My family serves the same breakfast every Christmas morning: a sausage and cheese casserole (also fondly referred to as “heart attack on a plate”), grapefruit cut in half with each segment carefully carved out with that cool little bent grapefruit knife, and Gram’s Coffee Cake. It isn’t Christmas without Gram’s Coffee Cake. You can hang lights and stockings, place treasured ornaments on a tree, and crank up the volume to sing along with Bing Crosby and friends, but it isn’t until that sweet and cinnamony batter is in the oven that home smells and feels like Christmas.
On this past Christmas Eve, as photos rolled into my phone from various households showing off their cakes fresh from the oven or wrapped in foil to keep for the morning, I chimed in to the stream of text messages with, “This is the first year in my life I didn’t make one.”
“There’s still time!” one relative chimed in.
“It’s no fun when there’s no one to make it for,” I tried to explain, wondering if I should elaborate on how for years I’ve baked the whole big thing, eaten one slice myself, then given the rest as hostess gifts or to my husband’s office staff.
“So make it for yourself!” another relative suggested.
And oh, how I wanted to respond with, “You’re not childless-not-by-choice! You wouldn’t understand!”
Sound familiar? How many times have we been smacked in the face with “You’re not a parent—you wouldn’t understand.” Once, just once, I wish my family members could try to understand how difficult the holiday season has been and continues to be for me. How spirit-draining it is to even imagine going through the effort to drag out the ladder, hammer the nails, and untangle the string of lights, without some wee darling there to be thrilled by the twinkling beauty. Or the futility of putting out milk ’n’ cookies and a note for Santa without a little believer in the house. Or…I know. I could go on ad nauseam, and this is hardly news to you.
I shared the above exchange with a friend who is also childless-not-by-choice, knowing she would commiserate. “Should I try to explain how I feel?” I asked. “Should I talk to them so they understand how—I know, unintentionally—painful their unhelpful comments are?”
She responded with the very best advice for this scenario: “Let it go.”
“Just let it go.”
She’s right. They can’t ever fully understand because they are parents, because they do get to share all our wonderful family holiday traditions with new generations, and they will never understand why something as “small” as making Gram’s Coffee Cake is so emotionally charged for me.
However, as I reflected upon this in the days that followed, I reminded myself that I do have people in my life who understand. Right here, at Life Without Baby. If I need sympathy, support, or just a place the vent, I can come to this safe space and feel welcomed on “Whiny Wednesday”, in comments on blog posts, discussions in Forums, or by reading and relating to your stories in the “Our Stories”* column.
As we move into this new year, whenever we feel alone or lost or generally misunderstood, let’s remember to check in with each other here. Because even if we can’t find seem to find it anywhere else, here we are understood.
*We make it really easy for you to share your story. Go to this link and answer the questions in your own words. No writing experience needed. I hear again and again what a healing experience this is for the contributor, and I know I, as well as our many readers, will be there to support you.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is mostly at peace with her childless status.