“You wouldn’t understand; you don’t have kids.”
I’ll be behind the couch if you need me.
“You wouldn’t understand; you don’t have kids.”
I’ll be behind the couch if you need me.
Graduation season is upon us and social media has been abuzz with snapshots of proud parents and their offspring. So it seems like a good time for this week’s Whiny Wednesday topic:
Feeling left out when friends and relatives celebrate parenting milestones.
As always, your other whines are always welcome.
My friend Paula turned 50 this year. It’s been more than a decade since she and her husband realized it was time to accept that they wouldn’t have children. For ten years she’s been working through the mess—the grief, the anger, the sadness, the despair, the big, big question of “what am I am going to do now that I won’t be a mother?” And because her older brother was a confirmed bachelor, Paula also felt pressure from her parents to produce a grandchild, even though they never said it out loud.
But that was a long time ago. If you ask Paula now, she’ll tell you she’s “cured.” She’ll tell you that, most days, she doesn’t think about the fact that she’s childless. She and her husband travel, they have a broad circle of friends, she’s been able to hop on career opportunities that would have been difficult with small children. She enjoys her friends’ children and she enjoys handing them back to their parents. In her candid moments, she’ll say her life worked out better than she’d expected and might not have been so great if she’d had the children she once so desperately desired.
Life is pretty good for Paula.
And then her brother fell in love, married, and shortly thereafter announced he would become a father. Paula called me in tears. She was utterly blindsided by her tearful reaction.
“I thought I was over this,” she said. “I wouldn’t swap places with my brother for anything. A newborn at 53? Nightmare.”
She told me her parents were over the moon, that her mother was telling everyone that she was going to be a grandma. “At last,” she told people, giving Paula a meaningful look.
“At last?” Paula said to her father. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
And that’s when her dad opened up. He admitted how “difficult” all this waiting and longing had been for them. He’d felt left out too, he told her.
She understood, but his confession found its way deep inside Paula, to that one small dark spot that had yet to heal, and poured salt into all those old—and now reopened—wounds. The guilt and shame that consumed her in that moment was overwhelming, and the tremendous weight of that was part of what took her by surprise. Her brother had made her aging parents happy, had given them the thing she couldn’t. The family torch had been passed and it wouldn’t be to Paula.
When I talked to Paula again a couple of weeks later, she assured me that she was going to be okay. She said a part of her was looking forward to being an aunt and that her big grown-up self was happy for her brother and her parents.
“But,” she added, “people always ask how long it takes to get over not being a mother. I always thought seven or eight years was about right, but now I think maybe the answer is ‘never.’”
Most people in my life were supportive when I told them about my decision to end my quest for motherhood. But there were some who didn’t want me to quit. They kept offering unsolicited advice and stories of other people’s miracles, when what I really needed from them was a kind and understanding word.
So this week’s whine topic is:
People who won’t let you quit
I have a large scar on my left knee. It has black lines of grit in it, and smooth patches of scar tissue that catch the light on an otherwise rough patch of skin.
My scar is 30 years old and I don’t think about it very often anymore. It doesn’t hurt, even when I poke it, and the wound that caused it healed long ago.
But if I think back to the day I got my scar, all the memories and the pain come flooding back. I remember the bike accident. I remember riding through the trees on a gorgeous sunny day, laughing with my friends and flirting with a boy I liked. I remember trying to get his attention and catching my front wheel on his back tire. I don’t recall sailing through the air, but I must have done, because I do remember skidding along the trail, trading bits of knee for bits of trail.
I remember sitting in the bath at home and crying as my mum tried to clean the wound. And I remember my older brother—a bit of an expert on injuries and scars—gently coaxing me to scrub out the grit or be left with a terrible scar.
I also have a vague recollection of a discussion among adults (not my parents) about plastic surgery and what a shame it would be if a “pretty girl” was disfigured by an ugly scar.
It all happened so long ago, but dredging up these memories can bring back all that pain, my embarrassment, the tenderness of my brother, the feeling that my scar would make me “less than” I could have been. I can feel all of it again as if it had happened in more recent memory.
I feel this way about my infertility and childlessness, too. Most days, I don’t think about it anymore. But lately I’ve been writing about grief and loss, and some of those awful feelings of sadness, anger, and deep, deep loss have been coming back to me.
It’s taught me that the healing process for emotional scars is much the same as for physical scars.
You have to suffer some terrible pain to clean the wound. You have to struggle through the initial all-consuming grief. You have to ask for support from people who might not know how to give it. You have to walk again, even if every step is agony. You’ll meet people who will see you as damaged and less than you could have been, because you no longer fit into their ideal of perfect.
But over time the healing begins. You’ll knock your healing wound a few times and break it open again. In one particularly unfortunate incident, you’ll fall on the same wound and end up with a double scar. But you’ll remember how much you loved riding a bike and you’ll take it up again. And you’ll meet new people, who don’t care whether you have one ugly knee, because they’re more interested in some other facet of who you are. And you’ll realize that being a “pretty girl” wasn’t what you were destined to be anyway, and you’re happy being an outdoorsy girl who’s accumulated a multitude of scars since then.
And when you’re shaving your legs (which is trickier because of the scar) you might sometimes recall how you got the scar and the pain you went through. But most days, you won’t even think about.
Having a big scar on my knee means I never got the opportunity to be a leg model, but I got to be so many other things instead, things that have made my life journey quite interesting. My infertility scar is much newer than my knee scar, but it is healing in ways I couldn’t have imagined when it was new and raw. And the things I never got to do or be have left room for so many other opportunities.
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?
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