It’s the most wonderful time of the year. . . unless your spouse is deployed or away for military training. Then it can feel like the season of Bah Humbug.
This isn’t my first December with a deployed spouse. I think it’s the fourth or fifth time he has been overseas during the holidays. But this is my first Christmas alone with four children and no family in this time zone. And I have a confession: that is not putting me in the Christmas spirit.
I don’t feel like getting a Christmas tree and putting it up by myself.
I’m not looking forward to shopping when we’re already losing money each month he is deployed. (Thanks, international phone plan!)
I don’t want to spend hours wrapping presents that my husband can’t even watch the kids open.
And most of all, I don’t feel like dragging four children to public festivals when I’m the only adult and I just have two hands.
On my own, I might be tempted to become a minimalist and just skip most of the Christmas decorating and celebrating. But because of the kids, the show must go on. My two oldest remember our previous family Christmases, and they don’t deserve to be cheated out of the fun this year because their dad is deployed.
So what’s a military spouse to do, when you want to make the holidays fun for your children. . . but you’re already feeling burnt out and exhausted from the deployment? These are the mantras getting me through this deployment holiday:
Keep it simple
You’ll need to decide which holiday traditions are most important to you or your children. As the only adult in the house, you simply can’t do everything you’ve done in the past. And that’s okay. You can still enjoy baking cookies together. . . but maybe cheat and use a mix instead of the time-consuming recipe from your grandma. Don’t climb on the roof to hang Christmas lights if there is no one to hold the ladder (but you can put them all over your front porch)! You may not be able to host a fancy holiday party, but you can still get together for a casual playdate or a girls’ night out.
Invite family to visit
Sure, it isn’t always possible for family members to come to you–especially if you are stationed overseas–but it never hurts to ask. Christmas morning will be a lot more fun (and easier) if there is another adult to help you with the gifts, the children, and breakfast. Having a visitor to look forward to around Christmas or New Year’s can make the season much more merry and bright. If no family members are available, reach out to some child-free friends on your base or in your spouse’s unit. They may have nowhere to go on Christmas morning, and would love a chance to celebrate with your kids instead of spending the day alone.
Choose your own adventure
Try to find the silver lining to a deployment holiday: You can choose which activities the family will do. If you always wanted to go to the Festival of Lights, but your spouse wasn’t interested, then this is your year to round up some friends and go! On the flip side, if you just don’t feel like bundling up kids for the local parade, don’t do it. It’s better to take care of yourself and stay sane rather than wear yourself down trying to wrangle the children at every event.
Give yourself permission to relax
Often, the holiday pressure and stress we feel comes from ourselves. When we have unrealistic expectations, we wind up disappointed or exhausted. Your first Christmas alone may not be like the others you remember, but that’s okay. It’s perfectly acceptable to scale back the celebrations. Let everyone chill out and snuggle up for a family movie night. Use paper plates. Order a pre-made meal instead of making everything from scratch. There is no prize for being the busiest or most exhausted military spouse! Do whatever it takes to get yourself through this season.
Celebrate Christmas in July
. . .Or whenever your spouse returns. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of a holiday on your own, then save the celebration for another time! We once celebrated Christmas in February because that’s when my husband came home. There were wrapped gifts, the artificial tree was still up, and I made his favorite Christmas morning breakfast. It had all the warmth and joy of the Christmas season… plus all the benefits of the post-Christmas sales!
When you are a military spouse going through the holidays alone, it’s okay to bend the rules and get creative. Celebrate however you want to, and don’t feel pressured to do things a certain way. It may not be your favorite December ever, but there are still plenty of ways to make it fun and memorable.
By Lizann Lightfoot