I spoke to a client this week (we'll call her 'Mary'), whom I have worked with in my Psychotherapy Practice on and off for years. She was in her early thirties when we first began working together. During our first session she told me "You really should talk with my Mother. She knows me better than I know myself." Fast forward to today. Mary is now forty-five. During the ensuing years, she has been through a marriage, a divorce, another long-term relationship and its break-up, the launch and management of her now very successful business and breast cancer.
Today Mary looks to herself to arrive at her own truth. It has been my privilege to watch her evolve into "knowing" and valuing herself from the inside out, versus looking to external voices to tell her who she is and what is best for her. She is doing great...a survivor of some disappointment and despair along the way, who has become a thriver, developing strength, inspiration and potent wisdom through these hardships.
But like many women of her generation, Mary always imagined and desired marriage and children in her life. Her childlessness by circumstance, a reality for so many, has become increasingly common -- putting years of energy into academic achievements, working around the clock for two decades in her business, marrying the wrong man, not yet finding the right one and now past her child-bearing years.
During our session, at the start of this holiday season, she articulated, what I have heard many times from others, about what it feels like to be a woman without children during the holidays:
"Everyone seems interested in the whereabouts of my siblings on the holidays, because they have children. No one seems to notice or as interested in my plans. I feel rootless, wondering from home to home...and am expected to...because I can."
This may sound self-pitying, but trust me -- that is not her nature. But it IS her truth...and it is important that she expressed these feelings because they are real, because they come in waves -- especially around charged catalysts like the holidays, and because its expression is a necessary release and avenue to reach the other side.
How many of us feel the same way? What do you experience as a single woman or man, or even as a partner in a relationship without children during the holidays? Do you experience sporadic feelings of displacement or isolation? Do you have difficulty feeling "grateful" during Thanksgiving or "joyous" during the Christmas/Chanukah Holidays or New Years? If so, what steps do you take to get through it?
I invite you to share your thoughts so that we can develop a healing dialogue and perhaps offer one another some timely words of wisdom along the way. Meanwhile, I'd like to share some of my own:
Here are Six Solid Holiday Blues Solutions for the Single & Childless:
* Attune: Address any uncomfortable feelings you may experience (lonely, sad, resentful, envious, etc.). What we resist persists, so the first step is to always acknowledge these feelings. There is no shame in recognizing them. They are a part of the human experience.
* Connect: Reach out to someone (a friend, family member, therapist, clergy) if you feel it would be helpful to express these thoughts or feelings so that you are not ruminating, alone or ashamed of them.
* Remember: This state of emotion is temporal: Remind yourself that, while these feelings are important to notice, you do not have to stay here. No emotion is ever final.
* Re-evaluate: This state of emotion is permeable: You can refocus your attention and reprogram the meaning of the holidays for yourself. For example, you can decide -- (yes, it is a choice) -- to perceive this experience as a time of freedom vs. isolation. What other things (besides your possible vision of your own relationship and family) could be fun and meaningful to you? Is it a party for one with a bubble bath with candles and music playing? Is it a great book to cozy up to next to a fireplace? Is it a drive to a beautiful sacred spot? A yoga class, hike, massage etc? A progressive party, visiting friends and family by choice vs. obligation? I for one, have come to enjoy the "wanderer" experience ... offering the opportunity to come and go as I please, in my own time and in my own way. It's quite wonderful actually, very freeing and joyful! If you crave connecting with children, there are so many ways to do so. How about spending juicy quality time with your and nieces and nephews, or volunteering with children who may be especially sad during the holidays, without a loving family or place to call home. This could most certainly prove to be a very timely and mutual blessing.
* Experience the transformative power of Gratitude: Once we get ourselves over the hump of transitioning the feelings of lack into an acknowledgment of all that is abundant in our lives, we get to party with life again.
* This is an ever-green tool kit process that is always available to you: You can use this formula to transform any previous discomfort into opportunity, in all areas of your life. It's all a matter of perception, decision and self-motivated action.
I hope these suggestions may serve as a template for positive coping strategies during other holidays and celebrations that may trigger melancholy (mother's day, father's day, birthdays etc). Life is all too brief to short-change ourselves, just because everything we have hoped and expected in our lives has not come to fruition. As feelings of regret or void may surface at times, let us rejoice in our power to reclaim what IS, embracing and enjoying all the positive relationships, experiences and contributions that are our enduring legacy.
We are a community of souls -- each striving for happiness and fulfillment. Look around you -- you are not alone.
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