The holidays may be in full swing, but for some of us it means anything but a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year. Whether your military family has recently moved or you find yourself spending this holiday season apart from your spouse due to deployment or a remote assignment, you’re not alone.
I’m not here to tell you to suck it up and just be happy when you’re not, because let’s face it, deployments or a recent PCS move plus the holidays can be as disappointing as the recent Gilmore Girls revival was to me, but I will share a few tried-and-true strategies that have gotten me through many, many less than ideal holiday seasons.
1. Manage expectations.
You—and your kids—may simply not have the heart to celebrate the way you always have in the past if your spouse isn’t there. Or if you’ve recently PCS’ed, are far from your extended family and beloved friends, and don’t know a soul in the new location, acknowledge that this year will be different and go from there.
2. Make plans in advance.
During one holiday season which found us only at the half-way mark of a year-long deployment, one friend regularly called me up with little notice to let me know she was bringing by dinner or to invite me over for impromptu drinks. Since she knew I’d make excuses and say no if given any warning whatsoever, this tactic worked. I rarely turned these offers down, and am still grateful for how she read the situation (she knew me well!).
Still, making some holiday plans in advance can be a positive thing—and a good excuse if you’re not wanting to travel or accept certain invitations. Having specific plans so you can say, “No thank you, we’ve already planned to see a movie Christmas evening” gives you an out and also something to look forward to, as well as giving you the opportunity to do something completely different than what you’d normally do. Nothing wrong with that!
3. Ask for and accept help.
One issue I faced when my military kids were smaller and their dad was deployed was finding the time to Christmas shop alone for them. Honestly, it’s not something most people think about. So when confronted with the typical, “Let me know if I can do anything…” that most people offer with good intentions, get specific.
Respond with “Why, yes, if you could watch my angels for a couple of hours!” or whatever else you need. (Also, one unexpected benefit to dealing with the holidays alone will give you new appreciation for those single parents who do this all the time.)
4. Say NO if you want to.
Accept the invitations and commitments you want; let the rest go. Free yourself of any expectations that only cause you stress.
5. But try not to isolate.
It’s well documented that depression is worse around the holidays, and there’s a reason. Those who are alone or in grief may have the perception that everyone else is having a great time except for them. To keep perspective and if your energy levels allow, consider volunteering or reaching out to other deployed/newly moved families.
Military OneSource offers confidential, non-medical counseling if you’re having a hard time and could use some help.
6) Your schedule, your way.
For some, keeping to regular traditions and schedules may bring comfort. For others, throwing what you normally do out the window and realizing this holiday will be anything but normal is what will work best.
6 Songs that Describe PCS’ing During the Holidays can give you some ideas for celebrating if you’ve recently moved.
7) Stay open to changing plans.
Maybe you were adamant about not wanting to go out for Christmas or New Year’s, but you find that the day brings you fresh energy and you’ve changed your mind.
You do you! If there was ever a time you have an excuse for coming across as ‘flaky,’ then this would be it.
8) If your spouse is deployed, involve them however you can.
I’m not assuming you will have access to video chat because been-there-done-that with austere locations. If you can Facetime or Skype while opening gifts, then yeah! But if not, you might:
- If you know your spouse will be gone over the holidays and you have children, have that parent make a recording as they read aloud favorite Christmas stories as a surprise.
- Handwritten letters are always an unexpected pleasure—both to and from the deployed.
- Ask friends and family to send Christmas cards to your spouse.
- Let your friends on social media know your kids will miss their other parent and ask them to leave a comment for them. Read them aloud on the special day.
Whether you’re alone this holiday season or at a brand new assignment, I lift my mug of eggnog to you.
You’re strong, you’re awesome, you’ve got this!