The adults in my family participate in a gift exchange for Christmas, so that instead of giving each person something small, I spend my modest budget on one nice item for just one person. We’ve been doing this for years, with success.
I noticed something this past year as I put together my wish list for my secret giver. My list included a hodgepodge of items: a cookbook, stationery, a gift card to a local running store. These are all things I would like, of course, but I realized that this particular list was less about what I really wanted and more about accommodating the possible giver. My sister-in-law, cook extraordinaire, would enjoy browsing Sur La Table when she shopped for the cookbook. My mom, the queen of social graces, would slip in sticks of sealing wax to go with a box of fine linen paper. My brother, Mr. Fitness, would be pumped to get me something that supported my goal to run a 5K later this year.
This reminded me of something Lisa said to me about how we need to get better about asking our friends and family for help. This is so important as we work through our phases of grief over being childless, and it can be so hard to do. For example, when I haven’t been clear about what I need, I’ve had friends say things like, “You want kids, take mine—ha ha!” (So not helping. And I’d be happy to take them, by the way.) One couple thought it would be easier on me if I wasn’t invited to any gatherings that included children, which, as their family grew, quickly became almost all gatherings. (So I just felt more isolated.)
I, of course, wasn’t much help. When asked, I’d say things like, “Oh, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.” Rubbish. I thought I was letting them off the hook, but really, I needed to be more aware that they genuinely wanted to help in meaningful ways.
So maybe I can do better. The next time someone asks me how she can best support me on this crazy journey, my thoughtful and real response might include:
“I don’t want to talk about it. Just give me a big hug when you see me.”
“Let me come to your daughter’s dance recital, and don’t take it personally when I leave without saying good-bye (because I’ve been crying).”
“Take me to a funny movie so we can laugh really hard for a change.”
“Be patient with me. The real, happy me is evolving, and I’ll be ready to re-enter the world soon.”
By the way, in addition to the wrapped gift-exchange package, I got what I truly wanted for Christmas: face time with people I hold dear and time off from work, i.e., a bit of peace on Earth.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.