Dreading the work Christmas ‘do’? View it as a game of pass the parcel

You’re dreading going to the Christmas ‘do’ at work because you know that everyone will be talking about their children or grandchildren and you feel inadequate because you can’t join in.

You’ve managed to keep the fact that you can’t have children secret from your work colleagues and you’re worried that;

a) You’ll be asked THE question and you won’t know what to say or

b) you’ll appear boring because you won’t have anything to talk about.

fingers in earsMaybe what you really want to do is to stand in the middle of the room with your fingers in your ears saying ‘la, la, la, la’ or perhaps shout in a loud voice ‘STOP talking about your children, don’t you realise how hurtful it is?’

Unless you plan to resign immediately and even if everyone (including you) have had too much to drink both these strategies are probably best avoided.

I was often tempted to do both of these things, or even better just not to go, and now I’m very happy talking about my life as it is. I was at a ‘do’ last night and when asked ‘do you have children? I spoke honestly and openly.

So what changed?  Here are two things which help me to survive social events.

1. Set boundaries

Remember that you’re in control of what you say and you don’t have to say anything you don’t want to.  I know this might seem hard sometimes especially if you feel backed into a corner, however you can always say firmly ‘I don’t want to talk about that’ or ‘I prefer to keep my private life private’ (or something similar).

In setting your boundaries and deciding how much you’re going to say you’ll want to consider who will be there, how much they know, who might be supportive and who you want to avoid.

2. Pass the conversation back (this is where pass the parcel comes in)

Viewing conversation as a game of pass the parcel where you control the music will make you feel a lot more confident.

Let me explain, I stop the music and hold on to a conversation only when I’m happy to do so and I pass it on when I’m not. And sometimes I’m happy to sit out, let it pass by and wait for the right opportunity to jump back in.

I’ll keep it when it’s about topics of my choice or I’m comfortable with and pass it on when it isn’t.

Okay, so how do I put this into practice?

What can you talk about easily?

pass the parcelBefore the ‘do’ think about things you enjoy talking about. Maybe you love to cook or you have a hobby that you’re passionate about.  Make a list and keep adding to it.

Once you have the list, instead of waiting for people to ask you questions, go ahead and start conversations about topics that you’re interested in.

When asked ‘do you have children?’ you can give the conversation back by asking a question or keep it on your terms by answering positively and introducing one of the topics on your list, for example ‘No, I travel instead / have an allotment etc’.

The alternative is to answer by saying something like ‘no, sadly not, we tried, but it didn’t work out’ then you’ll no doubt find that the listener will try to be helpful and say something like ‘have you tried adoption?’ The result is that it’s back to you and you’re deeper in the mire.

Remember that people like to talk about themselves so think of a few questions to ask (eg ‘I love your dress/tie, where did you get it?’ or ‘I recently saw ** at the cinema, have you seen it?’) and even better, if you know they love to talk about gardening ask them about it.

Over to you

So by now you’ll have got the idea so there’s one more thing to do to ensure that you’re absolutely ready and that is;


Like everything, the key to getting better is to practice. The best way is to mentally rehearse situations, so imagine you’re at the ‘do’, standing in front of the lady from HR, she asks you a question, and rehearse what you will say.  It will probably feel strange at first, but when you’re fully prepared, you’ll be glad that you did.

If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot to do, think about how awful it has felt in the past when you didn’t prepare. Also remember what I said last time about the importance of self-care.

If you found these useful or there are other things that have helped you to get through Christmas parties, please share them below, other women would love to hear them (you can use a different name if you don’t want your real name to be published).

7 thoughts on “Dreading the work Christmas ‘do’? View it as a game of pass the parcel”

  1. What a great exercise, Lesley. That “pass the parcel” concept could be useful in many situations!

    My version in this context is:
    “Do you have children?”
    “I have a gorgeous little niece and nephew. Aged 4 and 6. Love them to bits.” 🙂

  2. Fabulous blog post and I love the idea of pass the parcel. Wonderful ;)) I remember many group conversations that are dominated by children. Fortunately it does not happen as often these days 😉

  3. Thank you for this piece Lesley. I love the pass the parcel comparison too. What a powerful way to put yourself back in control of a situation. I do have children but am an only child and have lost both parents. Christmas throws some awkward questions my way too and so if you don’t mind, I’ll be adopting this great technique over the coming weeks! I love what you are doing Lesley. I’m sure you’ll be helping many childless women to heal and educating those with children in equal measure.

    • Many thanks Lisa, yes this technique can apply to many situations, especially, as you mention where there are other forms of loss. I hope it works for you.

  4. Hi Lesley

    What a great strategy. I don’t have children (out of choice) and for years avoided school reunions, although part of me really wanted to go. I finally went to one last year and was surprised that I was far from the only woman not to have kids – so the question ended up never being an issue after all.


  5. Thanks Kate,
    Great comment thanks, we think we’re all alone when actually not having children is very common and for many reasons so it’s great to know that we’re not alone.


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