Child Free Holidays
Facing the holidays sans baby can be both challenging and rewarding.
Posted Dec 21, 2014
The holidays can be a particularly challenging time for those trying to conceive. It really doesn’t matter where you are in your journey. Even if you don’t have a fertility problem, it can feel like someone is missing if a baby is wanted. This is also a time when we are exposed to more children. Family gatherings are full of kids and we are barraged with holiday family photo greeting cards. If you are newly married then you may be interrogated by well meaning relatives about your family planning. This is especially true for the over 35 crowd. We offer advice on how to manage that here . Childless couples are sometimes treated as second class citizens by their families. Certainly, young children have specific needs. However, this doesn’t mean your needs should be completely ignored. These common concerns and more are addressed below. Think of this as your “holiday survival guide”.
If your lack of baby is distracting from your holiday cheer try reframing the situation. Often times we get in to “all or nothing” thinking. Not being pregnant right now has no bearing on your pregnancy status next December. In fact, you could very well be giving birth next New Year’s Eve! Implementing some simple cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) can help alter your view point and reframe your thinking pattern. This will lead to more positive emotions. We offer a primer on CBT here . In short, learn to challenge your thoughts. If you have only been trying to conceive (TTC) for a few months then know it is perfectly normal that you are not pregnant yet. In fact it could easily take a year. You do not have a fertility problem. You simply do not have what you want as quickly as you would like to have it. This may sound a little harsh but it is important not to drown in self-pity. This does not mean stifling your disappointment. That will only lead to more anger and negative emotions. It simply means examining your thinking pattern and questioning what you are basing your though on. How true is it?
If you have been TTC for more than a year or you and your partner have been diagnosed with an actual fertility problem (unexplained infertility is not an actual fertility problem) then reframing your situation many be helpful. This involves acknowledging what the challenge is and then also acknowledging your options. For example, you might say: “We learned between my PCOS and my husband’s low sperm count that it would be unlikely to conceive without IVF. This makes me sad and scared. I am grateful that we have an option and know that we can save for the procedure”. Try not to use the words “but” or “however” as they discredit the statement that comes before them. Acknowledging your options and what is possible and positive helps keep a balanced perspective. Failing to do so will send you down a rabbit hole of needless despair.
Changing your perspective will naturally lead to changing how you feel about your situation. More positive emotions naturally lead towards more positive thoughts. It’s a happy cycle. Behavior has a place here as well. Staying in bed all day or consuming a pint of ice cream will typically lead to more negative thoughts and feelings which then make it more difficult to do something positive. Pick a behavior that makes you feel good and is not baby related. This may be a gym class, a manicure, or watching a funny movie. Whatever it is that makes you happy. This is not an instant fix. The more you engage in challenging or reframing thoughts as well as positive behaviors, the more improved your mood will be.
The next step in creating harmonious and happy holidays is to cultivate some gratitude. I know, this has been done to death but there is a reason for that. It works. It’s much easier for us to focus on what we don’t have than what we do have. Similarly, we tend to focus on the faults in others more than their good qualities. This is all a trick of the mind. There is no reason why we can’t flip our perspective. Doing so will make you feel better and improve your interactions with others. Start small by listing either mentally or on paper 10 things you are grateful for every day. It can be as simple as your car starting or as metaphysical as the sun rising. Pay attention to how you feel after a few days of doing this. If you’re headed off to a family gathering, make a note of at least 2 things you like in each relative attending. It can be as superficial as their sense of fashion or as deep as how kind they are. Personally, I hate the expression: “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”. I think we would all be better served by looking for the good in all people and situations. Even if you don’t particularly like someone, keep in mind others like them so therefore they can’t be innately bad. This does not mean allowing others to treat you poorly, though.
This brings me to the last “holiday survival guide” tip. Setting boundaries is essential for personal well being and healthy relationships. Productively setting boundaries involves self awareness, confidence, and resilience. First, you need to take inventory of what you can and cannot handle as well as what you are willing to handle . These are often not the same things. For example, I am a high energy person that can meet multiple obligations. A typical week for me used to involve some type of afterwork professional, community, or social commitment almost daily. This was on top of a full time job and, for many years, graduate school. I’ve learned that this was not a healthy schedule for me and that I benefitted from limiting myself to two activities per week. “Can” handle verses “willing” to handle. This applies to the holidays specifically in the sense of how much traveling are you willing to do? How many parties/dinners are you willing to go to? How much are you willing to spend?
Once you determine what you can and are willing to do, it behoves you to confidently communicate that to your family. This is done with the understanding that they have boundaries and needs as well. For example, your sister with young children may insist on Christmas dinner at her home because that works best for her kids. That’s fine, but if she lives 4 hours away and you have to work on December 26th, you may not be able to go. If you want to see her, then a reasonable compromise respecting each person’s needs may look like you coming Christmas Eve and leaving after lunch Christmas Day. Some families are great with boundaries, most are not. That’s where resiliency comes in. Let’s continue the above example, and assume your sister is delighted to have you Christmas Eve and offers to move the Christmas Day dinner to lunchtime to accommodate you. All is well until your mother throws a fit because tradition dictates Christmas dinner is always served at 6pm sharp. She insists you should just take the 26th off (This is the part where childless people are treated like second class citizens). You need to calmly and confidently reiterate that although you respect tradition, having the family together is what is most important and that the new plan meets everyone’s needs. Then you need to whether the storm of her response without wavering in the new plan. Calmly say: “Mom, I’m sorry you’re upset, this is the new plan and I can no longer discuss it. See you on Christmas!”. Chances are, this alone will not stifle her, however, with time she will get it. The key is to stay firm and unapologetic in protecting your boundaries. You can acknowledge her feelings (hence the “I’m sort you’re upset” part”); just don’t apologize for asserting your needs.
Learning to challenge and reframe your thoughts as well as determining and establishing boundaries may seem like a daunting task during the best of times. The holiday season may feel to busy to do this. However, if this time of year is hard for you then turn the experience into one of self growth and discovery. The rewards will be greater than anything you can find under a tree.