As we enter into the holiday season, wreaths will dress doors, lights will be strung and abundant meals will be shared among family and friends. But thousands of military families will be divided, missing loved ones. We’ve been told to expect my husband’s return sometime this holiday season—but that could be anytime from before Thanksgiving to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, depending on who you ask. Whether you have a tiny little one (like we do) or a whole brood of rambunctious munchkins, getting ready to spend the holidays apart doesn’t need to be more emotional or stressful than necessary.
Incorporating a deployed loved one into everyday routines can be difficult—dinner times change, bath time gets abbreviated ... and sometimes a scheduled video chat will get beaten out by a long walk around the neighborhood with a restless baby. The holidays don’t need to fall into the same trap of everyday chaos. A little planning and behind-the-scenes communication can create a memorable and joyful holiday celebration. Here are some tips for keeping your sanity while creating a memorable and enjoyable holiday celebration.
1. Have fun! This is probably one of the most important things to remember—laughing, playing and celebrating shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Enjoy the season; it won’t make the time pass more quickly, but it will be easier to navigate.
2. Have a sense of humor. This goes hand-in-hand with having fun—and should not be overlooked. Whether it's creating a life-size poster version of your missing loved one or celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah (or both!) before your soldier leaves or when they return, don’t be afraid to throw convention out the window and do what works for you and your family.
3. Keep traditions, and make new ones. Following traditions even when missing loved ones can add an element of normalcy to the experience. Always open a present from mom and dad on Christmas Eve? Pull in your life-size poster and open presents together—or better yet try to schedule it around a time your spouse might be able to video chat and share in the giving experience. Having a tough time adjusting or making the holidays work? Don’t be afraid to start new traditions—living room campouts, pancakes for dinner or whatever seems to add a little excitement to holiday festivities.
4. Communicate. Talking about what is happening with children and with your spouse can set expectations and alleviate some of the stress of playing dual parent roles during the holidays. Sharing honest feelings about missing loved ones with your children sets the standard for positive communication. Even when it isn’t the happiest of feelings or moments, sharing the experience with your deployed spouse is critical in maintaining open, honest communication paths.
5. Spend some time alone. It is important that you keep your sanity, too. Give children the gift of a safe, happy and as predictable a home life as possible. Enlist the help of friends and family, and take time for yourself by getting a haircut, doing some solo shopping, or meeting friends for coffee or a drink. Taking time for yourself can give you a chance to recharge your batteries and keep up the positive thinking when the stress starts to get the better of you.
6. Celebrate with your deployed loved one. Gather around the video chat or put everyone on speakerphone to decorate the tree, open gifts or even share dinner preparations. If you can plan far enough in advance, recording a message to play on Christmas morning (or another family event) can take the place of infrequent phone or video calls. Spend time making cards, artwork and gifts to send in a care package, or swap decorations by decorating paper ornaments and a paper tree for your loved one to hang on the wall of their room—and have your loved one send a handmade ornament or tree decoration to hang on your tree at home.
The holidays are stressful enough without the added chaos of compensating for a deployed loved one and trying to play the roles of both parents. Remember that the holidays are about love, peace and kindness. Focus on giving thanks, sharing when you are able and being joyful despite the added holiday stress of missing your loved one. Take photos and video of your holiday celebrations when possible to share the memory when your spouse returns.
As a military spouse, you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your local spouse organizations, the military community, and friends and family. If you need help, there are resources associated with most military communities that provide low-cost child care to get a little break or get some shopping done. Many programs exist that sponsor families and provide food or children’s toys for the holiday celebrations.
What if you aren’t in the military but want to support the troops or the military community? Go to the next page for some ideas on how to show your support for the troops spending the holiday apart from their loved ones.
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How to Support the Troops Over the Holidays:
Holiday Mail for Heroes is sponsored by the American Red Cross to send cards to deployed troops. There are a few specific regulations, so be sure that your cards satisfy the requirements (via The Red Cross).
Identify troops through family and friends or contact the nearest duty station to learn how to send a holiday care package to the troops. There are numerous organizations that sponsor holiday packages for the troops as well.
Donate or volunteer with the USO.
Volunteer at a local VA hospital, write cards or create artwork with your children to send to wounded soldiers who are spending the holidays recovering in hospitals around the country.