Childfree at the Holidays…What Gifts Can You Give Yourself?


Every time you turn on the radio or television, your hear carols, talk about shopping, pictures of turkeys roasting, and worst of all, another commercial for the latest hot children’s toy! And along with these never-ending messages comes your own picture of how the holidays ought to be. Whether it is the fantasy that you thought you had laid to rest, of a table surrounded by your own children, or the notion that your family would not give you all of the work (because, after all, you have no kids and should have plenty of time), the holidays are often a source of stress. Is it any surprise that you are feeling put out? Or experiencing the slow, sinking sensation of disappointment that envelops you at this time every year? Where is the picture-perfect holiday you have always dreamed of?


Unrealistic expectations are a major cause of the stress so many of us feel during the holiday season, stress that undermines any possibility of joy, connection and contentment we are hoping to experience. Unrealistic expectations are not, of course, the only source of seasonal anxiety, stress and depression. In fact, there are so many pressures surrounding the holidays it’s a wonder most of us make it through them emotionally intact. So, in an effort to help you and yours enjoy the season, here’s a look at  some things that you can do to deal with a few of the most common issues that surround being childfree at the holidays.


It’s an ugly tendency and it can take many forms. Your table must look like Martha Stewart’s (even if the woman runs afoul of the law, you know her poinsettias will be perky). Or perhaps you just have to bake a batch of your famous, fabulously decorated cookies for every last man and woman in your office. Regardless of the form it takes, perfectionism will eventually net you nothing more than disappointment, frustration, and exhaustion. So put the magazines down and turn the TV off. Being the perfect hostess, even at the cost of your sleep and mental health, will not change that fact that you are childfree. Challenge yourself instead to look at the holidays as a time to accept yourself and your lifestyle  – which you enjoy the entire rest of the year!- and not make yourself nuts. Relax your standards, do the best that you reasonably can, and accept whatever that is. You might actually find yourself with enough energy to enjoy the holidays.


No one’s going to change just because it’s holiday time. If your parents normally war like the Roses, they’re not suddenly going to morph into Ozzie and Harriet. If your mother-in-law criticizes every little thing you do – especially not having children – don’t expect compliments now, no matter how wonderful your new Thanksgiving stuffing recipe really is. And keep in mind that those nieces and nephews who fight will do their share of scrapping on any holiday, no matter how much you want them to be picture-perfect children at the holidays.  No fantasy family is going to arrive at your holiday table, but take heart, there is help. The key is not to try to control them.  Instead, cultivate forgiveness; these crazy-making creatures are your loved ones, aren’t they? Lastly practice patience, and perhaps everyone will relax. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful holiday gift?


Just because you do not have kids of your own does not mean that you cannot parent and nurture, especially during the holiday season. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Chanukah or Christmas there are ways that you can nurture others. You can invite your entire family to share your table and make a special effort to have fun with the children who are there. You can surprise them with special small gifts that give them something to do when dinner is over, and enjoy doing it with them. If there are no kids in your family, you can invite friends whose families are far away. Or you can volunteer to work at a hospital on that day and deliver meals to children who are sick, or take meals to adults who are shut in. You can serve a holiday meal at a soup kitchen. There are literally hundreds of ways that you can exercise your nurturing tendencies and many recipients who will really appreciate your time and effort.


Don’t let family expectations drive you into joining them if what you really want is to get away. There are glorious vacations that you can take, from warm to cold climates, and many ways to enjoy them. Try a beautiful spa or a very small cruise ship – these are spots that are not likely to be filled with children because they have no facilities for them. There are also lodges and B&Bs that do not allow children under the age of 16.  And for those of you who do not like to travel, there is no law that says you cannot hunker down in your own home, plan a glorious meal for yourself and your partner, rent movies, listen to good music and dance in your own living room if you like.  Remember, you get to decide what you want your holiday to be like.


Traveling can be extremely stressful during the holidays, so what should you do if your family members are scattered and the pressure’s on to “come home”? If you can’t handle that kind of stress, don’t pressure yourself to travel. The fact is that there are many other days in the year, many other more relaxed opportunities to make long trips. And in the meantime, on those holidays when you might not be able to be together, you still can share your feelings and maintain your closeness. Call, send small treats, special notes, videotapes – anything that will carry the warmth that you feel in your heart for the folks on the receiving end.


Holidays can be excruciating for those who just got bad news. At a time of year when we are inundated with images of joyous families and table surrounded by children, people who are childfree often feel as if they have been cheated not only out of the joy of children, but out of the blessings of family. Many are also made to feel as if they don’t measure up – after all, if they did, they’d have a crowd of their kids around them! The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re flying chldfree through the holiday season. Remind yourself that you are being bombarded by advertising, and refuse to allow yourself to be brainwashed! Instead, decide how you want to spend your holiday time. If you are hurting, celebrating might be the last thing you want to do and a quiet retreat might offer you some healing time. By the same token, it might do you good to be around family or friends, particularly if they are at least somewhat sensitive to how you feel or what you are going through.


Remember, the holidays are just holidays, festivals whose true meaning has nothing to do with your ability to set a fabulous table, give the perfect gift, or have children.  Whether you celebrate lavishly or conservatively,  the manner in which you observe the holidays is your choice and should not be dictated by anyone else, not family, not friends, and certainly not Madison Avenue. Remember, too, that real problems don’t go away just because it is the holiday season. You can, however, take your own action to chase away the blues, or manage your stress level. Above all else, try to hang on to your sense of humor. Take a moment; take a deep breath; try to keep things in perspective.  It’s your capacity for patience and acceptance that counts at this time of year. Cultivate these qualities and you’ll feel proud of yourself and your decisions, whatever choices you make.