The holidays present special challenges for military families whose servicemember will be away during the celebrations. This situation is even more difficult for children who are separated from a parent during this time.
Having a deployed family member adds to the normal stress of the season. So it is important to recognize any indicators of stress and take steps to reduce it. Stress reducers could include utilizing additional family support, attending religious services or getting together with other military families on base or in the community who are also experiencing a family member’s absence.
Some Holiday Celebrations Can Be Held in Advance
One important way to mitigate the challenges associated with military deployments is to celebrate the holiday in advance. For example, having a traditional Christmas dinner and opening presents prior to the servicemember’s departure eases the stress of separation.
The concept of having parties in advance can also be extended to birthdays and other significant events. For the servicemember and the family members, these celebrations reduce the feeling of missing out on important occasions.
Take Advantage of Technology for Holiday Celebrations
For children, it’s especially helpful to continue holiday traditions despite the physical absence of a family member. However, that absent servicemember could be included via technology. For example, a servicemember could use FaceTime or Skype on Christmas morning to watch the family open Christmas presents or participate in other holiday traditions.
Keep Up with Communication during Deployment
Communication during deployment, especially at holiday time, should be continued regularly despite busy schedules. All family members should have an opportunity for one-on-one chats with the deployed servicemember. This frequent communication helps a servicemember remain engaged in the family’s daily life.
Creating and mailing care packages is another way to bridge the physical distance. Family members can include handwritten notes and add an item or two with sentimental value. Sentimental items can include new photos of the children or other items that recall memories of when the family was together before deployment.
These items represent a positive memory between deployed servicemembers and their spouse and children. When these items return home after the deployment, they create a sense of closure for the family.
Use Local Resources for Stress Management
When holiday stresses build and routine strategies aren’t enough, it is important for military families to utilize the professional resources that are available to them. These resources include clergy, work-life counselors and military support organizations. Some of these organizations include Operation Homefront, Families Overcoming Under Stress or Military One Source.
By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University