Christmas doesn't seem quite like Christmas without the happy chaos of children at the heart of the celebrations.
Yet more and more women are simply not having children – up to a quarter of British women today will never become mothers.
And while acres of newsprint have been dedicated to this rising trend, no one has spared a thought for the emotional impact of their children's childlessness on a whole generation of would-be grandparents.
Who's being selfish, the would-be grandparents or their children who won't produce babies? Tell us in our reader comments box below.
Denied that little bit of immortality and that very special relationship that comes from the birth of grandchildren, they are suffering silently on the sidelines with no say in the decision - despite feeling that they have a vital stake in the outcome.
Grandchild Hunger is the grandparently equivalent of a woman's longing for a baby that was encapsulated in the 2002 best-selling book by Sylvia Ann-Hewlett Baby Hunger.
If you are a parent, you automatically expect to become a grandparent - particularly when all the advances in modern life give such a sense of entitlement that you believe you really can have it all.
Many long-standing couples believe that a successful marriage is only completed with the birth of grandchildren, yet the longing to establish the next branch of the family tree is being thwarted by the growing trend towards childlessness in Western society.
"Previous generations went ahead and had babies without questioning it," explains You's relationships counsellor Zelda West-Meads.
"But we are now seeing the first generation of frustrated would-be grandparents, because their children are the first generation to exercise a choice about whether to have babies or not."
Add to these the women who intended to have children but have either left it too late to conceive or have simply not found the right partner, and it's clear that something fundamental has changed.
Where once, as long as your children achieved healthy adulthood (and your sons weren't wiped out by a war), you could rely on at least one of them to give you the grandchild of your dreams, now there's no guarantee.
Maggie, 42, is one of three "refusenik" siblings, all professionals in their late 30s/ early 40s who feel thoroughly fulfilled by their busy and successful careers.
Much to their parents' disappointment, Maggie's two siblings show no inclination to produce babies and although Maggie herself would like children, she is single and is not prepared either to compromise over her choice of partner or have a baby on her own.
"I feel particularly sorry for my mother because her plans for a retirement surrounded by grandchildren have been thwarted, but that's not a strong enough reason for me to have a baby on my own."
Odd couple out
Her parents are the odd couple out among their circle of friends, which leads to not-so-subtle oneupmanship in their peer group that can be very hurtful.
"One of my mother's friends sent her a Christmas card that thoughtlessly announced in triumphant capital letters, 'We're grandparents at last!'" says Maggie.
"And another keeps dragging her to baby shops to buy clothes for her own grandchild, not stopping to think about the effect on my mother."
Pressure is the last thing that any tactful parent wants to put on a grown-up child who has ticked all the right boxes as a loving and dutiful son or daughter - except the childbearing one.
Mariette was 67 when, after a long wait, she finally became a grandmother, courtesy of the only one of her two career-minded daughters who has ever wanted children.
That precious grandson is now five years old and will almost certainly be an only child, since his mother, who is now 47, conceived him through IVF after a long history of gynaecological problems.
"I will never forget that wonderful primitive excitement when my own kith and kin was born. My daughters are totally central to my life, and I loved that feeling of continuity when my grandson was finally born.
"But I know in my heart that I'll be lucky to see him go to university," Mariette admits.
"You know from the outset that you may not have very long for that relationship to blossom and mature, and that's hard to accept - even though I know I'm very lucky to have a grandchild at all.
"I also think that, biologically, his mother is tired in a way that I never was - because I had her and her sisters in my early 20s when my body was ready for it.
"My doctor said at the time that I was the age when nature intended women to have children; what has happened since is that society has changed - but nature is still nature."
The ticking biological clock of Grandchild Hunger is by no means solely the preserve of women.
At the age of 70, Clint Eastwood ruefully told Michael Parkinson that he got so fed up with waiting for his grown-up children to give him grandchildren that he went ahead and had a baby son by his latest wife.
That may be fine for affluent divorcés with the option of starting a new family courtesy of a much younger wife, but not for men like 60-year-old David who has been happily married for xxx years.
David is the father of three grown-up children in their 30s - only one of them settled and married - who longs to have grandchildren before he's too old to enjoy them.
"I don't feel deeply about family continuity. But what makes me wistful is that, because most of our friends have grandchildren, my wife and I are cut out of a lot of conversations," he says.
"My married son is a doctor and so is his wife, and neither of them wants to stop work to look after children. You can teach your children to play tennis, but you can't make them procreate.
"It has to be their decision - and it's the hardest thing to come to terms with."
Can't have it all
In our multi-choice society, we have become so used to a sense of entitlement that it's a bitter discovery to find that we can't have it all.
Perhaps the cruellest blow of all to a wannabe grandparent is the discovery that your daughter has had an abortion, destroying your hopes without even telling you.
"I was devastated when I found out that's what my daughter had done," recalls Diana.
"Ultimately I know a decision like that has to be up to her, but I couldn't help feeling she'd robbed me of something too.
"I was so hurt she hadn't told me at the time, but I know exactly why - because I would have tried desperately to make her change her mind.
"But she and her husband have always made it clear they didn't want children and when she became pregnant last year by mistake they went ahead with a termination."
Dianass story is particularly poignant because she's a divorcee who would love to have grandchildren running around to fill what she sees as gaps in her life.
"I also have a son, but he's a bit of an eternal hippie who spends so much time travelling that I don't think he will ever settle down. So my only hope is my daughter," she admits.
"My ex-husband remarried and now has step-grandchildren by his second wife - sometimes I have to stop myself feeling terribly envious of his luck."
As the mother of an only child who is a lesbian, Susannah is all too aware that grandmotherhood would be something of a miracle gift in her case.
"But my daughter would make a wonderful mother because she's so emotionally open and patient with people," explains Susannah.
"The problem is that her girlfriend actively dislikes children and has made it clear she doesn't want any. With a gay couple, getting pregnant does require a lot of organising that would be impossible if one of the partners is less than enthusiastic.
"I've accepted now that our line will probably end with my daughter, but I just feel terribly sad about it."
When you have only one child, the pressures upon them to continue the line can be overwhelming. Grace, now in her 70s, had her daughter under the worst possible circumstances, since she was abandoned by the baby's father and had to go and live with her widowed mother.
Ironically, it's her struggles as a single parent that have put her happily married daughter off the whole idea of having children.
"It must be difficult for her to equate motherhood with joy and fulfilment when things were so difficult for me in the early years," says Grace.
"But I would love my daughter to have a baby under happier circumstances than I did, with a man who loves her and will never let her down. I just want to break the family jinx, if you like.
"About five years ago, I gave her the shawl I had wrapped her in as a baby and said she could use it if she had a child of her own. I hoped it might bring her good luck, but she just stuffed it at the back of a cupboard and has never referred to it again."
The fact is that you cannot expect your children to fulfil your dreams for you, as Zelda West-Meades points out.
"If your children won't - or can't - have children of their own, that's their life. You have to accept that it's not a decision they've taken deliberately to hurt you - and then get on with your life."
Besides, there's never a cast-iron guarantee that you will bond with your genetic family anyway.
So perhaps a frustrated would-be grandmother should satisfy those longings elsewhere - in, say, godchildren, with whom she probably has just as much of a chance of building a loving relationship as she does with her own family, whatever our primitive feelings on the matter.
Which is just what Maggie's mother has done.
"She lives her own life and has accepted that she'll probably never be a grandmother," says Maggie. Instead, she has built up a very strong relationship with my cousin's children - and she appreciates the fact that her adult children can spend more time with her because they're not tied-up with families of their own.
And of course there’s my brother's dog -she lavishes so much attention on him that we refer to him as her Granddog.