It’s here…the holiday season has arrived, when everyone is expected to be happy, joyful and surrounded by our family and friends.
However, for many military families, the holidays can be a time of sadness, stress and loneliness:
- An empty seat at the table
- Missed phone calls or video chats
- Shopping alone for baby’s first Christmas or older children’s Santa, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gifts
- Gifts that remain wrapped until we are reunited after training or deployment
So the question is…as a military family how do we survive and enjoy the holiday season?
Tip 1. Celebrate the Holidays when you can
Many military families celebrate their Thanksgiving and Christmas meals in months other than November or December. Planning these special celebratory meals either before or after someone leaves for training or deployment can help make the time pass more quickly and gives us a chance to laugh, take photos and share memories.
Some families enlarge and print out a photo of their servicemember and tape it to the back of the chair at the dining table! You might get a few giggles from the kids… just don’t expect your servicemember to pass the dinner rolls!
Two years ago, my sister learned that my Nephew was shipping out early to Navy boot camp at Great Lakes. Quickly she rearranged his Send Off party and managed to have an early Thanksgiving dinner too! At Christmas, she hosted the family dinner and gift exchange at her house so that she would be sure not to miss his call.
Your loved one is part of a new family…the military family. Whether your loved one is at basic or advanced training, they will be with other military families or with their training units for a special holiday meal with all the trimmings. No one is left out, command officers and senior enlisted ensure that all under their command have a place to go. During deployments, our troops also have special holiday meals no matter where they are, at some point within the holiday time frame. They may also have the opportunity to video chat and share some special holiday moments with their loved ones.
Tip 2. Stay busy and active and surround yourself with family and friends
As much as you might like to just hide and forget about celebrating the holidays, if you are a parent or spouse with children at home, you can’t do that!
Get busy now! Decorate your home, put up the Christmas tree, light the menorah, send out cards and notes to family and friends. Your town library can be a great resource with various programs for adults and children. And don’t hesitate to volunteer in your community to assist others in need! Giving back to those less fortunate has a way of reminding us how truly blessed we are.
Often loneliness strikes us hardest in the evenings, when work is over and the kids are in bed. Fill up that extra time by making a memory book of photos and drawings that will be part of the special Welcome Home present for your servicemember. Take up a new hobby. Walk or exercise every day. And if your schedule and budget allows, consider traveling on or around the holidays to be close to family or friends. Seeing familiar faces and taking part in holiday traditions will be good for your spirits.
Tip 3. Get involved and Stay Connected with other military families
Blue Star Mothers is a national support group of mothers with children who have served or are serving in our military; many are also former military spouses. It is easy to find a local chapter at http://www.bluestarmothers.org . For significant others living on or close to a base, post or station, there are several groups for you to connect with. Remember that your online communities are available 24/7/365 to provide you with support especially during holidays and special occasions apart.
Churches, synagogues, and other faith based groups can also be there for you and your family when your loved one is at training or deployed.
Tip 4. Remember to write to your serviceman often.
Especially during the holiday season, when homesickness and loneliness can even be more intense, your frequent letters will help keep their morale and spirits high. Let them know they are missed and that you’re looking forward to spending next year’s holidays together.
We understand the challenges that military families face not only during the holidays, but year round with training, remote assignments and deployments. We started Project Write2Them to make it easier for our loved one and other recruits to get lots of support from back home. Through our outreach program, Mail Call for All, we are helping ensure that all recruits get letters at basic training.
We would love to hear your ideas for getting through the holiday season! Please share your comments here and on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Write2Them.