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, in sessions with me or in one of the Gateway Women 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 sister. Or 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 over the last couple of years 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, three days 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, and put off thinking about it some more until, WHAM, it’s October again and we realise that we’ve left it too late and our options are a bit limited. It might feel to late now to tell ageing relatives we’re not going to be around, or our sister who ‘always’ hosts Christmas that we’d like to do it this year. We might not have saved enough money for a holiday somewhere warm, or it might feel a bit melodramatic or hurtful to make plans to stay home or go away after you’re already been invited home. 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 getting to know them this year, and so you’re worried that it’s too late now not to check 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.
- Set up a savings plan for a holiday fund. (If you can’t save, maybe start decluttering and selling on eBay).
- Organise a meetup of other Gateway Women in your area and start getting to know them so that you can go away or stay home with some of them next year.
- Book a holiday with some Gateway Women you’ve already got to know either via the online community, meetups or attending a workshop before the prices go up – you could rent a holiday home together or travel up the Amazon!
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 2016 to #ReclaimChristmas however you want. Make it happen! You might find that it changes the whole shape of your year having it to look forward to!
If you had children and you wanted to make something new and different happen for them next Christmas, you’d be open to putting in the effort. You’d be up to telling your parents or whoever that you’ve got other plans for next year in order to give them plenty of time to make alternative arrangements too. Because you never know, maybe everyone might like a change, 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…
2018 will mark my ninth year of recovery from childlessness. 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 four holiday seasons have been increasingly joyful experiences. Yes, there can be griefy moments when I’m around other people’s families, but they pass pretty quickly these days, and 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 in the UK, one of the best ways to form a bond with other women who totally get it is to come to one a Gateway Women ‘Reignite Weekend’ – now beginning to take place across the UK and soon across the US and Canada.
You were once a sacred birth too. Christmas is for everyone, not just for children.