By Lisa Manterfield
“Are you the adult you dreamed of becoming?”
I laughed when I read this question on Facebook. No! Of course I’m not. The adult I dreamed of was an international engineering consultant, living in a large house with a circular driveway, with a fabulous husband and four beautiful children, including one set of twins.
Aside from the fabulous husband, that adult is almost the polar opposite of the adult I am now. I’m a writer, who works from my very small rented beach cottage, and of course, there are no children in my picture. And yet, once I stop to consider my friend’s question, I realize that I’m a lot happier as this adult than I would have been had my expectations been met. I’ve met the person I’d once dreamed of becoming; she wasn’t a very happy person and she definitely had more grey hairs than me.
Half the battle of coming-to-terms with a life without children is letting go of our expectations—and creating new ones. This is never more true than during the holiday season, one of the most difficult times of the year to be childless.
When I think of my expectations of what Christmas should be like as an adult, those four children are always there, gathered around the tree, gathered around the dinner table, and then gathered around me as the day comes to a close. Even when I realized that children wouldn’t be part of my life, I still strived to make Christmas live up to my expectations. Consequently, Christmastime was very sad time for a number of years. I knew there was no way my expectations could be met, and eventually I stopped making an effort to celebrate.
The worst year was when my husband and I found ourselves sitting at home, with no Christmas tree, no plans, no celebration, and we knew we’d allowed our lack of children to take over our lives. We also realized it was time to set new, more realistic expectations.
When I took a step back and looked at what I really wanted for Christmas, not on the surface of gifts, family, and decorations, but on a deeper emotional level, I discovered that my spiritual wish list included love, peacefulness, companionship, and a good dose of silly fun. I needed to explore new ways to get what I really wanted.
It took a couple of false starts to find a new way to celebrate Christmas, but a couple of years ago we nailed it. Mr. Fab and I rented an apartment for three days in a nearby beach town. We celebrated on Christmas Eve with a lovely dinner at an historic hotel with an enormous Christmas tree, roving carolers, and even an outdoor ice rink (in Southern California!). On Christmas Day, instead of sitting at home feeling sad about a pathetic Christmas for two, we went to the zoo, like a couple of big kids, and had a whale of a time. I even got to feed a rhino and have an ice cream. We both agreed it was the best Christmas we’ve had for a long time, plus there were no tantrums or mountains of dirty dishes to deal with.
It’s hard to let go of our expectations, especially when they’re often so deeply engrained, but if you’re struggling to find your holiday cheer this year, I encourage you to look beneath the obvious losses and examine what’s really missing for you. Even if you can’t meet your tangible expectations of what the holidays should be, you might be surprised to find you can satisfy your true needs in unconventional—and unexpected—ways.
I am in a “resetting” season right now. For most of our married life, Christmas Eve was marked by bringing a homemade dinner to my homebound grandmother on one side of the family, and Christmas Day with a big extended-family dinner with the other side of the family. Well, my one grandmother passed away last year, and we recently learned that the uncle who has always hosted that extended-family Christmas has decided to “downsize” it to just his daughters and their kids. Which is completely within his rights, and on some level very natural, but still, ouch. On short notice, we’re taking a quick trip to my mom’s place, halfway across the country, for this Christmas. And from there it’ll be time to do the work of figuring out what we really want, going forward. Part of what had me a little “stuck” last week was feeling like all that work had to happen right now – but no, we really only needed to figure out what felt right for *this year*. There’s no hurry for the rest.
Jane P (UK) says
Good point Rivqah – what works one year may change again, nothing has to be decided too far ahead. Its hard to let in something different but it could be better! I do feel the “ouch” for you and hope this year goes well.
Jane P (UK) says
Great post Lisa – I recall something similar a couple of years ago and it was the first time I thought about what I really wanted (apart from the obvious that we cannot have)! Love and peace is at the heart of what I want – my husband and I took off to the ski slopes and it was the first time I looked forward to Christmas in years. We’re in our 3rd year of our new traditional Christmas – we plan a meal together for the evening – we have a Champagne breakfast before a day on the slopes and we even purchased a mini tree to take with us. Its also great when the question of “are you ready for Christmas” comes up in the office and I can answer happily – we are now, as they just had snowfall in the French Alpes! I do carry around some guilt for my Mum but I feel she has me near by all year and on Christmas day for 50 years and she needs to let me go now and live my life not the one that’s forever out of reach.