Parentless Parents: Do You Put On A "Happy Face" For The Holidays?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

'Tis the Season to be Jolly, right? How could I forget? I see reminders everywhere that I should be happy! But what happens if the month of December serves not only to remind you of all things Merry -- but of all the people you've lost?

Chanukah begins this Friday night and while I look forward to lighting candles with my husband and two children, I know the gift I really want, the one I truly long for, I'll never get: my parents being grandparents to my children. My parents will never be able to take pictures of their grandkids opening presents and my kids will never experience being the focus of all that extra grandparent love and attention. And I will miss all that, and so much more, too. I will miss being the one taken care of; I will miss being the one cooked for; I will miss being the daughter.

My dad died less than a year after my son, Jake's, first Chanukah. I have pictures of my father holding Jake in his lap, but my son who's now 9, doesn't remember it. My mom never met my children. She died of ovarian cancer before I was even married.

Last week, I announced some preliminary findings from the Parentless Parents online survey. The results of the survey will serve as part of the foundation for my forthcoming book, Parentless Parents: How the Deaths of Our Mothers and Fathers Impact the Way We Parent Our Own Children. If you haven't read last week's post, you can now by clicking here.

In the survey, I ask various questions related to the holidays. My goal is to understand if the loss of our parents impacts the way we experience the holidays with our children. In several sections, for example, I ask respondents how and if specific statements and situations apply to them. Here's one such statement: "I force myself to enjoy the holidays for the sake of my children." Does that sound like you? If it does, you are not alone. In fact, the majority of the more than 1,000 mothers and fathers who have already taken the Parentless Parents survey agree with that statement.

Here's what one parentless parent says about parenting without her parents:

"On the outside, it appears that I'm pretty well adjusted. I'm a good mom. I try really hard to be happy for my daughter's sake. Inside [though] I sometimes feel like a baby myself. I wish I could crawl into my mother's womb and go to sleep. There is such emptiness inside of me. I need someone to love me the way my mom and dad did. No one on earth -- not my husband, sister, daughter - has any idea how screwed up I feel inside."

Do you sometimes feel the need to put on a "Happy Face" during the holidays for the sake of your children?

Join the discussion and take the Parentless Parents survey. I'll use your anonymous responses in my book.


Allison Gilbert is currently writing her third non-fiction book, Parentless Parents: How the Deaths of Our Mothers and Fathers Impact the Way We Parent Our Own Children. If you are a parent who has lost both your parents, you can help with her research by taking the Parentless Parents online survey. You can also join the "Parentless Parents" community on Facebook.

Parentless Parents will be published by Hyperion and is a follow-up to her critically acclaimed book, Always Too Soon: Voices of Support for Those Who Have Lost Both Parents. Parentless Parents will explore how the way we parent is shaped by the loss of our own mothers and fathers; how marriages are impacted when one spouse is parentless and the other is not; and offer strategies for keeping the memory of our parents alive for our children.

In Always Too Soon, Ms. Gilbert (a producer at CNN in New York and mother of two children) interviewed celebrities and others about losing their parents. She spoke with, among others, Rosanne Cash, Geraldine Ferraro, Ice-T, Yogi Berra, Mariel Hemingway, and New York Times best-selling authors, Hope Edelman and Barbara Ehrenreich. Always Too Soon sparked the formation of the Parentless Parents organization, a national network of support groups for mothers and fathers who have lost their own parents. You can find out more about Ms. Gilbert by visiting her website at