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.