The holidays can be a magical time as the world around us feels wrapped in joy and wonder. However, for many this holiday season, there will be an undeniable void in their homes and hearts as military loved ones are fulfilling deployment orders overseas and around the world.

There are more than 150,000-200,000 troops deployed in territories outside of the United States at any given time. Those family members left behind struggle to manage the home, finances, and children. In addition, many military families live outside of where they are from or where their extended families may reside, making travel the only option to spend time with family and friends during the holiday season.  

The immediate family of military members is what we view as “on the front lines” at home. Spouses, caregivers, children, and other individuals within the military community carry burdens often unrealized by the civilian community.  

Here at Hope For The Warriors, we believe these individuals deserve to be supported and recognized during the holiday season and all the time. So, this year, we recognize those families (spouses and children) of deployed military members in a way that focuses on self-care, creative outlets for families and children, and resources to utilize in times of doubt or struggle.  

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Let’s start with you…the spouse who is exhausted, feeling emotionally drained, and fighting to keep it together whenever you see sweet families together celebrating the holidays. We see you and are here to support YOU. 

First and foremost, let’s acknowledge that those feelings of sadness, exhaustion, and frustration are normal and completely acceptable. Your feelings are valid. You are not weak for feeling them, but utterly and completely human. 

Say it with us, “I am strong enough to handle anything that life throws my way. I am capable of doing difficult things.” 

Second, give yourself grace. Forgive yourself and own those moments where you may have been short tempered or were forgetful. 

Third, use the months apart to strengthen your relationship with yourself. Strengthening the connection you have with yourself will, in turn, strengthen your relationship with your spouse, children, and all others who are active in your life and community. So, fill your idle time with exploring new hobbies, continuing your education, picking up the book you have put off reading, volunteering in the community, and stepping out of your comfort zone by joining a social group. Set goals for yourself to keep moving forward. Being married to someone in the military can take up a lot of your identity, but you can use this time to grow in other areas of your life. 

 

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Now, let’s talk about how we can support our kids. 

Our military kids are forced to take on big emotions from a young age – emotions that we as adults may struggle to control. Here are some ways to help kids process and express their feelings. 

  1.  Create an open dialogue around emotions, feelings, and acts of expressing these in your home. 

This can be done through mood charts of printed emojis to help your child identify the emotion they feel. Check out some of these great examples on Pinterest!

  1. Unplug and connect!

In a world where we are constantly plugged into technology, creating boundaries with electronic devices and being intentional about finding time to connect as a family are extremely important and often misunderstood. Be open to enhancing the moments that are already present in your day – driving to school, making a meal, and spending time together before bed are all good opportunities to cultivate connections with our children. It is during these times where you can have meaningful conversations, but how do we begin?

Creating a conversation with our children can be tricky! Sometimes it feels like we are hitting brick walls when we ask, “how was your day?” or “what did you do in school today?” and our children provide vague answers, not really participating in the conversation. There is a reason for that! For kids, broad questions can cause underlying stress after a long day at school, leading to short one-word answers. Therefore, it is recommended to ask concrete questions. In an article published by Melbourne Child Psychology, Child Psychologist Dani Kauffman shares some great suggestions on questions to ask your child and what you can learn or gain from them and their responses. You can read it here.

Based on this information, come up with a few questions to ask your children daily. This may look like the following:

“What friends did you interact with at school today?” 

“What did you have for lunch? Was it yummy? What else would you like to have for your meals during the day?”

“What is your class reading right now? Are there any books you are interested in reading at home?”

“What was the best feeling you had today? What led to that feeling?” 

 

  1. Practice gratitude together.

Even on our most challenging days, before we lay our heads down to sleep, there is always something we can find to be thankful for. Say them out loud and/or write them down. Let this be a part of your evening routine. By incorporating gratitude practices in your day, you will curb negative thoughts and improve your overall mood. To explore the benefits of having an “attitude of gratitude,” check out this great article in “Positive Psychology.” 

Other ways to practice Gratitude:

  • Keeping a Gratitude Journal
  • Saying 3 things you are grateful for that day and having your child or partner say 3 things that they are grateful for.
  • Doing a Room Scan – look around the space you are in and identify 3 things you are thankful for. This can look like a family photograph, a stuffed animal, or a music box in a child’s bedroom. Outside, this can look like the swaying trees and leaves, the shining sun, or the fresh air the breath.

 

  1. Get Creative

Creativity can be the silver lining to a challenging situation! This doesn’t always mean pulling out your craft box and digging out the glue and glitter! This is what we mean: 

  • Plan deployment milestone family days
    • Each month down, treat yourself. Go out to a family favorite restaurant or ice cream shop – do something to celebrate!
  • Plan weekly dinners, coffee dates, or get-togethers with friends (This is also a great way to count down)
  • Create a Kiss Jar so you’re never without a sweet kiss from mom or dad until you can get the real ones!
  • Make a paper chain countdown 
  • Work on care packages for your loved one together
  • Create a deployment wall with a world map, clocks, countdowns, photos and more. 
  • Mail mom or dad books to record them reading and vice versa

 

  1. Be Resourceful 

It’s important to know that you are never alone during this time. There are resources available to support you every step of the way, and here are some great ones! Please view the compilation we have provided below of some of the fantastic resources available for military families and children/spouses of deployed service members:

  1. MilitaryOneSource
  2. Blue Star Families
  3. Hug A Hero
  4. Sesame Street
  5. Seasoned Spouse: Giant List of Resources
  6. National Military Family Association
  7. Center for Deployment Psychology   

 

Military deployments can be incredibly difficult to navigate on your own, but families can feel connected and comforted during this time with the right support. Whether your military member is away during the holidays, a child’s birthday, or a family milestone, there are options to make the most out of the time apart. This is not to say that there will not be any bumps in the road. Still, identifying issues, reaching out for support, and practicing self-care can help combat loneliness, and other adverse emotions often brought on by time apart. Utilize the tips and resources provided in this article, and if you need further support, reach out to your community. Hope For The Warriors is here to support YOU during all seasons of military service.