Dealing with Deployment During the Holidays
How to Maintain the Holiday Spirit
December 17, 2015
When you think about the holidays, what kinds of emotions are evoked? For many people, the season brings a whimsical feeling of warmth, comfort, and good vibes. After all, it’s been dubbed the most wonderful time of the year for a good reason.
The holidays offer a unique opportunity for families to connect and spend quality time together having fun. But for many military families dealing with a parent’s deployment, the holidays can often amplify the stress and emotional impact of dealing with that loved one’s absence.
Those feelings aren’t easy to deal with for anyone. Parents and kids alike can experience loneliness, anxiety, frustration, and all sorts of stress. That’s true of any deployment situation, and it’s only amplified during the holidays.
So how do you deal with it? Whether you’re a parent who’s been through deployment before or a newlywed couple experiencing your first holiday apart, focusing on the positives and keeping communication open and honest can go a long way. Here we’ll outline some ways you can manage stress and stay connected to your loved ones.
For the Deployed Service Member
Ok, so you’re away on deployment without your family. Maybe it’s your first time, maybe you’re a seasoned veteran who’s been down this road before. Either way, you’ve got a job to do, and it’s stressful enough without having to worry about what’s going on back home.
Whatever you’re feeling, know that it’s normal – some days are going to be tougher than others. But it’s how you respond to that adversity that truly matters. You may find it necessary to take a break from communicating with your family back home. You might even choose to isolate yourself from your friends in your unit. And maybe you’ve noticed them doing the same. We all need space sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, being around other people and socializing with your friends and family are key steps for maintaining mental health and wellbeing, especially if you’re a parent. Every family has its own set of traditions and you can still participate even if you’re far away from home. Here are some things you can do with your kids to help them enjoy the holidays and deal with the stress of deployment:
- Write them heartfelt letters or e-mails letting them know they’re loved and appreciated.
- Create a holiday ornament with their names on it.
- Record a reading of a favorite holiday book or story – you can create a private YouTube channel or send videos directly.
- Utilize the technology available to you to stay in touch, be it e-mail, Skype, social media, or phone calls. You can even open presents via video chat if you’re so inclined.
- Keep in touch with messenger apps like iMessage, Snapchat, etc.
- Send photos letting them know you’re thinking about them.
For many kids, simply having time to catch up with their deployed parent can help – to know that you’re safe and in good spirits. However you choose to communicate, focus on positive messages. If you’re calm, cool, and collected, your kids will pick up on that and it can make the whole situation feel a little bit more normal.
For the Spouse Back Home
Dealing with deployment is never easy. If you have kids, they may need you more than ever. A positive mental attitude can help minimize stress and keep everyone relaxed.
Sometimes it’s best to talk through your feelings. Between civilian friends, fellow military spouses, and family members, find someone to confide in who’s good at listening. Nothing they can say is going to make it better, but simply getting it off your chest can help immensely. Especially if you’re a parent, you need to vent your frustrations in private away from the kids. Getting things out in the open can also help you solve tough problems and understand your own feelings.
Here are some things you can do back home to manage stress and make the holidays special:
- Get out of the house! This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes you just need to get out for an afternoon to recharge your batteries. Go to the gym, take the family to see a movie, or hit up the mall for some window shopping.
- Get involved in volunteer opportunities in your community, especially if it’s a cause that helps other military families or veterans. This can be both emotionally and spiritually rewarding as a form of therapy for everyone.
- Make communicating with your deployed loved one a family affair.
- Put together a care package full of holiday goodies and gifts.
- Have arts and crafts time so the kids can make something for their deployed parent; sometimes a simple message of love can be far more meaningful than any store-bought gift.
- Open presents via Skype whenever your loved one is available.
Remember to be flexible and understanding of your spouse’s schedule. And most importantly, keep calm and maintain all your normal holiday traditions. Whether it’s decorating the house, putting ornaments on the tree, or staying up until midnight to watch the ball drop – remember to focus on the positives and you should have no trouble making the holidays special.
Lastly, as a military spouse, we know you can handle these kinds of things with grace and humor. If you’re making a holiday card to send out to your friends and family, sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got:
Don’t forget to utilize the support structure you have around you. If you have access to a military installation, there are all kinds of support programs offered by the DoD and your installation’s family center. Those specifically include Army Community Services, Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers, Airman and Family Readiness Centers, Marine Corps Community Services, and Coast Guard Work Life Offices. Many of these organizations offer counseling and support programs conducted by local chaplains and certified mental health experts. Talking to them can help if you’re not sure what else to do. You can also check out these other resources: