Do Your Childless Christmas Your Way

Dear friends,

Christmas is tough. If any time of year rubs our lack of children in our faces, this is it. Our friends are making themselves crazy buying gifts for the kids and grandkids. Facebook is full of babies and older children posing with Santa Claus. You find yourself trapped at holiday gatherings with people who keep asking when you’re going to have children. I know. It’s rough. You just want to run away to a tropical resort or a distant mountain until it’s all over and people regain their senses. You can’t even take solace in TV because it’s all holiday specials and Hallmark movies in which everybody is one happy family at the end. You try to get into the spirit. You buy treats for the dog and try to get him to pose with reindeer antlers, which he shakes off and uses for a chew toy.

I know. I spend a lot of Christmastime weeping. No kids, no husband, no family nearby. I started to decorate this year, then said no, I can’t. The lights didn’t work on either of my cheesy fake trees, the roof was leaking, the pellet stove wasn’t working, and I probably wouldn’t get any presents anyway, so forget it. Oh, woe is me. But I woke up the next morning feeling like it was a new day. I dealt with the roof and the stove. I went to the local Fred Meyer store and bought a much nicer fake tree. I spread Christmas decorations throughout the house. I did it all my way, with no one to consult, no one to say, “That looks stupid.” My decorations make me happy.

I hadn’t left any room for presents because I didn’t expect to get any. Then a package arrived at my front door. “Secret Santa,” said the return address. Inside, I found seven gifts from this secret Santa. I don’t know who it is. I know only that it was mailed in Newport, the town closest to where I live. This Santa knows I have a dog named Annie. She got a toy from Rudolph. I cried for the next hour, a blend of gratitude and embarrassment at seeming pitiful and lonely to someone. But I am so glad those gifts are there. I made room for presents under my tree.

I don’t have many people to buy gifts for. I’m thinking next year I’m going to put some energy into being a Secret Santa for other people, both the kids for whom we get requests at church every year and older people who might be feeling alone. Did you know that approximately one-third of Americans over age 65 live alone? I can buy them presents because I don’t have children and grandchildren to buy for, cook for, and worry about. I put a few doodads in the mail, and I’m done with the family Christmas. But I’m free to do more.

People are more generous than you expect. This old guy at church, Joe, stopped me after Mass on Sunday. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. Oh God, what, I thought. The man is a little loud and crude sometimes. Then Joe, who lost his wife a few years ago, handed me a framed poem, “My First Christmas in Heaven.” Tears blurred the words as I read them. The frame is beautiful, the words even more beautiful. At home, I hung it under my husband Fred’s picture and above our wedding rings and other keepsakes I display on his nightstand. So sweet. You can read the poem here.

Joe has about a dozen kids, no exaggeration, and countless grandchildren. They will probably take up two or three pews on Christmas Eve. They will probably talk while I’m singing my solo. But he misses his wife, Carmella, and I miss Fred. Having children does not make up for a missing spouse. Joe will be with his kids on Christmas. I will play and sing at four Masses over three days, then come home to Annie and a long nap. I will treat myself to a ravioli and meatballs dinner. Who says it has to be turkey or ham? I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, and I like raviolis. I will open my gifts from Secret Santa, take Annie for a walk, duty-call the family in California, and be glad Christmas is almost over.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for all of you who read and support this blog, for everyone who has read my book, for all those people who love me and don’t care whether or not I ever had a baby. I’m even grateful now for a chance to hold someone else’s baby once in a while. And I am so, so grateful for dogs.

I have said it many times. It gets better. It gets easier. I swear to you that it does. The hardest time for me was when I could see my fertile years slipping away and didn’t know what to do about it. So I did nothing. I cried. I drank. I over-ate. I over-worked. I barked at anyone who expected me to enjoy their children, and God forbid anyone wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Sometimes I let people think I had a medical problem that kept me from having babies. Sometimes I blamed my husband. Sometimes I just said, “Not yet.” And sometimes I told people who asked about my children that God had other plans for me. I think that’s true.

I wish you happiness and peace this holiday season. As much as possible, do it your own way. If that means running away, fine. If you can’t run away, be honest with your loved ones about your feelings. It’s okay to tell them that it makes you sad to see their babies when you may never have one. It’s okay to answer persistent questions with, “I don’t know. Please stop asking. It’s a sore subject.”

Worst case, do what I do when I’m in a tough place. Think about how in a few hours or a few days, this will be just a fuzzy memory.

Love to all of you. Feel free to cheer, whine, or rant in the comments.


16 thoughts on “Do Your Childless Christmas Your Way

  1. Thank you for the thoughts. It captured a lot of what I’m feeling. I sing in churches too, and this year I took a year off, as I’m approaching 44 years old and the grief of this issue is hitting pretty hard this year. It’s not good to sing and cry on the inside so I felt it best. Reading your words felt good to have my feelings validated in this way. I too believe in God’s plan, just trying to surrender to the uncertainty of that. Letting go of old hopes and dreams is hard sometimes. Thanks for the permission you give to just cry and grieve sometimes. Not everyone gets that.


  2. Here I am, alone with my two cats on a Friday night three days before Christmas. But I am a 44-year-old professional, educated, married, childless woman. Married to a man with two kids. And guess who he is spending Christmas with – again? Even though he promised me he would spend this Christmas with me. I am lying to co-workers and friends who think he is here with me for Christmas. I’m embarrassed to explain the situation. But if it’s okay, can I explain it here?

    My husband is from S. America. We met while I was there in 2013 and he is a truly humble, good, kind-hearted family man who I fell in love with rather quickly, especially after he told me “no one will love you like I will.” To his credit, he told me from day one about his psycho-ex girlfriend and his two children with her. I decided to accept it. In 2014, we got married in his country. He has a wonderful family who love me and support our marriage. My family loves him and supports our marriage too. He immigrated to the US to live with me last year. We have started a business together. And he works really hard at it.

    I love him with all my heart. In the beginning, he was the one who told me he wanted to have a child with me. But he has since changed his mind. So the child I always wanted is not going to happen, because why would I force the issue when his heart is not in it? Also, I had started planning a wedding in the U.S. with my family after he said yes to a wedding in the U.S. Then he changed his mind on that too, saying it was too expensive to consider. I told him how crushed I was, but he didn’t understand.

    The ex-girlfriend is a manipulative, lying, and nasty woman who tortures him and demands money constantly (from S. America). I have heard her screaming at him on the phone and although he tries to deal with her by telling her how it’s going to be, when he gets off the phone with her, he is completely distraught. I was making plans to spend Christmas with him (we’ve never had a first Christmas – or Thanksgiving – together because he was not in the U.S. the first two holiday seasons, not his fault). I wanted so badly to be with him and finally have a first Thanksgiving/Christmas together after 3.5 years of marriage.

    Then, mid-November, just before Thanksgiving, his teenage daughter in S. America ran away from home. He was frantic not knowing where she was. He told me he had to go “tomorrow” to deal with this situation. He was planning on going there anyway the last few days in December to deal with a Jan. 2 court case the ex-gf brought against him for yet even more money. So we bought a $800 ticket for the next day. But now, not only did he have to go immediately, he has to stay through January, too. I don’t want anything bad to happen to his daughter and I truly care, but I feel incredibly hurt that once again, I am last in the pecking order. I’ll never have kids with him, so it hurts that the crisis that the ex-gf creates and the daughter running away means that once again, I have to sacrifice my husband. And what if I said no and something bad happened to his daughter? I had to let him go.

    He calls me all the time while he is away and checks in on me, but it’s frustrating because he sounds so happy to be there for Christmas, while I am feeling miserable missing him. He will be back mid-January.

    How on earth do I/we balance all of this? I will never make him choose between me and the kids, and I love that he is a devoted father as much as he can be. In fact, I told him that if he had abandoned his kids, I could never be with him because that is the type of character I despise. (He goes there for 2-3 months at a time to visit and work on our international business, and sees the kids. I go sometimes too, but have limited vacation time). And I am sure he is 100% faithful to me, so it’s not that. What a complex situation I am in. I know. But love conquers all, right? I decided to google, and ended up here. Thank you for listening.


    • Wow, V, what a tough situation. I don’t see any good solutions unless you can quit your job and go with him. If it’s any consolation, I’m alone with my one dog tonight. Try to make the best of it.


      • Animals are sometimes the greatest form of comfort, aren’t they? Quitting isn’t an option, but hopefully, we can figure out something. I need to tell him directly how I feel without making him choose, and without saying anything inflammatory because he is already stressed enough. Thank you for “listening,” Sue. And thank you for your blog. It’s good to know that there are other women in similar heart-wrenching situations. Not that I wish this on anyone of course, but it’s comforting to know I’m not alone.


    • Wow, he sounds like a really good husband and father. If only he would have a baby with you. You would be so happy. My advice is get a sperm donor. Children are a blessing, never let that go. No man is worth it.


  3. Oh, I meant to add that his daughter ran away from home because of the way her mother was treating her. But she was/is staying at a friend’s house, so she is not in any danger.


  4. Another year childless and I prepared myself for the countless questions that always come up at our family Christmas party regarding our lack of offspring. Little did I know not even fifteen minutes in this year, my uncle would assault my husband with a paper plate and all hell would break loose, resulting in us promptly leaving the party before it even really started. Sure my uncle was probably being playful about the hat my husband was wearing, popping the plate on his jaguar hat, but my poor husband is still stuffed up on the tail end of a cold he had and wasn’t feeling the greatest (he has tmj and nerve issues in one side of his head). He left the room to defuse the situation, since he was clearly upset by being smacked in the head, hard enough I might add that everyone looked up because of how loud it was. Uncle then decided he would go to the room we had relocated to and make another jab at him,teasing he was “looking for lumps and bumps.” To that, my husband walked out the front door rather than get in a heated altercation. Uncle tried to follow him outside. I stepped in and made him stay at the house. Enough was enough. Granted he was then trying to apologize, but the damage was done. Had to walk inside and hand out my gifts I had brought quickly and apologize,tell everyone we were leaving (I may have let the f bomb slip while explaining why we had to leave. I was very upset and bit my tongue as much as possible…oops). I just don’t understand why this uncle in particular has to always make snide comments or little jabs to me or my husband the one time a year we see him. He is nice and cordial to all of my cousins’ significant others. I did stick to my guns and supported my husband throughout this ordeal because my uncle was clearly in the wrong. Who plays like that? I thought we were all adults. What’s Christmas without a little family drama?


  5. I hate this time of year too (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve) but it’s true that it does get easier as I get older. I have some extended family that I saw a week before Christmas for a get-together but we’re not very close so they don’t really get intrusive with questions about when we’re having kids. Plus at almost 40, I think they kinda realize it’s not happening. As much as it sucks not having close family that cares what I’m up to, not having anyone to answer to is a benefit. Tonight on Christmas Eve it will just be my husband and my parents going out to dinner. It gets a little depressing when the thought hits me that someday it will be just me and my husband, then maybe just me alone. New Year’s Eve we’ll have two friends come over, the last ones who aren’t busy with young children, so that’s not really so fun anymore either. But as tough as this time of year is, at this point in the month I’m sorta getting excited that it’s almost January first and it’s about to be over. I love that the days slowly start to get longer, and every day we get closer to warmer weather. The lack of a family seems a little less important when enjoying a summer day at the beach or a spring bike ride on the trail. The summer holidays are the best cause they aren’t really “family” holidays necessarily and everyone can enjoy the long weekend off work to get away, hang by a pool or have a barbecue. I try to just keep the fact that those days are on their way back around again in my thoughts this week.


  6. Hi – just a reader here. Want to wish you all – Sue, Barbara, VA, Amber, Erica – peace and thoughts. The holidays can be very hard. I’m just a stranger but wanted to let you all know I read your comments and send hugs.


  7. This has been so helpful to read this year. At 38, and with a husband who doesn’t want kids I know my opportunity to have children is slipping further and further away. I never wanted to have kids this late anyway. Some days, when I am busy, it is okay that I will never have children, or feel that type of love. Other days, like around the holidays, it is unbearable. I never thought I would be where I am now, and I want so much for a change, either to go back towards my expectations of having a family and kids, or running from all the work I did as a young adult so I could take care of my family, that now doesn’t exist. This has been a sad holiday for me. I am grateful for my husband, who is sweet and supportive, and for my pets whom I love like my children. This is my family now. I wish I had someone to pass on my traditions.


  8. Sigh.

    I’ve got a cold I can’t shake and a heart that seems to be slowly dying. I’ve stopped checking in on friends who never check on me. I’ve slacked on club participation. I no longer concern myself with family dramas. I am actively rebuffing displays of kindness from a family member I KNOW to be toxic (and it’s not even my usual “awful family member” I always complain about). I simply don’t want to do it again.

    In short, I’m shedding all that gives me stress or makes me unhappy. It’s a weird feeling for me but liberating. I’m planning a new way of eating in the new year. I’m researching new hair styles. I’ve got a donation bin started with clothes I no longer wear. Each December, I face the new year with high spirits and excitement. This year I feel cold and robotic. Calculated and indifferent. I’m letting myself feel this way. Letting myself feel however I want to feel. I’m sad a lot, but I’m feeling positive changes. Real joy for instance when meeting particular friends. Relief when I decline an invite from someone who drains me. A smile when I pin a hairstyle that is drastically different than my usual look (a look my stylist loves). Giving myself permission to not feel responsible for completely carrying a conversation.

    My resolve this year is to follow my heart. To change in ways that make me smile. To be what I am and not what I think I should be at this stage in my life. Or what others think I should be. None of this has to do with children. But it makes me spend less time thinking of the void in my life and that seems like a positive direction to pursue.


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