The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
By Lisa Manterfield
Every year it seems I get caught out with a bout of the Holiday Blues.
After a really fun and non-traditional Thanksgiving with wonderful friends, I headed into December ready to celebrate the holidays my way. Then Bam! I came down with the Holiday Blues.
There will always be things I wish were part of my festive season, like hand-delivering gifts to my family, shopping for small children, and creating the kind of Christmas I had as a child. But it wasn’t theses losses and what-ifs that gave me the blues this year.
Maybe it was the rainy weather that kept me indoors for much of the week. Maybe it was the end of year racing towards me highlighting the things that didn’t get accomplished this year. Or maybe it’s that Christmas doesn’t really feel like something to celebrate anymore.
Finally, I took my own advice, and that of a couple of friends, and dusted myself off. I bought a tree, made plans for Christmas Eve dinner at a favorite restaurant, and wrote and sent my cards. And then I made myself a cup of tea and sliced off a chunk of proper English fruitcake, and I curled up in a chair and wrote in my journal.
I made a list of everything good that happened this year—all the fun things I did (see photo below, for one), the challenges I overcame, the goals I reached this year, the friends I spent time with, the family I visited.
And guess what I discovered? It’s been another great year this year. I have lived my life, perhaps not always to the fullest, but to the best that I was able. And I had a good time doing it.
That, I think, is plenty of reason to celebrate.
By Lisa Manterfield
“Are you the adult you dreamed of becoming?”
I laughed when I read this question on Facebook. No! Of course I’m not. The adult I dreamed of was an international engineering consultant, living in a large house with a circular driveway, with a fabulous husband and four beautiful children, including one set of twins.
Aside from the fabulous husband, that adult is almost the polar opposite of the adult I am now. I’m a writer, who works from my very small rented beach cottage, and of course, there are no children in my picture. And yet, once I stop to consider my friend’s question, I realize that I’m a lot happier as this adult than I would have been had my expectations been met. I’ve met the person I’d once dreamed of becoming; she wasn’t a very happy person and she definitely had more grey hairs than me.
Half the battle of coming-to-terms with a life without children is letting go of our expectations—and creating new ones. This is never more true than during the holiday season, one of the most difficult times of the year to be childless.
When I think of my expectations of what Christmas should be like as an adult, those four children are always there, gathered around the tree, gathered around the dinner table, and then gathered around me as the day comes to a close. Even when I realized that children wouldn’t be part of my life, I still strived to make Christmas live up to my expectations. Consequently, Christmastime was very sad time for a number of years. I knew there was no way my expectations could be met, and eventually I stopped making an effort to celebrate.
The worst year was when my husband and I found ourselves sitting at home, with no Christmas tree, no plans, no celebration, and we knew we’d allowed our lack of children to take over our lives. We also realized it was time to set new, more realistic expectations.
When I took a step back and looked at what I really wanted for Christmas, not on the surface of gifts, family, and decorations, but on a deeper emotional level, I discovered that my spiritual wish list included love, peacefulness, companionship, and a good dose of silly fun. I needed to explore new ways to get what I really wanted.
It took a couple of false starts to find a new way to celebrate Christmas, but a couple of years ago we nailed it. Mr. Fab and I rented an apartment for three days in a nearby beach town. We celebrated on Christmas Eve with a lovely dinner at an historic hotel with an enormous Christmas tree, roving carolers, and even an outdoor ice rink (in Southern California!). On Christmas Day, instead of sitting at home feeling sad about a pathetic Christmas for two, we went to the zoo, like a couple of big kids, and had a whale of a time. I even got to feed a rhino and have an ice cream. We both agreed it was the best Christmas we’ve had for a long time, plus there were no tantrums or mountains of dirty dishes to deal with.
It’s hard to let go of our expectations, especially when they’re often so deeply engrained, but if you’re struggling to find your holiday cheer this year, I encourage you to look beneath the obvious losses and examine what’s really missing for you. Even if you can’t meet your tangible expectations of what the holidays should be, you might be surprised to find you can satisfy your true needs in unconventional—and unexpected—ways.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
A couple of years ago, just after enduring a quiet (i.e., “lonely”) Thanksgiving and facing yet another child-less Christmas, I was on the verge of an epic meltdown. I’d given up vacation days to help a client meet a tight deadline, I was too tired and busy to participate in traditional rituals like window shopping and checking out neighbors’ decorations, there would be no feast to bring scattered family together, there were no children to remind me of the magic of the season…waaaaaaaa!
My husband held me as I whined and cried, and as he dried my tears he said, “Why don’t you go read your book?”
“Because…sniff, sniff…I finished the last good book I had and the one I requested from the library isn’t in yet and….”
“No, no,” he said, in his kindest and most patient voice, “your book, the one you wrote, about how to get through the holidays.”
Oh. Right. Why didn’t I think of that?
He was referring to Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a collection of classic blog posts Lisa and I put together from this site that offer inspiration and encouragement for getting through the season. It was created in response to what we heard so often from readers: that holiday festivities can bring up all sorts of painful emotions when you’re childfree-not-by-choice.
In times of crisis, it’s so easy to forget what is right in front of us, so I would like to take this opportunity to remind myself—as well as you—what we have here on LWB:
If you’re hurting—when you’re hurting—I hope you’ll look to LWB for comfort. Reach out to other LWBers and share what you’re feeling. Allow us to walk alongside you, to offer understanding in our unique yet similar experiences, and to remind you that you are not alone.
Following my husband’s compassionate advice, I did just that. I brewed myself a pot of tea, placed a few sugar cookies on a pretty plate, and sat down with “my book” to heal myself. I won’t say I made it to “Merry!” that day, but I did start to feel better.
This year, instead of giving into the lure of another meltdown, I’m going to be proactive by re-reading the book and spending some time on our site. I trust I will find ideas for getting through the coming weeks with some grace, compassion, and a healthy dose of perspective. I might even find my way back to seeing the magic and joy that can still be mine this season.
Wishing you happier holidays,
Life Without Baby Holiday Companion is available in an ebook format on Amazon. If it feels like you’re heading for a blue Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa, I hope you’ll order a copy and find some of the peace you long for.
This topic came up on the community forums a while ago and I thought it was a great topic to explore here on Whiny Wednesday.
Not being treated like a “real” adult because you’re not a parent.
I’ve certainly experienced this myself and talked to friends who say they’re still treated like a kid because they don’t have children of their own.
How about you?
By Lisa Manterfield
Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the U.S., perhaps the official start of the holiday season. I’ve been hearing holiday music in stores for weeks, and know of people who’ve had their Christmas trees up since early November!
For many of you, the festive season might not be such a fun time. Traditionally, whichever holidays you celebrate, they include family gatherings, which might mean facing insensitive relatives and prying questions about children. It can be one of the most difficult times of the year, with social gatherings, kid-oriented activities, and constant reminders of the many ways we don’t get to celebrate the holidays.
I love that this community includes new readers and seasoned pros, so let’s help one another out this year by sharing ideas on getting through the season with our hearts intact.
What are some of the issues you know you’ll face this holiday season? What events are you dreading? What’s going to be hardest for you?
And perhaps most important of all, how to do plan to get through the season with minimum emotional damage?
If you’re looking for some guidance from those who’ve walked this path before you, make sure to add yourself to your gift shopping list this year. Here are some books written by members of our community. Please consider supporting their work, so that they can continue supporting all of us.
Lesley Pyne’s Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life shares real-world experiences of infertility survivors alongside Lesley’s gentle guidance. Lesley is a role model for redefining yourself after infertility and finding peace with a childless life.
In Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, Jody Day takes you by the hand and leads you through her process of facing grief, letting go of lost dreams, and rebuilding a new kind of life.
Jessica Hepburn has two books on offer. Her first, The Pursuit of Motherhood tells her own heartbreaking story of her quest to become a mother. In 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood, Jessica tells the “next chapter” of her story, her quest to find meaning in her own life and shares inspiring conversations about motherhood with some female powerhouses.
Civil M. Morgan offer a 31-Day devotional, 21st Century Hannah: 31 Days of Encouragement on her Childless Not By Choice site.
And I’d be remiss if I din’t include my own books on this list: Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen, and Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a compilation of stories and advice to get you through the holidays, written together with Kathleen Guthrie Woods.
Are you reading this in the bathroom?
Did you make some excuse to sneak back to and barricade yourself in the guest room?
Are you out for a “run”?
No judgment here. I have done my share of escaping and hiding over holiday weekends in attempts to get away from the hurtful comments and unhelpful suggestions (unintentional and otherwise) and try desperately to regain my composure before marching back into the fray.
Those voices say:
“When are you going to start having babies?”
“Am I never going to get grandchildren?!”
“Why don’t you just adopt?”
“Time for the family photo!”
Take a deep breath. Now…I want you to hear my voice:
You are enough.
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
You are not alone.
Resources are available for you: Put out a call for support in the Comments here; we’re good at commiserating and encouraging. Read old posts for ideas on how to get through the tough days. Visit the Life Without Baby Facebook page. Reach out to others in Forums and Discussions. (It’s free. Click on the Community link in the menu above to sign up.) Call an understanding friend. Hang in there. xoKathleen
By Lisa Manterfield
It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S. this week. For many of you, that’s going to mean spending a long day, perhaps a long weekend, with people who care about you, but perhaps don’t really understand what you’ve been through or what you’re going through still. It can make for a lot of unintentionally hurtful comments, strained emotions, and reignited grief.
The news this year has been unbearable too. Fires, hurricanes, mass shootings, and political shenanigans. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been completely worn out by all that’s going on in the world.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hibernating from the news and social media, needing an information detox. As a result, I’m sleeping more restfully, spending more enjoyable time with Mr. Fab, and my brain is starting to function with clarity again. In sitting down to write this post, I also realize that I haven’t had any of the weird headaches I’ve been experiencing for the previous month or so.
I’m aware that this seems like I’m sticking my head in the sand, but I prefer to call it self-care, putting my own needs first for a while, so that I can regain enough mental strength to keep moving forward.
I also believe that self-care is one of the most important tools for making it through the upcoming holiday season, especially if your grief is still raw. But even if you’ve been making progress, the holidays can be a breeding ground for tactless comments, reminders of loss, and emotional triggers galore!
So, here are a few suggestions that have helped me navigate the holidays over the years:
Say no to difficult events. If you know a gathering will be problematic, make an excuse and don’t go. You may have some guilt about it, but that will pass, and you’ll end up much better off emotionally than if you go and end up upset. If you’re in the early stages of grief, take a year off from the holidays. Seriously. The holidays will be back next year, and they’ll get progressively easier to deal with.
Have an escape plan. If you do go to a gathering that might be difficult, have an escape plan. That might be as simple as borrowing the host’s dog and going for a long walk or volunteering to be the person to run to the store for last-minute ingredients. A little time alone is like a mini detox, so you can gather yourself together before facing people again.
Use this community. I promise you, you won’t be the only person looking for an understanding ear over the holidays. Use the community and connect with someone who know what you’re going through and can offer support and encouragement.
Plan some post-celebration self-care. Know in advance how you’ll take care of yourself after the event. Go home and take a long, quiet bath, or a long walk, or plan to do something with someone whose time you enjoy. If you can, schedule a post-Thanksgiving detox day.
If you need more ideas for getting through the holidays, we have several resources available. There’s an entire chapter on navigating the holidays in both Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and Life Without Baby Workbook 3: Dealing With the Day-to-Day Challenges, and a book full of inspiration and tips in Life Without Baby Holiday Companion. Finally, here’s the link to the community forums, where you’ll already find several holiday and family-related threads going.
Please take advantage of these resources and this community and make sure you have a happy Thanksgiving. –x-
We’d have a bonfire in the backyard, and my dad would bring home a box of fireworks to set off and a couple of packets of sparklers. We’d have baked potatoes and roast chestnuts, and my mum would make parkin and gooey, delicious bonfire toffee. It was an evening spent outdoors, clustered around the fire. It was about friends and food and a little bit of danger.
It’s one of the many things I miss about my homeland, and it’s one of the traditions I would have enjoyed sharing with my children. And that’s the topic for this week’s Whiny Wednesday:
Traditions you won’t get to share with your children
Happy Bonfire Night and happy whining.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I had recently confided in a close friend about a truly difficult and painful situation I was in.
“How are you?” she asked in a follow-up email.
“How am I? I’m so angry I could scream!” I replied. “I cannot believe I’m having to deal with ONE.MORE.THING!”
“Do you want me to scream with you?”
I laughed out loud at her response. Then I thought, What a brilliant idea!
And I may take her up on her offer, as I sense she, I, and we all could use a seriously outrageous yelling session as we vent the anger, frustration, disappointment, shame, pain, and unfairness of the unique challenges we’ve each been facing.
And then I thought a bit deeper about how lucky I am to have such an understanding friend who, even though she’s not in the same pickle I’m in, is willing to get into the fray with me and yell it out until I feel better.
When life hands me particularly sour lemons, I try to look for the potential for lemonade. What is God/the Universe/Life trying to tell me? I wonder. Perhaps:
I found a bit of good this week when I recognized the gift of my yelling-ready friend—as well as the support I’ve received in our community along this often frustrating and soul-crushing LWB journey.
Do you have a friend who will scream with you when things are beyond frustrating, who will cry with you when life’s hurts become unbearable, and who will celebrate with you when things look up? If not, maybe the message we need to hear today is It’s time to find those friends and nurture those relationships.
It’s a message I’m taking to heart.
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