Childless or Not, This Thanksgiving Will Be Different

Annie is not worried about Thanksgiving–as long as I share the turkey with her.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve got a turkey defrosting in the refrigerator, but otherwise nothing is normal about the holiday. I will not be with my family this year. “Aunt Sue” will not see the little ones, not get those wonderful hugs, or hang out sharing family stories. On the other hand, she won’t feel left out because she’s the only one there who doesn’t have kids.

I’ll be spending the day at home with a friend whose husband died a few months ago. She has grown children, but they’re in Connecticut and California, and two of them have COVID. As the number of COVID cases soars, my friend and I will stay in our own two-person bubble and celebrate the best we can. I have no doubt we will argue over everything from from how to make the gravy to which movie to watch after dinner. Just like family. But we won’t be alone, and for that, I’m thankful.

This year, everyone’s holidays will be different, or they should be. Just because your relatives are family doesn’t mean they aren’t carrying the virus. Stay home. Keep it small. The grown children of three of my friends have COVID. One is in the hospital, very serious. Another friend has an eight-month-old grandchild she has not yet been able to meet because she can’t travel to Colorado. It’s tough for all of us, but maybe those of us without children are lucky not to experience that extra pain of separation from our kids.

I didn’t plan to preach, but this is frightening. We have had a huge surge of COVID here in Oregon, including right here where I live. We are in lockdown again. I feel as if we are at war.

At the same time, we have a lot to be thankful for. That we have friends and family to worry about. That this won’t last forever. For our health if we have it. For food and shelter, if we have those. For a chance to discover new ways to connect and to help each other. For our Childless by Marriage community. You are not alone.

I am thankful that the new book, Love or Children, created from these blog posts and your comments, will be out before Christmas. Put it on your wish list.

I will be extremely grateful if that turkey in my fridge is truly defrosted by tomorrow morning. I haven’t had anyone to cook a turkey for in over a decade, so I’m out of practice. The new situation has made it possible for me to finally host a Thanksgiving dinner.

Look at the upside if you possibly can. There is one. How about if we all meet someplace warm and tropical next Thanksgiving? That would be something to look forward to.

You can read more about my Thanksgivings past and present at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

So, tell us about your Thanksgiving. How is it different this year? How is it the same? What are you thankful for?

‘Childless by the Marriage I Love’

Today, we have a guest post by Darinka from Hungary.

“But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world.

To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

I like the story of The Little Prince, especially when the Fox tells this to the little boy. Reminds me of the “name it to tame it” approach that can help many times to settle our fears and heavy feelings. I set out for my journey of taming (and naming) my fox (or I could call it my monster) of childlessness three years ago when after seven years of marriage I learned that my husband didn’t want kids.

We live in an Eastern-European country, started our life together with very little means. We moved from one rented place to another, never feeling really settled. We both worked long hours, yet we didn’t feel financially safe enough to start a family. The topic did come up a few times over the years, but we felt the same way, that it was not the time yet.

Three years ago, we finally moved into our own home, which was a huge step for us. Now we were in our perfect little two-bedroom house on the edge of a small village by the woods. We now had the room and financial stability, so just after we moved, I felt it was time. My husband disagreed. We had to face that there are deeper reasons behind us not having kids than just financial ones. We started to go to counseling and found out more about our deeper reasons. My husband had a distant father who spent most of his life in severe depression, in and out of jobs, spending years in almost total silence and withdrawal. My husband was 17 when his youngest brother was born. He was an emotional crutch for his mum for many years, sharing the worries and troubles of his four siblings. So, my question of “Shall we have kids?” did not come to him as a sweet, exciting plan for life, more like another kilometer after a thousand-kilometer-long journey…no, no, not another one. 

A year after this, we decided to go for a puppy. My hopes were raised because I thought this meant we were making progress. We read books on how to bring up a puppy. Watched programs. Equipped the small bedroom, and so we brought home the sweetest black and white greyhound of six weeks. After three days, I sensed something was wrong. After five days, we both knew. My husband showed clear symptoms of burnout. He could not sleep, could not enjoy any of it, felt absolutely exhausted and depressed. He had such a strong physical and emotional reaction to caring for this little newcomer that finally it reached not only my mind but my heart, that this may be more serious than I thought, this may be permanent. We took the puppy back after a week. Cleared all her things. Packed up and went away for a few days because we couldn’t stay in the house. This sweet little puppy found a way to us. Showed my husband that he can’t accept the father within himself, showed me that I may never become a mum. She has opened a channel for my tears and sorrow. I cried for about six months. We shared many feelings, anger, fears, disappointment, hopelessness. But despite of all this (or because of all this), we moved closer to each other; our marriage became stronger.

I wanted to accept my husband’s feelings and decision. I read a lot, searched the web, joined groups, but couldn’t find a name for my monster. I deeply felt for those who struggled with fertility issues, but I didn’t. My brother and his wife were trying for a baby for seven years, my brother-in-law and his wife the same. We couldn’t really share our struggles with them. I couldn’t identify with those who are childfree by choice either. I am definitely not one of them. I felt it was neither my decision nor my medical circumstance, but what was it then?

I am still struggling with feeling the pressure of meeting others’ expectations, some guilt as I believe children are gifts from God. I find it difficult to say no to them, fear for the future. But I also know that the last thing I would want for my kids is for them to be unwanted by one of their parents. I’ve been there, I grew up like this, and I know it’s not a happy place. This is why I can’t follow advice like: just do it, no need to be ready, don’t worry, men usually want children less than women, just say you want it. Well, I can’t.

So, you see, it’s not only my husband; it’s me too. I am being loved and accepted by my husband. I feel it and I let myself enjoy this. I may still not feel wanted (that is too deep a wound to heal quickly), but I already know that I am.

Slowly a name is forming after all: I’m childless by marriage . . . and lately it seems less scary and less painful because I’m childless by not any marriage . . . but the marriage I love.

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Thank you, Darinka, for filling in for me this week. I am deep into the final proofreading for the new book, Love or Children, coming very soon.

I you want to contribute a guest post to the Childless by Marriage blog, see the information in the sidebar.