The holidays are near and while it’s one of the most exciting times of the year, for military parents, it’s also one of the most dreaded. For service members, of course, it often means holidays spent away from loved ones. And, for parents on the homefront, it means explaining to kids why Dad is away, why Mom can’t be there on Christmas morning, why other kids have BOTH parents for the holidays, and other virtually unexplainable questions.
Yes, military kids are resilient. But they’re resilient for a reason — they’ve had to deal with tough things that most kids never experience.
But, dreaded or not, the holidays will soon be here. And for military families everywhere, that means having tough conversations with kids.
However, being gone doesn’t mean that a deployed or stationed parent can’t experience the holidays with their families.
1. Making the most of holiday traditions
Video calls and mailed care packages are some of the most obvious ways to stay connected through the holiday season … but they aren’t the only options. Consider what’s special for your family and how you can incorporate current holiday traditions, even when apart.
Hand-written notes are a sentimental way to add value for all. There’s something about seeing a loved one’s handwriting — about waiting for it to arrive — that makes a message extra special. Teach kids the value of writing notes to their parents early on. (And the excitement of receiving mail that isn’t bills!)
Printed pictures can also do much for enthusiasm. Print pictures for your service member and drop them in the mail. Take the kids to the photo doc and let them help choose and print. While it’s not as good as spending time with the entire family, this process helps them feel involved. Cash in on that excitement!
2. Consider making new family traditions
Together, decide new traditions that the family can explore. Volunteering? Baking cookies? Small homemade trinkets? Hot chocolate and holiday movies — whatever it is, talk about it together. The tradition doesn’t necessarily have to be for the holidays, but something that everyone can do once your loved one has returned. Make a list and vote as a family for your new tradition.
Then, it’s time to plan. Making lists, shopping, and of course, the date itself. Kids might find that the actual planning stages are more fun than the actual event. The excitement involved with doing something for a loved one can be magical for kids, and this is a great way to let that magic shine.
3. Having the hard conversation
When age appropriate, you will have to have a tough conversation with your kids: Mom or Dad won’t be home this year, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip the holidays. Yes, it’s ok to be sad about it, and here’s what we will do instead. Just addressing this subject might sound scary, but once laid out and on the table, everyone can move forward and find ways to still enjoy the holidays.
4. Incorporate your service member whenever possible
Though your service member is far away, it doesn’t mean kids can’t engage with them regularly. Whether it be through video calls, sending gifts, or “cooking together,” albeit from a distance, including Mom or Dad into kids’ everyday lives will help them remember the time as being special.
Show kids that there’s still family fun to be had, even when the entire family can’t be together. Involve them in planning, shopping, and mailing whenever possible to help them process this tough time, and to find joy, even in the distance.
How do you celebrate with your service member while they’re deployed? Tell us in the comments.