As the holiday season is approaching, we are reminded of the many soldiers who are overseas and won’t see their families until next year, or longer. We must remember to thank them for the time they have given up to serve and protect, but we must also remember those who are serving in a different way. It’s a fragile and upsetting situation for many families who await their loved one, especially those with children that don’t fully understand why their parent isn’t home yet.
For those of us who haven’t faced this type of challenge with children to worry about, it’s difficult to imagine the weight that the holidays can have. But there are many ways that we can all make this easier by coming together as a military community, and supporting every member through this tough time. Here are many ways you can help both friends and strangers, and make their holidays memorable.
When I pillar of the family is called away, it leaves a huge sense of instability. The rest of the family tries to fill in cracks that the other person once filled, and it often leads to chaos. There needs to be a solid foundation that is persistent and reliable for that family during the times when they feel lost.
Make sure that the families know that you, and many others, are there for any support necessary. One of the hardest parts about any kind of separation in the military is feeling alone. There’s that initial “no one understands” reaction, which is often times false. To some degree we do understand, and it’s hard sometimes to not be hurt by that reaction. But no matter how many times you get this response, don’t let it discourage you from reaching out, and making your presence of support known.
Know The Boundaries
Sometimes the struggles of a family need to be addressed within the walls of their own home. Instinctually, we feel the need to step in when we think we are able to help. But there are times when our input could actually hurt the outcome by overstepping our boundaries.
It’s important to recognize the limits of the situation, and to know when stepping in is either vital or unnecessary. During the holidays, families have routines that comfort them, especially when they’re missing one of their loved ones. It helps them to feel like, although some things have changed, they still have grips on the finer details. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on them to attend certain things, or talk to certain people. When the time is right for them, allow them to ease into these ideas.
Make sure that the family knows that they’re welcome to join you and your family in some holiday activities. Many families facing a deployment feel alone during this time, but don’t want to intrude on other families traditions. Make sure you remind them multiple times that they can join you in some holiday fun.
For families with children, this will allow them to bond with other kids and have somewhat of a “play date”. This will relieve some of the daunting worries that they’re having, and is beneficial to both parties. Remember the boundaries as I stated before, but stay consistent with your open invitation. Sometimes they just need a little reminder that someone cares, and is looking out for their family and them.
Holiday Care Packages
Take a different approach on the standard idea of sending these packages to troops (I encourage that you do that too!) and make a care package for a family. Get to know them so that you’re able to include some items that are specific, but also some general gifts. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, just grab some little items such as sugar cookie mix and holiday puzzles/movies.
Sometimes a way of coping for deployed families is to shut everyone else out, including each other. By providing items that can promote some family time, it opens the door for discussion and helps them reevaluate the situation. If it goes too long with ignoring each other, it can lead to a huge disconnect as a family, and it will begin to effect the deployed service member as well.
If you know a family who is facing a deployment this holiday season, just remember that the most valuable thing you can offer is your unwavering support. It’s an enormous obstacle for any family, and any way that you can relive some of that stress is always appreciated. Sometimes, it’s as simple as offering your time to listen.
Have you experienced a deployment or separation through the holidays? What is some advice you would offer to a family facing this situation?