Friday, February 12, 2016

Rituals, milestones and childlessness

I got quite a laugh when this article -- "All Praise the Women of Menopause" -- landed in my Facebook feed. I'm not quite through menopause yet (much to my dismay...!), but I could relate to the contrast between the author's first communion as a child, and the total lack of rituals or cultural acknowledgement as she marks the end of her fertile years and the beginning of a new phase in her life.   

"Why is it that we’re lauded and celebrated when we’ve only just embarked on the journey? Why do we stop marking, ritually, the accomplishments along the way? The hurdles that we overcome?" she asks.  Good questions.

I think a lack of rituals and milestones and celebrations and acknowledgement is one of the more difficult aspects of childless/free living. Yes, there are still some milestones that we celebrate, but I would venture to say not as many as parents get to mark.

Plus, I grew up at a time (1970s) when many of the old rituals and milestones weren't being celebrated, or were marked in a much more informal way than they had been in the past. My track record in this respect has been sort of hit & miss:
  • Not being Catholic, I didn't have a first communion.
  • But I was confirmed when I was 14, alongside my younger sister. We didn't wear white dresses -- although we did wear veils (which all the girls in the class agreed looked dumb).  Our aunts (also our godmothers) were our sponsors, and both sets of our grandparents attended (our paternal grandmother died soon afterward). We got gifts (including a charm bracelet from my aunt, which I still have.)  But it was not the big deal it is in some families and cultures.  
  • I stopped having big birthday parties after I turned 12 (although my birthday was always celebrated by my family & a few close friends).  These days, dh & I generally celebrate our birthdays by exchanging cards & going out for dinner. Sometimes, BIL & family will bring a cake to our next get-together, which is nice. :)  It's not often these days that I hear "happy birthday" being sung to me.   
  • I didn't have a high school prom, in the American sense. We had a spring semi-formal dance in the high school gym, to which my sister & I wore sundresses, and my class had a graduation cruise, to which the girls wore short dresses.
  • We wore long dresses & suits to our high school graduation ceremony. Caps & gowns were adopted the following year.  
  • I missed picking up my diploma for my undergraduate degree, because I was already beginning a year-long master's degree program at another school in another province. I did get to attend that graduation with my parents & my future dh.
  • I did have a lovely traditional wedding, preceded by a couple of small bridal showers -- one hosted by my aunt and attended mostly by relatives on my dad's side of the family, and one hosted by a neighbour of my parents.
  • But because our wedding was 1,000 miles away, the only people from dh's family who attended were those in the wedding party -- his dad, brother & two cousins.  The cousins on his mother's side of the family took us out for dinner before our wedding, when I came to Toronto to hunt for apartments, and when we returned from our honeymoon, we were taken straight from the airport to his aunt's house, where his dad's relatives held a "welcome home" gathering for us. 
  • A baby shower was planned (but never held). 
  • My sister & I hosted big catered parties for both our parents' 40th & 50th wedding anniversaries (as well as a party at their house for their 25th, years earlier). The 50th anniversary party coincided with our own 25th.  Of course, we don't have any kids to plan milestone wedding anniversary parties for us.  My sister did ask whether the 50th party should be a combined 50th/25th, but I thought that would complicate matters and that my parents deserved their own milestone celebration (and, for that matter, so did we..!) .  We usually mark our anniversaries with dinner out & the exchange of cards, although we will usually do something more special for the ones divisible by 5.
  • I recently retired -- but, since I lost my job 18 months earlier, there was no retirement party. I never even got to say goodbye to most of my coworkers.  (I was presented with a bouquet at a department meeting and taken to lunch with my immediate team on my 25th work anniversary, and attended a big banquet for long-service employees later that year.) 
Of course, nothing in this life is perfect, and so often, the anticipation of these events turns out to be the best thing about them. ;)  But most people get to relive, or improve on, the rituals and celebrations and milestones they experienced as a child with their own children as they grow up. Those of us without children don't get to do that. Moreover, we often don't even get invited to participate when family members & friends celebrate (e.g., kids' birthday parties). Often, it's assumed that we wouldn't enjoy these occasions, or be interested. Maybe some of us wouldn't be -- but some of us would. It's always nice to be included with an invitation, even if we opt not to take part.

Ultimately, it's up to us to decide what milestones and life passages are important to us, how we want to celebrate them (or not) and to remind others that, even if we don't have kids, we have a life that's worth celebrating too.  Menopause parade, anyone?? 

*** *** ***

Jody Day of Gateway Women touched on the importance of rituals -- and the absence thereof for childless women -- with Sasha Cagen of Quirkyalone. (This topic comes up in the conversation around the 26-minute mark, but the entire video is worth watching.)  


  1. That's a long list and an impressive one! I'm glad you wrote it down. It marks the milestones that are both important and reveal so much about you. You're spring formal in high school sounds like it was a lot of fun. And I still think you deserve a retirement party.

  2. Thank you for this, Loribeth. I have a dear friend who never had children, and had to have a hysterectomy recently. I have been guilty of not inviting her to my daughter's various celebrations, as I assumed she just wouldn't be interested. Now I see that maybe I should at least ask.

    That being said- I certainly recognize that she has a life worth celebrating! And we celebrate anything and everything that is meaningful to her. I'm thinking that menopause parade sounds pretty fabulous- for all of us! :)

    1. It never hurts to ask, & give her the choice of attending or not. :)

  3. I haven't entered menopause either though my dropping estrogen levels have made their presence known. Not fun. They should throw a shower for that. I never had a wedding shower, or a baby shower so I'd appreciate it. Grown up women can give me tips, books to read, comfortable underwear, bras with no underwire, a punching bag, wine, vitamins, etc.

  4. Sign me up for the menopause parade. I am happy to be Grand Marshall, even!

    "Why is it that we’re lauded and celebrated when we’ve only just embarked on the journey? Why do we stop marking, ritually, the accomplishments along the way? The hurdles that we overcome?" she asks. Good questions." YES,

    1. You would make an excellent Grand Marshall, Pamela! :)

  5. I was going to offer to be Grand Marshall, but Pamela beat me to it.

    You've got me thinking about my own milestones. You and I have been on such parallel tracks.

  6. One thing I forgot to mention about my birthdays: being a January baby, I find my birthday sometimes tends to get overshadowed by Christmas. Everyone is so tired out (& spent out) from all the hoopla that my birthday sometimes tends to be an afterthought. I've had a lot of combination birthday/Christmas gifts. Plus it's so cold outside, it's hard to get people to come out to celebrate, or to plan anything too adventurous for a party. My sister, born in September, got to have hot dog roasts at the beach for her birthday parties. I tried more than once to plan a skating party with my friends, but we always got bumped by hockey practice (this being Canada, hockey reigns supreme when it comes to precious ice time at the local rinks!), so I gave up on that idea. I don't want to whine, but I do sometimes feel like I was gypped when it comes to celebrations. :p :(

  7. There should totally be a party for menopause (I don't want to celebrate it for a few years yet, but since I have POF it might be closer than generally expected.) You list of milestones sounds very cool. The wedding anniversaries in particular impress me because it is an achievement to keep a good relationship going; nobody should underestimate that. My parents didn't quite make it to 50th (my dad passed away a few months after their 47th). I am not much of a celebrator of anything (has a lot to do with how I was raised, I think). I find a lot of my milestones are not the traditional kind. I see the year I spent living abroad ten years ago as a huge milestone, but it's not a graduation or wedding or something that other people recognize. I kind of like having my own secret milestones because while I think celebrations are important as an excuse for people to get together, I always find it a bit embarrassing to be the centre of attention.