow. That’s the way! Love this post… reflects my feelings recently and makes me feel like I am on the right track again.
Reblogged this on Childfree In Ireland.
Thank you all so much! This is exactly what I needed to hear as my sister has arrived this evening with her three perfect (!) children for the week! Thank you so much for reminding me that I am ok as I am and I don’t have to let myself be pitied and I have got something to offer the kids. Marvellous, really. Thanks everyone.
Interesting post and comments. I do agree that ultimately we are responsible for ourselves and how we view things. This Christmas was a mixed bag with an early Christmas get together with one section of the family. As my cousin is now pregnant after a long struggle with IF we were all very happy for her, BUT I couldn’t help but feel conspicuous as now being the only one without children and to cut a long story short ended up in tears after standing at the sidelines of yet another pregnancy related conversation. I don’t plan to stop going because they are family and I want to see them, but **** sometimes its hard. I feel my work is cut out with re framing the experience.
Fast forward to visiting my sister and her two children…they were over the moon to see their Auntie Emily. I had such a warm welcome with hugs and smiles that I didn’t feel superfluous or lacking. And I remembered when we were children two great aunts who lived together and had never married. My sisters and I loved them and had so much fun with them, that we never considered them to be somehow lacking. It made me realise that even though we don’t have our own children we still have plenty to offer children and we are important in their lives. Children gain so much from having aunties and uncles.
While I am still working through my own feelings of sadness and haven’t yet got to the point of ending my trying to have a baby journey (though realise with my 41st birthday now very close that at some point in the not too distant future I will have to say that is it) sometimes I wonder if the feelings of lack originate from within me as I have not yet come to terms with my circumstances re children and that perhaps most people do view me as me and not primarily as her without children. It’s me that is struggling with my view of myself.
I loved the bit about not making resolutions because they somehow imply that what we are doing already isn’t good enough…hear hear! For me 2013 is about letting go without giving up (haven’t got there yet) and living in the present warts and all and accepting what is…whatever that may be. I too am done with trying to be perfect…impossible!
Happy New Year ladies 🙂
Dont mind admitting I am pleased Christmas is over this year, this was my first year realising my husband and I won’t have a family of our own and how did our friends and family support us? They left us out of the day completely thinking we would rather be on our own, not the decision I would have made but there. Still there’s something refreshing about a new year just around the corner and I’d rather celebrate that and the fact that with a different attitude from me Christmas can be different next year. That quote of Eleanor Roosevelt’s is on my fridge door, I need to read it more often. I know I have so much to give and I have as much right to be here as those who fit neatly in society’s perceived normal category. It is so sad that many peoples response to this situation is to ignore it, not mention it or change the subject. I am so pleased Gateway Women is providing a voice for us, it is very much needed.
Why do people think that we childless single women (childless widow, in my case) will feel better at Christmas by being tacked on to their families? It just makes me feel worse. I had a very low key Christmas, on my own terms, and coped fairly well.
By the way, everyone thinks that Eleanor Roosevelt was such a saint. You should know that she did everything in her power to prevent American soldiers during WWII from marrying foreign women, and bringing them back to the USA. My mother is a War Bride from Paris, and Eleanor Roosevelt was responsible for many people thinking of the War Brides as nothing better than camp followers. In my family, we have no time for her whatsoever. Leaving one’s country is a huge sacrifice, and my mother had a very tough time of it. She stayed on, and became a beloved teacher, active in volunteering for her community, and a wonderful mother. She was hardly a floozy or a gold digger. Take that, Eleanor!
Great post. the bit that resonated most strongly for me was the gift of accepting ourselves as “normal”:
“It doesn’t matter if the world doesn’t agree with you. They’ll come round. And even if they don’t, what have you got to lose except your unhappiness?
Throughout my journeying through ambivalence, circumstances, questions, analysing and angst, the thing that eventually stuck with me as helpful was to open the whole situation wide open and look at myself as a person, a woman, first and foremost. NOT just the role I felt I have missed out on as a mother. It seems to help to “destroy” the stereotypes of roles, especially for women. When I was in a career I used to beat myself up about that one too. The expectations and stressy ideals we hold ourselves up to, are perhaps mythical! We can never know another persons true experience of any role and whether mothers or not it doesn’t seem to help after a certain point to continue to aspire and improve. We can begin to feel alienated and ab-normal.
The thing is, this post reminded me of my sister. I became an aunt 18months ago and it was a new struggle really, because at first I resented or was shy about playing my part, all sorts of things. To complicate matters my sister lives in Australia, had 5 miscarriages before her beautiful son was born just past her 43rd birthday, I had supported her emotionally through her own “do I still have time” challenges (I seemed to forget my own clock!) Anyhow, he was born with Down Syndrome, she had major post natal depression. She hid it, she has come out the other side, the whole struggle for her was about, what is NORMAL, her? him?. So childless or not I am learning along with my sister that we are both Good Enough and normal. She recently got some blood test results and the words NORMAL were written next to each and every result, it was the first time she had laughed in a while as she said to me and finally accepted in herself “See, I told you and everyone else I was bloody normal!”
Thanks so much for the post with the invitation for all of us to accept ourselves, our part in the collective, our part in life. Motherhood may not have prevented us from having to learn this one and the eventual peace it can bring to accept ourselves, just as we are is perhaps a silver lining. Here’s to a Happy New Year 🙂
Yes……Next year WILL be different…. I will be sitting on a beach somewhere with my kindle. 🙂
I laughed when I saw the photo of the Japanese women giving the finger. It reminded me of the time I spent working in Japan when I was 27/28 and quickly learnt that unmarried women over the age of 25 there are called Christmas cake, as in unwanted and difficult to get rid of after the 25th birthday. So hey, spare a thought for our Japanese sisters!
As for next Christmas, yes, me too. I’ll be on the beach with my books and a cocktail.
Thanks for this suggestion–I agree that the only thing I can really change is myself and my own attitude. It’s something I’m already doing, and it has made a tremendous difference. This year, my Christmas was both low-key and enjoyable, mostly because I participated in the holiday on my own terms, and therefore was able to enjoy myself far more than in the years when I was either trying to meet others’ expectations, or beating myself up for not meeting my own expectations.
Thanks again for your wisdom!
I’m so pleased that the blog resonated with you – indeed, doing Christmas “on our own terms” is the essence of staying sane, and even, heaven forbid, actually enjoying ourselves at this time of year!
Hope your new year’s plans go well too.
Hugs, Jody x