Click the image above or this link to watch this 1-hour webinar hosted by More to Life as part of their excellent free webinar series for childless people, this one on the topic of “Coping with Holiday Expectations”.
As well as presenting my ‘Perfect Storm’ model to help you analyze and prepare for your holiday triggers in a new way, I am joined on the call by three members of ‘Team Gateway’, each of which are leading one of Gateway Women’s Plan B Mentorship Programmes in 2020: Lauren de Vere, Karin Enfield de Vries and Elizabeth Grambsch.
Here is an image of the ‘Four Winds’ that make up ‘The Perfect Storm’ of Christmas, which you may find helpful as you reflect on your own experience during the webinar.
You can also download a PDF of the ‘Perfect Storm’ presentation that I go through in the webinar above, which might make it easier to follow. Click here to view/download that.
I’ve created a transcript of the video below too and I hope this helps you get what you need from this detailed, experienced and friendly webinar. Thank you to Heather Whiffin, from More to Life, for her gracious hosting.
We can do this – let’s #ReclaimXmas!
Heather Whiffin: Hello, everybody. Welcome to this MTL tonight called Coping With Holiday Expectations. Now throughout the year we feel pulled this way and that way by the expectations of others. During the holiday season those expectations seem to heighten feelings of grief and pain and give us all sorts of strange dilemmas that we don’t feel throughout the rest of the year. So tonight I’m absolutely delighted to be joined by Jody Day and members of Team Gateway. Now we’re going to discuss how to manage these expectations a little bit better. Hi, Jody.
Jody Day: Hi, lovely to be here. Thanks for having us.
Heather Whiffin: Oh, thank you so much for coming along to this MTL webinar tonight. I’ve been really looking forward to this one so much. Now, what we’re going to do is Jody and I are going to have a little chat. Then there’s going to be a presentation and as I said a few other members will join us. But while we’re doing that if you can think of any questions you would like to ask Jody and Team Gateway then please submit them as we’re going along. If you want to know how to do that all you have to do is hover your cursor down at the bottom of the screen, and you will see Q & A. Click on Q & A, make sure that you select the anonymous function when you type in your question, and type away.
Heather Whiffin: Now, the reason that I’ve asked you to select the anonymous function is that this session will be recorded. It will be watched by others later, and we don’t want to disclose any of your personal details. Okay. Jody, why is it that we find the holiday season most difficult when we’re thinking about the expectations of others and living a childless life?
Jody Day: Well, thank you. It’s a huge question, isn’t it? I’ll do a presentation, which breaks it down a bit first. I suppose really Christmas is the ultimate miracle baby story. The whole season is focused around family. And around sometimes a quite unrealistic idea of family as well. It’s one that’s very in our face. When you asked me earlier in the year to do a webinar I chose tonight, which is the 5th of November, which for those of us who are in Britain is the second night of the holiday season. The holiday season really kicks off now on Halloween. For most of us, that’s the first time we’re like, “Oh, God. Here we go again. It’s that time of year again.” The 5th of November is Bonfire Night in Britain. Once again, lots of families are out in the street. Lots of people are attending bonfire parties at each other’s house or at public displays.
Jody Day: It’s that beginning of everything being focused on a very visible absence. Our difference as childless women becomes very visible at this time of year, and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so hard. In my experience most childless women start thinking about Christmas, or rather, trying NOT to think about Christmas, around about the beginning of September. When people say to me, “Well, it’s just one day. Why is it such a problem?” Well actually, no. It’s actually a quarter of the year. It starts to dominate your thinking in September. Then it kicks off with Halloween in October and it’s not really over until really the first week of January. It’s an awfully long time to be feeling out of step with our peers and out of step with society. I think we all need to give ourselves a big dose of self-compassion for how hard it is.
Heather Whiffin: It’s such an intense period, isn’t it? It’s an intense period as you say that lasts a long time and one in which we question our status. We feel other people are watching how we deal with our status as well. We feel that other people have ideas about how we should behave during that time, which can be very difficult for anybody, regardless of which stage you are on to find an acceptance about the fact that you are living your life without children. So, for people like me who think that I accept it as much as you can accept, probably about 10 years ago, actually it’s still a time that I find really, really difficult and do consider to be a time where triggers take me by surprise. Triggers that I no longer thought that I had any worries about or any concerns about and that I knew how to cope with.
Heather Whiffin: I thought I have a strategy for that one but actually they take you by surprise, and you find yourself questioning whether your strategy to cope with them actually does enable you to take on the intense feelings that they can bring on. So it’s a very intense period. As you said, it’s a long time. It’s a long time feelings.
Jody Day: The focus is relentless, you know? It’s like you can’t even open your gas bill without there being some message about Christmas or families. Every advert on the TV, whether it’s an advert for a sofa or food, is all focused around this idea that lots of people are coming together. If you don’t have children and perhaps you don’t have a partner, either, actually your Christmas isn’t like that. So there’s this real sensation of being completely out of step. This last Christmas, like you, I’m actually in a really, really good place with my childlessness, but I was at a Christmas fundraising dinner for a charity to do with old people.
Jody Day: Everyone there was talking about their grandchildren and this, that, and the other. All used to that one. Then some children from the local primary school came in, which they do every year at this dinner, and started singing Christmas carols. I didn’t know it was going to happen. Something about the sweetness of their voices just completely undid me. That’s the thing, you don’t see them coming at all. My partner looked at me because he was quite shocked to see. I’m okay with feeling moments as I call them because in a way they’re just reminders of the love that I have for those children I didn’t meet.
Jody Day: Even a decade on in my childless journey I can still get caught out. I think now I’m trying to work out … Now, I’ve been in a new relationship with my new life partner for three years now. Now it’s about how do we want to do Christmas? It does feel very quiet. How noisy do I want it to be? Actually, I don’t really want a noisy Christmas, but I’m not sure I’m quite happy with a quiet one, either.
Heather Whiffin: You made a really interesting point there about the power of television and adverts. They so often depict this magical time for children. You always imagine yourself that had you been a mother you would have created the best Christmas ever, and the most magical Christmas. I can be quite a creative person, so I still till this day I almost fantasize about the wonderful Christmas Eve we would have. The wonderful time we would have decorating the tree. Then I have to tell myself that it’s okay. That it’s quite normal to have those fantasies and think like that because of the society that I live in. I am immersed, whether I like it or not, I’m immersed in watching those adverts. The same as everyone else is at Christmas time.
Heather Whiffin: I also don’t want to remove myself completely from the magic of Christmas just because it can be a little bit painful. I do have to be part of it, as well. It can be very difficult.
Jody Day: I think that balance between being a part of it and appropriate of self-care is quite challenging. Last year I was in Spain in the run-up to Christmas. It’s a lot less obviously commercialized in a way. Not watching Spanish TV. Not watching those commercials. It was a lot easier being disconnected from the commercialism of it. I remember a long time ago, 30 odd years ago, the first time I spent Christmas in India.
Jody Day: This old lady who sold fruit on the beach walking down the beach with a basket on her head on Christmas morning selling me my pineapples and things. She said, “Oh, today is your festival day, isn’t it?” It was the first time in that moment of putting it into context that within the Hindu calendar this is just another festival day. They have so many festivals. Oh, this is all the tourists’ festival day. It cut it down to size a little bit. Yeah, this is our festival day. That was the beginning of realizing that Christmas doesn’t have to be this such a huge thing in my mind, even if it’s a huge thing in the culture. We’ll talk a bit more about expectations in the presentation I’m going to do. It’s so rich the stuff I got to prepare. I don’t want to talk too much about it now.
Heather Whiffin: Okay. Okay. So, do you want to start your presentation, Jody?
Jody Day: I will because time’s going to whizz by.
Heather Whiffin: Yeah, absolutely. We want to try and get some questions in at the end as well.
Jody Day: So, let me see where it is. Look it up. So do you have my presentation?
Heather Whiffin: Yes, I can see your presentation.
Jody Day: I’m going to see if I can make it full screen so there’s less … Does that look good?
Heather Whiffin: Yes, that looks wonderful. We can all see it beautifully.
Jody Day: Well, those of you who know me know I’m very serious but I also try to bring some into this. Into life and into our work dealing with our situation of childlessness. I start with an adaptation of a very famous painting by Munch. What I wanted to introduce you to on this webinar is a model, which I created, which is called The Perfect Storm. Now, The Perfect Storm is made up of four winds. These four winds are, in a way, four different categories almost of experiences that are very, very common to us as childless people around dealing with the holidays.
Jody Day: This doesn’t have to just be Christmas. This is the whole holiday season. For those who don’t celebrate Christmas or who aren’t Christian, if you’re living in the West in Western culture, you’re still exposed to all of this. Even, if it’s not your faith. What I’d like you do whilst I’m doing this presentation, if this is convenient for you because you might want to do it another time, is just to jot down some of the things that you find difficult about Christmas. We’re going to look more deeply at each of these four winds, which together make The Perfect Storm.
Jody Day: We’re going to start with the North wind. The North wind is a dark, internal world of difficult thoughts and feelings. Some of the really difficult feelings that come up around Christmastime 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 they may point to is not that you’re a miserable old humbug, but that you’re grieving.
Jody Day: Imagine this, if you had lost your children through a tragic accident, nobody, hopefully including yourself, would expect you to be able to join in the Christmas celebrations until you had fully grieved your losses. Frankly, nobody, including yourself, would ever expect Christmas to be slam dunk easy for you. I think it’s really important to acknowledge to ourselves, whatever anyone else thinks or says, our children are or were real to us because we wouldn’t be grieving if we didn’t love them.
Jody Day: It’s love that creates grief. We grieve their absence. That is one of the winds is the difference between our interior reality and what others are expecting of us. There can also be an expectation that somehow we’re going to put a bracket around all this at this time of year. That we’re just going to put a pause on all this difficult stuff and join in the holidays as if grief was something that had an off button. Believe you, if it did have an off button, we would have it. And no, alcohol isn’t the off button just in case you’re wondering.
Jody Day: The next wind is the East wind. This is what Heather and I were talking about. This really, really strong association in the culture, in the media, in and advertising, in schools, in our communities, in faith that happy Christmas, happy families. That those two things go together. I guess, the fact is, is that Christmas, it’s the ultimate miracle baby story. It’s a celebration of birth. Of motherhood. Of a child that didn’t just change his mother’s life, he changed the whole world. It’s a whole holiday guaranteed to push our buttons. If you imagine you add to this the relentless media focus on mothers, children, and happy family in the adverts, the culture and community focus on togetherness, it can be really hard to bear. For those of us who wanted to be mothers, we may have spent many Christmases thinking, one day, next Christmas, I’ll be able to do this with my own children.
Jody Day: Then, the years truck on and hope and disappointment mounts up. Our delight, our hopes may sour into bitterness and we may become negative and dismissive towards Christmas as a defense mechanism. “Oh, I hate Christmas.” “Oh, I don’t do Christmas.” We can become really bah humbug about it as a protection. That’s also another loss. Like Heather was saying, she still wants to feel part of Christmas and the enjoyment that she gets from it. So we lose that part of ourselves. The part that used to love and enjoy Christmas. I think it’s also really important as a mental check to this whole happy Christmas, happy families thing is that it is a cultural mirage. It’s actually a really difficult time of year for people with families, too, often.
Jody Day: This happy families thing really messes with everyone’s head. It’s projected large on every screen to make everyone feel like they’ve got something to live up to and buy into. It’s often about buying things commercially. The happy families thing is a great way to trigger people into buying stuff. We can choose to see past that if we want to. Just as another point, January the 2nd is famously the biggest day in the divorce lawyer’s calendar. So, the idea that everyone else is coupled up and having a great Christmas with their families it’s a really tough time of year for everyone. However, one of the annoying things is that you probably will read articles in the media about Christmas being stressful for families. You won’t read anything about it being stressful for us. It drives me nuts.
Jody Day: The next wind is the South wind. This is dealing with other people’s opinions and comments. This is really the expectations and behaviors of others. I think although mothers and others rarely mean to hurt our feelings or insult our intelligence, they often manage to do so anyway. At Christmas when many may be walking on eggshells around the subject of our childlessness, the opportunities for awkwardness and upset are magnified. I don’t know what it is but when people are trying their best to do their best around us, it often has the opposite effect. We’re all fairly used to the, “Have you thought of adoption, IVF, doing it on your own, just relaxing, internet dating,” or whatever this year’s latest suggestion is. A really good tactic is to have your answers ready. That’s good for all times of the year.
Jody Day: Additionally, at Christmas we may also have to deal with the lecherous uncle who nudges you and says, “Your turn soon.” Or maybe your family being really unhelpful by suggesting perhaps we sleep in the outhouse or on the sofa so that our siblings’ children can sleep in our bed. Often, there’s this devaluing of us as a member of the family because we don’t have kids and then people are surprised when we’re upset. They’re like, “Oh, she’s being very sensitive.” It’s like, no, it just really hurt my feelings. Then you can add to this the assumptions made by our peers who are stressed out who’ve got kids that somehow our experience of Christmas as childless people, our experience of life, is actually just a breeze. That it’s really relaxing. That we have loads of time and money. Even that it’s best not to leave us with the kids because we’re not used to them. There’s so much unexploded ordinance scattered around the house of most family Christmases.
Jody Day: The final of the four winds is the West wind. It says dealing with other people’s comments, but that’s me because it should have said something else. It’s actually high-pressure celebrations. I think certainly in the Gateway Women online community and for the last many, many years, really at Christmastime, which is from September onwards, people start asking about how they’re going to cope at celebrations, at Christmas. What they’re going to do. I think the thing that brings up the most anxiety is the prospect of attending our family celebrations as the childless one.
Jody Day: It’s such an incredibly public display of our difference. It’s really common, and don’t beat yourself up about this, to build ourselves into quite 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 either to be the cautionary tale for other people. How not to screw up your life. Right? Thank you very much. Or complete forgetting all the other things you’ve done with your life. Or the fun aunt. You may not be feeling like either of those. It’s a day when we might have to watch our siblings enjoying and struggling with parenthood and we’re left out of that. “Oh, you wouldn’t understand. You’re not a mother.” That classic comment.
Jody Day: The real pangs of seeing the sadness in our parents’ eyes that we don’t have children for them to have grandchildren. It’s not uncommon in families now, in smaller families, for none of the children to have children. Then others dread the casual denigration that you get like in given the worst seat at the table or being expected to do all the chores so that the parents can have a rest. Then you add alcohol, the usual family buttons and arguments, rich food, not enough sleep, strange beds, being away from home, hangovers, constipation, boredom, over-eating. All the things that happen. It’s hardly surprising that Christmas starts to feel more like a swear word than a celebration.
Jody Day: Now, I think when you add all of those things together, is it really so surprising that Christmas is the perfect storm for us? That’s why at Gateway Women, we have our hashtag, which has been going for a few years now, which is #ReclaimXmas. What we do is think about using this model, The Perfect Storm model, to think about how the things we find difficult, where they fit in the model. Then start to think about what can we do differently this season to #ReclaimChristmas. At this point, my last slide is that. I say let’s reclaim Christmas. That’s my motto because Christmas is for everyone. Not just for children. Can I just remind everyone that Jesus was actually childless. It really is a holiday for us, as well. So, I shall stop sharing my presentation. It’d be lovely to invite Team Gateway, as Heather called it, Elizabeth, Karin, and Lauren to join the call. There they are. Thank you.
Heather Whiffin: While you were talking Jody, another thing that occurred to me was quite often expectations from work colleagues.
Jody Day: Oh, yes.
Heather Whiffin: At Christmastime for you to take on more of the burden at work in order for them to have their happy Christmas. Happy family.
Jody Day: Yes. Yep. Never heard that one! That’s a joke… That the whole issue around childlessness in the workplace, that is one of the biggest bugbears is this sense that you don’t have kids, therefore, you don’t really need time off at Christmas. You can do all the difficult shifts. It’s so unspoken actually that if you push back against it you’re seen as being really difficult and unhelpful when in actual fact it’s a fairness issue. It’s like, well no, I get to have a Christmas, too. Not only am I a fully-fledged employee, I’m a fully-fledged human. I get to enjoy this holiday, too.
Jody Day: So joining on us on the call are three of Gateway Women’s trained facilitators. They all lead Reignite weekends and in February 2020 they’re all actually leading Gateway Women’s Plan B year-long mentorship program. Karin and Elizabeth are leading it online. Lauren is leading it live in London. These are my three very experienced members of Team Gateway, who’ve all got different journeys through the holiday season. Different experiences. I wondered, which one of you would like to share where you see your difficulties fitting on that model if that’s a helpful way to structure it? What things came up for you around these issues?
Lauren de Vere: One of the things that came up for me is about how particularly when I’ve been single how I don’t somehow merit being the host of Christmas. Somehow, I’m not grown up enough to be able to do that. It’s almost like to be a host you have to have family and children. It’s a real negation of me, I think.
Jody Day: Yeah, it’s a very common one. I think for those of us who have experienced long-term singleness that happens at all times of the year. This sense that they won’t travel to visit us. Our parents or family members won’t travel half an hour, an hour to visit us, but they’ll go even to Australia to visit people who have children. We’re like, hello, what am I? Chopped liver. You also don’t get to show that you’re a grown-up and you have your own life and your own way of doing things. They get stuck in a fixed idea of who we are as well.
Lauren de Vere: Yeah, it denies you the pleasure of giving, and actually hosting, and cooking for people. Doing all those lovely things, that I think are lovely, around Christmas.
Jody Day: Yeah, and that we’ve spent so many years looking forward to. Well, that’s interesting because one of the experiences I’ve had from working with this model in workshops is actually to think about something like that and to suggest it. One of the difficulties is, is that we often start thinking and planning about different things around Christmas a bit too late. We spend most of the year relieved it’s not happening yet.
Jody Day: Then, in September, we go, “Oh, crikey, it’s coming again.” Then, we start making changes in November and December, which is often too late for other people. There’s a sense that maybe the whole juggernaut of how we do it in this family is already going. One of the tips is to actually think about start saying in your family, “I’d really like to host Christmas next year.” Get these ideas in very, very early. Get people starting to get used to them. As you say, you might get some pushback. People might not agree to do it. I know that others have experienced that other family members have been delighted to have a year off. Often, it’s just about asking at the right time. It’s a long time since I hosted Christmas. Yeah. I share that one.
Elizabeth Grambsch: I think what’s hard for me when I consider hosting is the decorating. I had a very happy childhood with a lot of decorating. The tree. Singing. Making food, cookies, baking. Big family. It was always a wonderful time for me. We have a tradition of passing along the Christmas tree ornaments from generation to generation. So, I acquired a certain set of ornaments from my grandmothers and then from my mother and then from me. For many years I couldn’t put up the tree because I had no one to give that to. That brought up that North wind of a difficult internal feeling of well, I’m not going to want people over because I don’t want to put up the tree and have to face those ornaments.
Jody Day: Yeah. To other people it’s just an ornament, but to you there’s this internal reality of what they represent that you’re struggling with and you’re like, “Nope, you’re staying in the box.”
Elizabeth Grambsch: I didn’t take them out of the box for 10 years.
Jody Day: Yeah, I remember the first time I put up a Christmas tree for myself it was about, I think it was about six or seven years ago now, and it was a really key moment. I’d been single for quite some time, living by myself. I’d gone through a few very bleak Christmases of trying to avoid Christmas. That was actually the first year of the #ReclaimXmas. I bought a Christmas tree for myself. I decorated it for myself. I bought and made ornaments for myself. Nobody saw it except me and the cat and quite a few Gateway Women because I photographed it and put it on my Christmas card. I just thought that was the year going, I deserve to celebrate Christmas. I think it was the beginning of reclaiming it doesn’t matter if I don’t have any guests, I don’t have a partner, I’m not having a Christmas party, I don’t have a family. It’s like I would like a tree. It was a key moment for me. What about you Karin?
Karin Enfield de Vries: Yeah, for me I think it’s a little bit different. For me, I’ve always been a massive fan of Christmas because I live in Holland. Well, I’m from Holland. I live in Belgium. In December, we actually have two big holidays in this part of the world. Where on the 5th of December we celebrate Saint Nicholas, which is where Santa Claus originates from. There’s a whole big story and narrative behind it. He’s from Spain. He arrives on a boat, somewhere early, mid-November. The whole country goes into this whole Saint Nicholas frenzy. Children are allowed to stay up late, put their shoe by the chimney and stuff, and sing up the chimney so Saint Nicholas brings little gifts before the date of the 5th of December. It’s already three or four weeks, he’s about to arrive next week, three or four weeks of this whole frenzy-ness and this build-up. Then on the 5th of December everyone comes together and exchanges gifts. How other people celebrate Christmas, that’s what happens on the 5th of December.
Karin Enfield de Vries: My birthday is on December 6th. As a child, I was really, really happy about Saint Nicholas and then it was my birthday. I got presents on the 5th, I got presents on the 6th, then because our family history has a link to Canada, my Mum’s side of the family celebrates Christmas. It was a whole month of celebrations. I loved it. Now looking at where I am as a childless woman, I’ve always celebrated Christmas. I’ve always put up a tree. However, what I’ve noticed over the last few years is that my interpretation of Christmas has changed. Indeed, I still put a tree, much to my husband’s annoyance. I still put up a tree. I even bought, a little bit to your story, two years ago I even bought two special ornaments with little angels in them that represents our long for children and stuff. I put those up in the tree and I’ve shared that online as well in the community.
Karin Enfield de Vries: So I’m trying to build our own Christmas memories around it. At the same time, yeah, listening to your The Perfect Storm, when I was listening to you Jody, I don’t know if it’s visible. Here’s the North, South, and West. I drew a little tornado between the East, South, and West. North, I’m okay. With those three I’m rotating between those three.
Jody Day: Yeah, you’ve got a little tornado going on there.
Karin Enfield de Vries: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Jody Day: I think it’s really useful to do what you did. For those who are watching the webinar live, you can watch it again and maybe slow down the process of the presentation that I did and spend some time looking at how the things that you find difficult fit into the model. One of the reasons I think we can internalize this idea that we’re the one finding it difficult. That there’s something wrong with us. That we need to be handling it better. I think when you start to see how complex it is and how many things are converging on us at this time of year, we can give ourselves some compassion.
Jody Day: I think if we looked at someone else who was experiencing this, we would probably go, “Gosh, this must really be a tough time of year for you. What can I do to help you get through this time of year?” Yet, we need to show ourselves some of that compassion. It might be that actually you want to pass on Christmas this year. You need to maybe be, talk to your partner, talk to your friends, talk to whoever you need to, to maybe take a pass on it. I took a pass on a few. I went to a Buddhist retreat one year as you’ve heard. I’ve been to India. I knew when I was ready to re-engage with Christmas. I went to stay with my nieces. My four nieces who live in a big old country house and it’s a proper Victorian English family Christmas.
Jody Day: I needed to take a break until I could do that. It’s so hard to take your sadness with you into a place where everyone’s expecting you to be happy. It’s the cognitive dissonance between your interior feelings and the face you’re expected to put on can be absolutely draining. I mean one of the things I would recommend is if you are really struggling this year is probably one of the most useful things I can mention is plan your exit routes. Never go to anything without having a really good exit plan. If anything, I still actually prefer to have an exit plan, that gets me out of things early while I’m still enjoying them. I’d rather leave feeling great and wishing I could stay longer than three hours later when I’m really struggling and I wish I had left.
Jody Day: If you signal that quite early so nobody is surprised. Engineer it. Find something else you’ve got to go to. Find an obligation. Say you’ve got to get home to pick up the dog. If you haven’t got a dog, get a dog. Really, really be creative about thinking what am I going to need? How much time can I tolerate? After the Christmas lunch and things like that suggest the walk. Get out of the house. Christmas parties, anything where you’re expected to show up, show up a little bit late. Leave a little bit early. If you have someone to go with you who knows you really well you can even have a special signal. Preferably not s-l-a-s-h – just a little thing that goes, “I maybe need to go now.”
Jody Day: Factor in self-care. What do you need to recover after something like that? Who do you need to spend time with? It might be a box set of Game of Thrones. It might be a really good friend. It might be a pet. It might be spending time at a Gateway Women meetup or in the online community or in a More to Life meetup. Somewhere where you’ll find connection. It’s really having a plan is crucial. What do you think, Heather, what plans do you think about plans?
Heather Whiffin: Well, while you were talking there what came to mind for me that I guess I’ve only started to recognize in probably the last five years or so is that once Christmas is all over, I find myself having a few days of feeling quite sad for the children that I never had. I find myself looking back at celebrations and thinking I’m never going to have that. However, this is the start of a new year. What else can I think about to give myself that positive feeling again, to get my mojo back, and to feel good about the coming year? What actually happens I find is I have a few days where I let myself feel sorry for myself and I participate in some self-care. Then I say to myself that has actually enabled me to think positively for the rest of the year now.
Heather Whiffin: It’s almost as if I need to accept that Christmas can be a difficult time and that it’s passed and that my life isn’t the way I expected it to be. It isn’t like most of my sisters. It’s completely different. However, I’ve got a life to live and there are lots of things I want to do this year. It’s a strange mixture for me after Christmas of grief and positivity.
Jody Day: I think that’s a brilliant noticing. Actually, it’s the grief that gives us the positivity. People worry about grief. They think it’s something to be avoided, but grief is actually the emotional and physiological emotion that enables us to actually process loss. Something I’ve found, and many women find, is often when things get quiet that our grief surfaces. Often we can be absolutely maxed out with work and we’re really looking forward to a quiet weekend, or a week off, or a holiday. We have that space and bam, grief comes up. We’re like, “Really, now?”
Jody Day: Staying really busy is a way to suppress grief, which is often why a lot of childless woman can tip into workaholism. We have to be quite careful of that because busyness is a great grief defender. Then we stop. We stop and the grief comes in. The grief is there to help us deal with the loss. I, too, find the very liminal, in-between-y space between Christmas and New Year quite challenging. In the olden days I used to set myself up to fail by having this huge to-do list of things I was going to get done in that time, which might be work-related or they might be house related or self-care related or whatever. I now don’t have those.
Jody Day: I now leave that space quite empty, which is quite challenging, and accept that possibly stuff will arise like it does with you during that time. Also, things go really quiet. It’s super tough if you’re single. That space. People who are in couples disappear. Maybe they go off to see extended members of the family in other parts of the country. Maybe they hunker down into their couple unit. Everything else is shut. It can be a really, really tough time. It’s a very busy time in the Gateway Women community. I think preparing for that, thinking, okay, this is often my tricky time. How can I support myself in that rather than being taken by surprise by it. Or judging ourselves for it. Yeah.
Karin Enfield de Vries: Yeah, I’d like to add to that, also to Heather’s comment about how you look to make a list of positive things that you want to do for the new year. I think it’s also fitting also with the time of year. The quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s, it is indeed for me, I always look at the times where I have my big mental clear out almost. Where I really go, okay, what has happened this year? I read through my journals I’ve had over the past year. I look at my list of positive things or dreams that I wrote down for the year that’s ending and say, okay, where am I now? Where am I compared to where I was at this time last year. I think it’s very fitting to the time of year as well also to allow yourself to take stock. To really look into yourself and say, “Okay, what is it that I do want to do? What will do I want to take with me? What do I want to leave behind.”
Karin Enfield de Vries: What I found, what really helped me, it to actually perform almost a little ritual. The morning of New Year’s Eve, I tend to do this. Is where I burn the list that I wrote the previous year. I get dressed. I make the house all snug and warm. I pour myself a nice cup of tea. I read through that list. I do my quiet time. I burn it ritually and then scatter the ashes either in the wind or just put them in the bin. Wherever I want to put them. It really helped me to really close off the previous year and then really start with a clean slate for the new year. I’ve been doing that now for nearly three years and it really helps me to look at the new year almost with fresh eyes.
Jody Day: That’s lovely. Rituals are so important. We use a lot of rituals in the work we do at Gateway Women because they’re so important. It’s about making visible something intangible. Like what Karin did with putting Christmas tree ornaments on her tree that represent her children. For example, you can buy presents for your unborn children and put them under the tree. There’s lots of ways you can make that absence a presence in a way that is a way to really honour your loss. Only you need to know what it’s about if necessary but it can be really poignant and powerful to go actually my grief and my love is present at this tree. Maybe the baubles might be perhaps a less public way to do it than a gift under a tree if it’s not your own tree. It’s beautiful.
Jody Day: I don’t actually make to-do lists or New Year resolutions anymore. I’ve, not given them up, I’ve given myself a break from them. It’s still a deeply reflective time for me. I think it’s lovely what you do, Karin. Do you have, Elizabeth or Lauren, do you have a way of marking that time of year.
Elizabeth Grambsch: We actually did the same thing that Karin did. We bought a gift for our unborn children after we finished The Online Bee 2017. That was a new ritual that we have. It made a huge difference. My husband and I know that that’s our children right there on that ornament in that tree. I have put up the tree the last few years. We have hosted, intentionally hosted, Christmas. Christmas Eve. We keep Christmas day to ourselves. We do keep that quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s as well. We don’t schedule anything. We don’t work. We just allow that space to help us.
Jody Day: I think allowing that space is crucial. I’m just aware of the time. I’m wondering if we have any questions coming in, Heather?
Heather Whiffin: I can see we have two. Love that will try not to scream is a comment that somebody has made. Okay, but we do have a question. Joking aside, while the commercialization of Christmas could indeed make you scream, I’m wondering what are the best ways of feeling that we can be content if we do spend the actual day alone? Then there’s a little bit further comment there. Although I have been invited by friends to their family Christmas, they have children, don’t you find being the single person celebrating with a friend’s family, that it’s sad being the person not part of the family the rest of the year?
Jody Day: Well, I think when you are the single person at that celebration, probably it’s your internal reality that’s going to make the difference to how it feels. I think I’ve been the single person at another celebration and felt very almost like the little match girl with my face against the window looking in at other people’s Christmas and have really struggled and have had to go to my room quite a lot and gather myself. It’s been a strain. Then there have been times when I’ve done that when I have really felt their love and allowed it in. Their love for me and their welcome of me hasn’t triggered my grief of my childlessness and my singleness. It’s where I’ve been at has been crucial in whether I’ve been able to actually enjoy it or now.
Jody Day: I found, I have spent a Christmas on my own, and it was very interesting how much it troubled everyone else. So much so that I actually only lasted Christmas morning because everyone was so worried about me. People wanted to get involved. I think it triggers their feelings of loss and abandonment and loneliness. Actually, I think managing, that’s a really crucial one, for managing other people’s expectations. I don’t know how much we really need to tell people what we’re doing. Maybe we can be a bit vague about it. I think having to explain to everyone that you’re spending Christmas on your own and why you’re doing it is very stressful. I think it’s up to you to do what you want to do. I think you can tell them you’re going to St. Lucia. They don’t need to know. Actually, you can go to St. Lucia. Anyone else have thoughts on spending Christmas alone?
Lauren de Vere: I did a transition year one year, which I really loved. I did a bit of everything. I did the family bit, where I was with my sister and her children. I stayed there for a couple of hours. I then spent lunch with my Mum, because she’s in a home. So I did that bit. Then I went and spent some time with friends. Then, I had the evening on my own. I did a little bite-sized chunks, if you like, and demarcated the day in that way. It went really well. Really well. Then no one asks you why you’re going to be on your own all day. You do get some me time. The whole day for me was all about self-care and managing them. Managing me. By managing them I got to do the self-care bit.
Jody Day: I love that and that arriving late and leaving early. I’m just here for a couple of hours and then I have some decompression time. It looks like a film, it sounds like a Richard Curtis film, that day.
Lauren de Vere: It was very fluid and it was lovely because I knew I wasn’t going to be spending a long time in any one place. I knew I was going to spend the evening all by myself where I could sit on the sofa, eating crisps and Christmas cake, or do what the hell I liked.
Jody Day: One thing I wanted to say about spending Christmas alone is there’s a lot of people will go and suggest to you, you go and volunteer. It’s rather like when you say you’re childless they suggest adoption and say, “Why don’t you volunteer?” Just to let you know, great idea to volunteer, lots and lots of cute families have the same idea. You’ll often find good looking, recently married couples volunteering at the soup kitchen or people taking their children to show them what life’s like for the disadvantaged. It’s not necessarily a free pass to avoid triggers. Just to be aware of it.
Heather Whiffin: We have some more questions here. One is, I’d like a quiet retreat and living in the South where Christmas combines with summer holidays, the constant, “What are your plans,” questions are super tiring. When I say I am home it is a problem so now I lie that I am away. Weird or not? Any advice?
Jody Day: Not at all. Like I said, if you said you’re in St. Lucia and if you’re in the Antipodeans then you probably say you’re in Bali or something like that. It’s really none of anyone’s business what you’re doing at Christmas. Sometimes, “What are you doing for Christmas,” it’s not necessarily a question people are looking for an answer to. It’s rather like, “Have you got children?” It’s a social question that a lot of people ask without really thinking what position they might be putting someone in. I’m pretty sure it’s a question none of us ask of other people because we know chances are there might be something tricky about the answer. I would say, thank you for your question, enjoy your quiet retreat of a Christmas. Really enjoy it and I’ll see you in Lombok.
Heather Whiffin: There’s another question, which is something that we haven’t discussed tonight, which is I struggle buying presents for my friends and families. I end up feeling like Scrooge. Any ideas?
Karin Enfield de Vries: I recognize that one. I always go the other way. For a long time I felt that I had to over-compensate for the fact that I was the childless career woman earning the money. Me and my husband, money to spend. Double income. All that stuff. I had for a long time had it in my head that that’s what people expected from us. That they were expecting the big gifts and they were expecting the grand gestures.
Karin Enfield de Vries: Then one year I decided to completely try something different. I found it very scary. I’ve only done it one year. I have toned down since. I made homemade jams and chutneys because our peach tree was so successful fruiting that year. I put them in little jars and home drawn labels on them and stuff. I really went creative with it, which helped me with my grieving process. That’s a different story. The reaction I got to that was quite heart-warming. I did not expect it to be that lovely to get those reactions. The point I’m trying to make, even if you feel like Scrooge, it’s all how you expect other people to respond to what you give. I think it’s literally, it almost sounds like a cliché, but the gesture of giving, it doesn’t matter what. I find now it’s getting more and more important than the actual gift itself.
Elizabeth Grambsch: Yeah. We have a lot of our nieces and nephews and most of the children in our family, their birthdays are in November, December, and January. I told everybody I’m going to celebrate everybody’s birthdays but I’m not sending Christmas gifts anymore. Once I started it they really like it. I celebrate their birthdays around the holidays more than Christmastime. That seems to work really well for me. I like the homemade ideas. I might try that this year, Karin.
Karin Enfield de Vries: I have some recipes. No worries.
Jody Day: How do you manage it, Lauren? The gift-giving.
Lauren de Vere: Yeah, I’ve done the homemade thing. I’ve made chocolates.
Jody Day: I think I’ve had some of your homemade Christmas confections.
Lauren de Vere: I think you have. Yes! It’s an easy thing to do. I get things like heart shapes, the silicon moulds, so that I can make really pretty chocolates, as well. I found that really gets a lovely response. I think actually out there people are tired of things and stuff. Being brought things that they don’t actually really need. It’s just nobody really wants to say that. Having a homemade gift I think is probably-
Jody Day: And also managing our very natural expectations, which can be quite difficult about what we’re going to receive in return. I do notice that if I spend a lot of time providing a very thoughtful gift, well I consider it to be very thoughtful, and then I get back something, which just feels like it’s been re-gifted or bunged together, “Oh, that will do for Jody,” kind of thing. I struggle with it I’ll admit. Like Karin says, it’s not to do with the monetary value. It’s to do with the sense of the thought that’s behind it. If it doesn’t feel it’s thoughtful, I do struggle. Some, I think particularly when we have lots of young children in our extended family and our social network and we’re providing toys and gifts and things like that, without the parents acknowledging the effort that we’re going to. Without thank you letters and some acknowledgment of time and money that we’re spending to celebrate their children, that can really wear relationships down.
Karin Enfield de Vries: Yes. I have a brother and a sister. They both have children. They haven’t heard of the concept of thank you notes at all. That is really something that I’m starting to notice within myself that’s really starting to bug me. Also, there indeed about managing my own expectations, also their reactions and their responses. Yeah.
Jody Day: It’s not a big part of their culture. Their family; their culture, and it’s not for us to make it. We do have to manage that feeling of like, hmm. Yeah. Heather?
Heather Whiffin: I found with the presents, when I felt I didn’t fit in because I was childless, and Karin you make a really good point about overcompensating, I feel I used to try and buy everybody these gorgeous presents. Actually, looking back it was because I hadn’t really turned up in my life in being me because I was so grief-stricken about the fact that I didn’t have children that I was trying to be something that I wasn’t and this super generous person. Over the years, I’ve actually realized that you give people the best gifts that you can that you hope that they will like. It doesn’t define who you are by the gift that you give them. That’s actually been a big learning point for me. At the time I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I recognized it was in my grief about not being a Mum. That was quite important to me. It was actually a big turning point when I decided that the gifts that I buy for people are going to be reasonable gifts and well thought out gifts and sometimes homemade gifts. They’re going to be genuine gifts.
Karin Enfield de Vries: Yeah. Thank you for pointing it out because it wasn’t until someone else said to me, “Hey, Karin, do you realize if you are acting like Santa Claus (like Father Christmas), if you’re willing to act like Santa Claus, why don’t you wear the suit that goes with it?” I thought why I should I walk around with a Santa outfit on every day? “You are acting like the person so why don’t you dress the part?” That for me was a real eye-opener when I realized like-
Jody Day: God bless Dutch directness, eh?
Karin Enfield de Vries: It really was. It wasn’t even a Dutch person who said it to me. It really was for me. It really links into, Heather, what you just said. How I wasn’t being true to myself. I was overcompensating. I was trying to be something that I wasn’t because indeed I was grief-stricken. Now I’ve come out the other end of that. I now buy from my heart. It really has made a difference.
Jody Day: Perhaps not feeling that we’re not welcome just for us. We have to do something. We have to be the perfect aunt. The perfect friend. Provide the perfect gifts. Somehow, we have to perform this role in order to be welcome at the Christmas celebrations. I think we when we make peace with our childlessness, we realize just being us, that’s who’s invited. We are invited.
Heather Whiffin: Jody, I hate to do this because we have the most wonderful, frank, open, and honest discussions here. Wonderful questions submitted. I do actually think we are coming to the end of this webinar now. Before we go I do want to say thank you to Karin, Elizabeth, Lauren and of course Jody for putting this all together tonight and that wonderful presentation. I am actually going to watch the recording, which will be available in about two weeks’ time. I am actually going to look back at your slides and I’m going to think about The Perfect Storm.
What's your experience?