Yes, I know the words ‘dreaming’, ‘childless’ and ‘Christmas’ look incongruous together.
But for me, it’s really something I’ve been dreaming of all this busy Autumn. Right now I’m at home alone, tucked up in a warm bed with a warm cat delicately snoring at my side. The streets of London are hushed as most people have already left town. After an exhaustingly excellent year with the growth of the Gateway Women Online Community and the publication of my first book, I’m happily in my pyjamas with a steaming cup of coffee made exactly the way I like it and contemplating the joy of a couple of weeks of life lived at a much slower pace. No, I’m not stopping completely, as for me one of the joys of Christmas is the chance to catch up on a couple of projects. But as I gradually uncoil from the year, I can begin to see that I’m actually going to do much less than I imagined, which for someone who works as hard as I do is a very good sign.
Since early November, the UK has been ramping up for Christmas, our biggest cultural festival of the year. And the one that most celebrates the idea of the ‘happy family’. Now, even those of us who know from first-hand experience that family Christmases are rarely frictionless events can get caught up in this idea that everyone else is having a perfect Christmas. Everyone except those of us who are involuntarily childless, us poor Little Match Girls of modern times. However, once you’ve seen through the myth that motherhood is the ‘only’ route to a meaningful and fulfilling life, you begin to notice an awful lot of other myths coming unstitched too.
Quite a few Gateway Women members are spending Christmas alone, by choice or by circumstance, and what I’m hearing is that they are looking forward to it as a sort of guilty pleasure. What’s interesting is how many of their relatives and friends are coming out of the woodwork aghast at this and trying to persuade them to spend Christmas with them (even guilt-tripping them into doing so to make themselves feel better!) It does seem strange when society is quite happy to let single, childless women spend every other day of the year alone without giving it a second thought that they think we might combust if left alone on December 25th! Perhaps it says much more about them, and their sense of social panic about us than anything else, including genuine thoughtfulness. There are times when we would welcome an invitation, but if we’ve said we’re happy to spend Christmas alone, why pester us so?
Because surely it is better to be alone, doing exactly as you wish rather being the ‘charity case’ at someone else’s feast? Not that it’s not lovely to be a guest, if that’s what you’d really like – and indeed, I chose to spend last Christmas at my outlaws with 4 of my fabulous nieces and right in the heart of a loving family. I invited myself and they were thrilled to have me, after years of me avoiding such things because of my childless grief.
This year, I’ll be spending Christmas Day with my mother and stepfather – they do Christmas beautifully and in a very grown up yet playful way. It’ll be fun. Then home to a quiet flat, a warm cat and a good book. Home to a bewitched and empty London for ice-skating, long walks by the Thames and gallery visits with friends old and new. Home to a quiet desk to catch up with some academic work. Home to lots of mince pies and much too much chocolate.
Home to me and to celebrate and cherish the life that I’ve rebuilt out of rivers of tears and heartbreak, one scary step at a time. Nothing has ever felt so precious as the happiness and fulfilment I’ve found alone as a single, childless woman. Nothing has been harder won.
I know that I’m lucky to have the choice to be with others or be alone – although for many years I couldn’t see it. All I could see was what I didn’t have – a partner and children. I was simply too heartbroken to be grateful for what I did have. Grief has refashioned my heart into something much more flexible – and generous. I see the opportunities for gratitude everywhere, including in my own dark moments. From my darkness my creativity and passion have been reborn. As Jung so wisely said, ‘The gold is in the dark’.
Having come out the other side of my grief over childlessness, I find I am transformed by it. It’s as if I’ve faced death and have not been found wanting. I can trust myself now – both my present and my future. I don’t know what the future holds, but that feels exciting again and not terrifying.
After what I’ve lived through, Christmas really doesn’t have the power to freak me out anymore. I’ve made my peace with it, and with life. And isn’t that what Christmas is meant to be about, after all? And chocolate, of course.
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Thanks, Jody, for being there, a voice in the noisy wilderness. Finally, some reconciled peace at Christmas: working at my job all three days, 2 -10 pm, so no cooking, deliver babies at work as a midwife, then off to Ragdale Hall for three days over New Year’s. It does get better…
Hmmm, new year at ragdale hall, sounds like a really excellent idea. Wonder if I can get in somewhere last minute. Hope you have a lovely time. X
Thanks, Sarah! My friends and colleagues were feeling very sorry for me, working over Christmas; now they are openly envious. The single rooms sold out very quickly, and there is a party New Year’s Eve, maybe next year?
Enjoy the party and maybe see you online x
jody, im not commenting on the blog but Ive just bought your book and I wanted to say how good it was that you are in print and i have a book where i have met the author so hope your Christmas is great and that 2014 is awesome. Lis x
Thanks Lis! Hope I get to see you in 2014 and I can sign it for you 🙂 x
Thanks for taking the time to post this so close to Christmas. Your words bring tears but those of feeling a connection to someone who understands. This Christmas for me is one to make some new traditions that don’t involve my siblings & their families. This new start is scary but necessary, as there is no turning back to being the “tack-on” aunt. I just can’t sit & watch someone else’s family enjoy Christmas and not really be a part of it. It’s time to make a life for myself with my husband, children or not. My motto leading up to this season has been “Who says Christmas is for Children?”, so I have appreciated your ideas of creating an Adult Christmas Eve & sharing how you are spending your Christmas Day. Thanks again for all that you are doing for Childless by Circumstance Women. I do hope you enjoy some down time & find a way along with the rest of us to reclaim Christmas.
I, too, am a “tack-on” aunt and have chosen to make new traditions this year despite pressure from family. We are hosting a party on Christmas Eve with people here in town, who are spending it alone. I’m looking forward to it!
Hi Sue, I have spent years thinking that being a tack-on aunt would somehow make up for my own lack of children and I’ve spent years being distressed that my relationship with my brother meant I only saw them once or twice a year. However, your words really struck a chord with me – if I ever got what I wanted I would just be watching someone else’s life and not living mine. Thanks for posting! xx
I just wanted to write to thank you for posting – your words really touched a nerve for me – I have spent years wishing that I could be a tack-on aunt in the hope that it might fill the child-shaped hole in my life – my relationship with my brother means I only get to see my niece and nephew once a year. But you’ve given me a breakthough moment – if I got what I thought I wanted, I would just be watching someone else’s life rather than really living my own. Sounds obvious, but I have spent a long time focusing on the wrong things.
I hope you had a happy and peaceful Christmas. xx
For the last 28 years, Christmas has been a swear word for me. I have stuffed all of my heart wrenched feelings of being heartbroken and isolated into this figuratively speaking “box” and put it up in my closet. Because I am the childless woman in my family and my husband’s I’ve had to endure Christmas after Christmas of my sister’s and/or sister-in-laws’ stories of their children at Christmas time. I’ve had to watch their incredibly cute children, in their snuggly little onesey pj’s or their really pretty velvet Christmas dresses, with soft blonde curls, and long eyelashes, with chubby, awkward, little hands tear open gifts, be off the wall with excitement, sometimes with sniffly noses. I’ve sat at breakfast tables and dinner tables with this smile pasted on my face – cause it’s such a happy time for all – and god forbid I mention my pain at being childless. This year I took out the “box”; I have no idea why. I went and touched everything in that “box” and moved it all around”. It’s now open and raw. I have no clue why I did that. I tried to reach out to someone, anyone, on fb with my friends and got hit back with comments like: you should be more optimistic….., or do you have any idea how expensive children are, my kids are still at home and I’m 50 something…., really, you can take an African Safari, but I can’t…… Needless to say, I closed down my fb account absolutely humiliated and horrified. It has been impossible for me to find any kind of support system within my own little “bubble”. You have no idea how grateful I am to have found Gateway-women.
Hi Diane, I hope you managed to have a nice Christmas despite opening up the box. I wanted to reply because I am always astonished at how people with children respond – making it sound as if we are the lucky ones, when they have chosen to have one, two, three children and seem oblivious to the fact that we might want to give up the ‘freedom’ they say we’re lucky to have or the ‘money’ they think we have so much more of. That coupled with the whole parade of nonsense messages on fb about how being a mum is the best job in the world, like this page if you’re a mum, no-one understands being a mum unless they are one etc and I often just feel angry and upset, especially when it comes from friends.
I think you’re really brave opening the box up – hopefully it will be the start of a healing process for you. Take good care. xx
I just spent 2 days with my family and come home. I did not want to stay for Christmas itself. Too much church for me. I will spend the day with my cat and husband and I like it quieter also. Thanks for a great piece Jody. I wish you the best of holidays and hope you are looking forward to a great 2014 – I know I am.
I think you touched on an important point about the hard won good feelings about being childless and single. There is something freeing about letting go of conventional respectability and embracing one’s creativity that leads to self respect and it is wonderful.
Thanks for all that you do.
A rich and empowering post, Jody; thank you so much! This year here in the frozen tundra of northeastern Wisconsin, USA, I’ve been one of the many harbingers of the Christmas season. Stores here have been in full holiday regalia since mid-September, and I’ve been in the middle of it all, selling anything and everything to do with Christmas, winter, and of course – children! But after the store closes and I’m walking to my car, I truly get a twisted kick out of knowing I’m one of the puppet masters of the holidays, not a puppet on a string; dutifully going from store to store, spending money I don’t have on people who’ll generally forget how humbled and grateful they were for my gift as soon as the new year arrives. You know the types: Miss “For me? Oh you shouldn’t have”, and Mr. “You didn’t have to get me anything”, or the infamous Mrs. “Well, it was the thought that counts”. I know I’m cynical, but I relish the fact that I’m not fake! I’m also tickled that I’m not one of millions of women stuck with the role of embodying the Spirit of Christmas for their entire family simply for giving birth! What a drag… Gosh I love being me! And I love that you love being you! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!
I would be jealous, but you’ve shown me how to reclaim Christmas, so I’m not!
Love the sentence “It’s as if I’ve faced death,” because that’s exactly what I thought a few days ago. Not becoming a mother is facing death in a way. And it’s alright. Gold in the darkness is indeed what I’ve found, and I’m all the happier for it.
Happy Christmas, dear, dear Jody. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us.
Sooo happy to find this website and the comments. We are all part of the human family. We need to belong, but it’s especially tough to feel it around the holidays or any other time for that matter, when everyone is focused on kids. Comforting to know you guys are out there.
I really like the sound of this marjon! I have indeed felt that I’m facing death and have to somehow get through it. I have moments of believing that I won’t always feel like this, but at Christmas I feel like I’ve been sent to Coventry. None of my friends are available to play with, even those who are childless. I’ve tried to arrange things with them at this time over the years but they’ve always declined. I have a small family and so there aren’t a lot of people around. Work stops, other things I’m involved with stop, and this year I have a horrible cold and so can’t do any of the things that I might do. I’m havent found my gold in the darkness, but I am looking forward to going on some of the wonderful things that Jody has lined up in 2014 and to making some new connections. I agree, happy Christmas to Jody, and to you. X
Happy Christmas to you too Sarah and so looking forward to having you on 2014’s course! Jody x
Looking forward to it too! X
Happy Christmas to you too, Sarah. You will get through it, and I’m glad you’re going to see Jody in the new year. The GW Pre-Christmas retreat worked its magic and I found myself happily writing Christmas cards for the first time in years! Take care! x
Sounds good to me! I’m going to be writing Christmas cards on Christmas Day this year, alone at home with my spaniel. I believe if I can survive this I can survive anything!! X
What a great post. Christmas can be a difficult time – for the childless but often also for families (so many fights happen at Christmas – you got to wonder why). I think it’s good to stop stressing over this time of year and keep things simple. I wish you and your gorgeous cat a Merry Christmas.
Thank you for this brilliant perspective on Christmas without the “perfect” family decking the halls and making merry. Your plans sound really good. I’m so grateful to have discovered Gateway Women! I’ve been on my Plan B for awhile now without really getting that I’m not all alone. Your posts are like a breath of fresh air, a beacon of light! I’m all cliches! Forgive me 🙂 I’m just so grateful for your stepping forward to point out that this path in life (childless by circumstance) can be immensely creative, playful, completely legitimate and full of meaning. Happy Christmas! xoos
“I woke up at 11am today, and breakfasted off marzipan potatoes, Turkish delight and Clementines, whilst reading a book.”*
It could be a diary entry from Samuel Pepys but it’s from a 21st Century NoMo. 🙂
This year has been remarkably transformational, and it’s so lovely to have moved on to the state where one is able to look past the panic at the empty spaces in life, and see how much fun, meaning and wisdom they can be filled with.
I can’t remember how I first came to your blog, but the acorn of the first blog post has led to the forest of mighty oaks that is the tribe of kind and inclusive NoMos on https://gateway2012.wpengine.com/community (oh lord, promoting it twice in two posts running, I have EVANGELICAL ZEAL.)
Thanks Jody, enjoy your Christmas! xx
*and a bowl of porridge, so there was some nutritional content…
This is a beautiful post, Jody. I’m beginning to feel the same way. I’m going to spend a few hours with friends on Christmas, but it would be okay to stay here with my dog and relax, too. Thanks you so much for constant support for childless women.
Your plans sound lovely!
Jody, thank you from the bottom of my heart for these massively influential words when I needed them the most. I am going to save and read every Easter/Christmas/Family Event time Have a wonderful Christmas xx
Merry Xmas for you too (and for your cat too)!
Have a lovely, peaceful productive Christmas Jody!! Thanks for my Xmas card and thanks for all that you have done for me and all the other Gateway Women.
Im excited about Xmas – Im flying to Gambia tonight, for a week of sun and sand and hopefully adventure. ON MY OWN. We don’t all have to do Xmas if we don’t feel like it……
Now, I’ve just got to get my furbaby by bus and train to Crawley… where he will be staying (his first time ever away from home). It’s not going to be very nice…I already feel upset about leaving him. Anyway, this is Life..and we will both be fine!
Love and hugs Lauren and Beau x
Thank you for your article Im dreaming of a childless Christmas. I can relate to so much of what you say. Your article really touched me. I feel a little if that ability to see that some happiness is possible even if I don’t have a partner or a family 🙂 xox