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Christmas When We Can

Red Christmas ornament hanging from tree
Photograph by ThinkStock

After years of being alone with my kids for Christmas due to my husband’s work, I should probably be used to it. But every year when the holidays roll around, I still feel the same. Anxious, sad and a bit sorry for myself.

I know firsthand that many families have it much worse than we do. Along with being married to a commercial pilot, I’m a military wife, too, and there are plenty of families with deployed spouses who are gone much longer than just a few days over Christmas.

From the party invitations, most of which we can’t usually attend—at least together anyway—to all the family gatherings on Christmas Eve and Day, it’s hard not to feel like something is missing.

Now that the kids are older, moving Christmas is a bit more of a challenge.

When the kids were smaller, I found it was a lot easier to handle, logistically at least, because no one knew how to count on the Advent calendar or could tell the difference between the 25th and the 26th. Santa would just arrive early (lucky us!) or needed to make all the other stops first, saving the best for last.

But now that the kids are older, moving Christmas is a bit more of a challenge. And while my husband’s absence doesn’t emotionally bother me as much, it definitely affects my kids much more now when they see other families together doing all of those holiday things that families do.

And considering they’re completely obsessed with the darn Advent calendar, suddenly deciding that Santa must arrive on December 23 is a little harder to explain to them, though I’m pretty sure they’ll be distracted enough by the presents that we might be able to get away with it for another year or two.

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This year, I’ve decided no wallowing or worrying, but rather channeling all that energy I’d waste feeling sorry for myself into doing something more positive. It’s a bit too easy sitting around, wishing for something you don’t have when you have the power to make what you do have extremely special.

So after we ditch the Advent calendar, and the notion that Christmas has to happen on the 25th, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have the best holiday ever. If you’re going to be alone for Christmas, or know someone who is, here are a few ways to make it just as wonderful as you imagine it should be.

1. Make a Plan

The biggest mistake my husband and I made over the years was just trying to wing it. I guess we figured that because he was only on call, there was a chance that he wouldn’t get called, so we thought “playing it by ear” was the best plan of attack. Wrong! Instead, we ended up scrambling, staying up all hours of the night wrapping gifts and stretching ourselves way too thin. This year, we’ve got a plan of attack—everything from scheduling the tree decorating to picking the day Christmas will happen. And already I feel much more relaxed.

2. Do What You Actually Can, Not What You Think You Can

Over the years, I have all these grand holiday plans, from huge Christmas light displays to tins full of homemade cookies, but with four kids, often all alone—especially during the travel-heavy month of December—I just can’t do it. So I strongly suggest picking what’s most meaningful to you and then outsourcing the rest. That might mean smaller decorations, one batch of cookies, or hey, even store-bought treats. But the key is that you still have your sanity, which is really more important than a double batch of gingerbread men.

3. Enjoy Yourself

All the time I spent worrying and stressing out over whether my husband was going to be home could have been used to make merry and enjoy what the holidays are all about—drinking egg nog and eating my weight in sugar cookies. OK, not entirely, but seriously, when you take a couple steps back and look at everything you do have, you end up riding high on even the slightest bit of gratitude, which really is what the season is all about. Plus, all that strife is easily transported right onto the kids, which is the last thing anyone wants to do, especially at this time of year.

And while we don’t have any immediate family nearby, I will say that if there were ever a time to reach out to your community family, whether it’s neighbors, church (if you attend), your moms group or even your online community, now is the time. ‘Tis the season for giving, and if there’s anything a mom (or dad) who’s alone for the holidays could use, it’s just a little bit of help and support without any strings attached. Sometimes that’s really the best gift anyone can give. We just need to be ready to accept it.

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