I used to dread Christmas. Any family-oriented holiday, really. But Christmas, especially, is such a child-centric holiday, it seemed there was some sort of reminder of my childlessness around every corner.
There were pictures of concerts, visits with Santa, and Christmas morning gift opening all over social media. Every 10 minutes a commercial appeared on TV, marketing the hottest toys for the year. Every event in my little town seemed to focus on activities for kids. And then there was the going “home” part. Watching my nieces and nephews run around, high on sugar, excited for Christmas morning.
All of it left me feeling depressed, angry and hard-done-by. Life is so unfair.
Since my early days of grief, I’ve learned how to love the holiday season again. I have some solid tools for healing, which will allow you too, to get into the spirit. Keep reading. My solutions may not be what you expect.
When I first sat down to write this, I started writing about avoiding kid-centric places like shopping malls and Santa’s villages and saying “no” to events you know will trigger you.
But I caught myself. Those are the obvious coping methods that you’re probably already doing and those are actually not what I stand for. They don’t promote healing. I want you to be able to feel good even when you’re in a shopping mall full of kids and pregnant mothers.
Really, the tools I want to share with you are all about shifting your mindset.
Here are my best tips for getting through the holidays without the child you miss so badly:
1. Find gratitude: when you are in the mindset of gratitude, it’s impossible to feel anything else. Gratitude shuts down anger, irritation, sadness – pretty much all the negative emotions. It’s especially important to have a gratitude practice when you’re grieving. Otherwise, it’s easy to just sink down into depression. I promise you, you have more control over your emotions than you realize and they will become more positive when you start a gratitude practice.
Here are a few prompts to get you started in your journal:
- I am grateful for ______________________ today
- I appreciated this moment today: ______________
- I love _________________________ about _______________(person’s name)
- I appreciated this time of connection today: _________________________
2. Be the giver: what if, just for an hour or a day or whatever length of time you can manage, you changed your story? Instead of being a woman grieving your loss, you become the giver to your friends and family. How can you serve them? Could you be the listener to whatever is the problem in their lives right now? Could you reach out to someone else you know could use a friend? Could you write a holiday card or note to someone you haven’t seen in a while? Shift your mindset from your own story to theirs. What you could do for them. It will change your whole perspective and serving others will help you heal.
3. Look for good intentions: the holidays tend to be a more social time than usual. When you do go to parties or family gatherings, be prepared to get asked about children. Someone new will ask if you have them. An aunt you hardly see will ask WHEN you’re having them. A friend will give you advice. It’s inevitable. Instead of being hurt or angry by these questions and comments, can you look for the intention behind what they are saying?
For example, the person who gives advice is a person who genuinely wants to help you. No one wants to see you struggling so they’ll do anything or say anything that they believe might ease that pain for you. It comes from the heart. The intention is pure.
4. Be kind to yourself: for many years, I sort of beat up on myself without really being aware of it. My mom would dote on my sister’s children, making them the priority and going overboard on gifts. It made me feel like I had disappointed them for not giving them grandchildren. And next to my sister, I felt like I had less worth. I bought into this story. I started telling myself that I was worth less without children.
Now is the time to be kind to yourself. Show yourself the compassion you deserve. I now see that my mother doesn’t determine my worth. The fact that I don’t have children doesn’t make me worth less than someone who does. Become aware of what you are telling yourself and if those words are not positive ones, change them.
5. Change your expectations: how you feel about the holidays is related to what you expect about the holidays. When we were kids, we expected Christmas to be all about us. It was fun, we’d get gifts, we got to eat more candy than usual, we created all kinds of memories about the traditions our parents made for us.
Once we get married, society has created the expectation that Christmas becomes all about the children. And if you don’t have kids and you keep buying into what society has decided Christmas is all about, then you’re bound to spend your childless holiday feeling hard-done-by. That’s how I felt. But once I changed my expectations and created the kind of Christmas I wanted, the way I felt about it changed too.
Now, my husband and I love to spend Christmas Eve at home. We plan a special dinner with champagne and candlelight. We listen to music and talk in front of the fire. We watch “Love Actually” or “The Holiday”, my two favourite Christmas movies. And we sleep in on Christmas morning! It’s a time of the year that I have come to cherish.
Think about the expectations you have about the holidays and what you can change. What can you create for yourself and your spouse?
Which one of these 5 tips are you willing to try? I promise you if you pick one or two of these and work on them as we head into the season, the holidays will feel so much better for you.
Do you have other ideas for getting through the holidays? Write them in the comments!