In many parts of the world, this time of year tends to be extremely hectic with all the preparations that can go into Christmas. This can bring with it a bag load of stress, added to because of the extra pressures we all put on ourselves to seemingly be having the best time. With the tendency to focus on the children in the family at this time of year, and the stress seemingly falling on parents, it can be all to easy to forget the hugely emotional time it is for the many that struggle with loss.
Whether you’re grieving for the loss of a loved one, an unborn child, the absence of a family member, or you’re childless not by choice. All loss is extremely painful and something which I feel doesn’t get acknowledged and discussed as opening as it perhaps should, especially at these difficult times of the year.
I recognise some of the feelings of loss that many of childless not by choice community experience surrounding their childlessness, especially at this time of year. Although it took a while for me to realise it was actually grief that I was experiencing, the work I have done through coaching has helped me accept the past, and I’m learning to embrace the life I have now. I don’t pretend to have it all sorted. I still get surprised when I get upset, but I’m much more aware how the holiday times can bring those tricky, and often painful feelings to the forefront for many and I’m getting better at managing them.
So this Christmas, I thought I’d share some of my observations and things I’ve learnt through my childless not by choice journey, which might help you through the festive period.
If you’re reading this and you’ve been fortunate enough to have children, or perhaps you’re childfree by choice, perhaps something that I share might go onto help someone else.
Sharing your feelings
Granted, talking about how you’re feeling may be easier for some than others, and deciding who to open up to can often be the hardest part. But even if you just have just one friend to confine in, being open about your feelings running up to Christmas, and knowing you’re being listened to without judgement may be just what you need*
If you’re not ready to talk to friends or family, perhaps you could reach out to the wider childless not by choice community, plus there are so many online support groups available on social sites like Facebook, or why try Gateway Women?
If you’re looking professional one to one support, to help you through very difficult emotions, there are many fantastic counsellors who focus on the childless not by choice community. Meriel Whale has previously been a guest blogger, and Sarah Lawrence who heads up the brilliant ‘Full Stop’ podcast series, both offer online and face to face sessions.
If you’re able to, offer alternative ideas for Christmas plans if you know those already suggested by other family/friends will trigger too many difficult emotions. If this is too difficult to do, perhaps think of a way that you can create some elements of Christmas which do make you happy.
I tend to find it’s less my family, but more connections to my family that trigger painful feelings surrounding my childlessness. Comments like ‘no children yet?’ ‘not married’, ‘do you have children?’ can be thoughtless, hurtful and plain frustrating. It creates this expectation that life should be like some kind of tick box, and if you don’t collect certain ones you’ve failed. There were times when I did feel like that, but I’m pleased to say not any more, but that doesn’t mean I welcome those comments. Finding my own unique sense of purpose, which aligns with my values has led to greater fulfilment, which is a subject which is regularly raised by my coaching clients, so again perhaps something for you to think about.
As we can’t control what other people think or say, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for the types of responses you’d feel confident responding with, when asked these types of questions. When you think of the answers, obviously be mindful of the reaction you may get, the last thing you want to be doing at Christmas is starting a family war!
Making time for yourself
Being surrounded by lots of family members can be stressful and over during the last 18 months something many have not been used to. If this makes you feel anxious in anyway, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself and spend some time doing something you enjoy, perhaps going for a short walk by yourself.
Do it your way and make it special
My favourite Christmases were when all my nieces and nephews were young, and we were altogether, but now most of them have grown up I prefer to focus on making new types of memories.
I can’t offer suggestions on how you make Christmas special for you, after all we are all different, and we all have very unique journeys, but I would say make it your own, as comparison is just not helpful to your happiness.
At Christmas time there seems to be added pressure to have the best time, but there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ Christmas, or the perfect family. I know it probably won’t help how you’re feeling right now if you’re really struggling, but many families are broken in one shape or another, and thinking that the grass is so much greener, will only cause you pain, and a waste of your energy when it’s actually far from the truth. We can only do our best.
Acceptance and gratitude
The acceptance of situations and people’s behaviour has been a huge leap in my journey. I’ve learnt to reframe the way I think about certain things, and by looking at situations differently has helped me come to terms with situations that are out of my control. As someone very wise said to me, ‘often in life the issue isn’t around the problem, it’s how we react to it’
Be prepared to accept that you may not see many of your friends that have children around Christmas and that’s ok. Believe me they’ll be well and truly ready to see their friends again after all the presents have been opened and all the children have driven them up the wall!
Try to look for the moments of gratitude however small, and if you’re having a bad day, I find it helpful to remember tomorrow is a new day, with an opportunity to start over.
Reframing and Embracing Christmas
Depending on where you’re at in your childless not by choice journey, it may be too soon, but if you have processed your grief and feel ready to make a change, why not start with thinking how are you going to find fulfilment out of Christmas.
Make your own unique traditions, plan activities that you will enjoy, perhaps even things that parents can only wish to enjoy, if they weren’t spending every hour wrapping Santa presents, or finding a new hiding place for ‘Elf on the shelf’
I know I turned a corner a few years ago when I changed the way I thought of Christmas, and stop forcing myself to be with my family the whole time I was off work, because I felt it was expected as I didn’t have a valid reason not to, having no children to run around after. It stopped the holidays feeling less like a obligation and I was able to enjoy better quality time with those I love.
How you can help someone struggling this Christmas
One of the kindest things you can do this Christmas is to think of those that might not be having such a great time. If you stop and really think about other people’s circumstances perhaps they might appreciate time, a helping hand or even a few moments of your time.
If you know someone that is childless not through choice, why not reach out. They might want to talk, they might not, but either way they’ll know someone cares.
However you plan to spend your holidays, Christmas celebrations or not, I’m just going to leave you on this note. If you do experience painful emotions this time of year, please remember you’re not alone. Whatever you do, be good to yourself, take care of your emotional well-being and reach out if you need help.
Take care and keep safe
*If this is the first time you’ve talked about your situation, perhaps your family Christmas isn’t the best time to address this. Perhaps reach out to the childless community first.