The holidays can be stressful in and of themselves. When a loved one is deployed, it can be downright overwhelming for the ones “holding down the fort” due to feelings of loneliness, heartache, and frustration.
Though nothing can replace having your service member back home, it is important to connect. Reinforce that you’re still a family – no matter the distance. Here are some ways to bridge the gap:
- Become pen pals! For the family members at home, children can write a handwritten letter to mom or dad and include all the ways they are loved and appreciated. Consider encouraging them to express themselves by drawing pictures. For the deployed service member, be sure to respond considering the delivery delay. You can write several letters at one time to be read on different days like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
- In the same vein as writing letters, send a special holiday care package to your deployed loved one. You can include special notes, photos, and treats. Be sure to get the kids involved by asking them what they want to send or what they think mom or dad would like. You know those hand turkey drawings elementary school kids always do around Thanksgiving? Include that in the package as a way to share activities with your spouse.
- Continue to maintain traditions or make new one. This is especially important to help younger children. Do you normally read a bedtime story to your daughter? Have the deployed spouse record themselves reading a holiday themed story for her. Or start a new tradition by making an ornament annually with the year or your current location on it. Then send it home for placement on the tree.
- With photo editing tools easily accessible, it’s simpler than ever to include your deployed family member in your holiday greeting card. One idea would be to have your loved one take a picture with a sign that says “Happy” and those back home take a photo with a sign that says “Holidays.” Combine the two photos for a unique greeting card.
- With the advances in technology, there’s no shortage of ways to keep in touch online. Be sure to communicate through email, Skype, messaging apps, and/or social media as often as possible. You might even be able to include your deployed service member in some of the holiday activities. For example, open presents over video chat or stream your child’s school play over Facebook live.
Though creating memories and traditions with your deployed loved one is important for the spouse at home, it’s equally important to remember to take time out for self-care. This can be done by connecting with your surroundings. Here are some ideas:
- Take some time for yourself. Do things you enjoy such as exercise, going to the movies, shopping, or take an art class.
- Help someone else during their time of need. Get involved in local volunteer activities in your community.
- Connect with others. If you have friends who are also experiencing a holiday separation, host a potluck party or other gathering with people who can relate to each other. Or simply say “yes” to invites from others. Even if you only go for an hour, it can promote good mental health to be surrounded by other people.
- Engage in the holiday activities happening in your local community such as tree lighting and caroling.
- Know that it’s OK to feel sad and to cry. Give yourself permission to feel. Discuss your feelings with family and trusted friends. Don’t be afraid to talk it out with a therapist. There’s no shame in asking for support or allowing yourself to vent.
Holiday commercials coupled with the rush to buy gifts and plan events can make us lose sight of what’s important during the “most wonderful time of the year.” Use the tips in this article to make the best of the separation while still celebrating the season.
Kristen Baker-Geczy is a communications specialist, active duty military spouse, and former MWR marketing coordinator. She was also deployed to Southwest Asia as an Air Force contractor.
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