The Christmas season typically brings busyness, too many get-togethers, new memories, and lots of excitement. Whether you’re preparing for visitors or finding creative ideas to keep the kids entertained during their holiday break, for many of us, the holidays are a time we look forward to all year long.
Unless your spouse is deployed.
For you and your family, this may simply be a season to get through, a time marked by loneliness and separation rather than happy celebrations. You want it over already so you can get back to checking off the days until you’re reunited with your loved one.
As a military spouse who’s been through many holidays alone, I get it. So I won’t tell you to buck up and put on a happy face. Rather, I’ll share with you some lessons I’ve learned about managing the holidays without your spouse.
Celebrate how your family prefers... and don’t apologize.
If you have kids, have a mini conference and discuss how you all want to celebrate. Do you need to scale back a bit? Would you rather travel and be with extended family and not deal with the fuss of decorating your own house? Or maybe you would all prefer to stay home and spend Christmas day in pajamas so you’re available for that call with your spouse? Come to a conclusion together about what’s best for you and then don’t feel the need to apologize or over-explain to family or friends who simply can’t understand what you might need during this time.
Set your priorities, but be willing to revise.
If your youngest finds comfort in baking their favorite familiar treat or your oldest doesn’t want to participate in your yearly holiday rituals because it’s too sad for them, adjust where you can. Flexibility will help everyone in the family feel less pressure. And your “to-do” list? Look at it as a suggestion, as the tasks you thought were so important in early December may need to be let go of this year. I’m giving you permission to crumple up your list and pitch it!
Connecting with others may get you out of your own head.
I’ll never forget the last holiday season my husband was deployed. A dear friend of ours had passed away unexpectedly the month before and our family was dealing with intense grief along with the year-long separation from my spouse. My deepest wish was to curl up in my covers during that gray German winter and not come out till spring. However, a couple of my friends would not let me do that. They plied me with unannounced visits to drop off homemade goodies and invitations to dinner at the last minute (knowing if they gave me too much notice, I would come up with an excuse not to go).
I hope you have someone like this in your life, but if not, perhaps now is the time to connect with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, your local faith community, or other outreach. Sometimes, leaving your regular environment and not thinking about the days left in the deployment for a little while can give you a fresh perspective.
Seek out help if you need it. No shame.
Please talk to a chaplain, trusted friend, or connect with free counseling available to military families through Military OneSource if you need to. The holidays can be a difficult, stressful time during deployment, and there are resources available to help you get through it. Don't feel that you need to go it alone or that you're a failure if you need help.
However you choose to celebrate or not celebrate this Christmas season, I hope this will be a time of new and different memories for your family and that you have a chance to connect with your deployed spouse in some way this week.