The holiday season can be full of excitement and joy. We look forward to our most favorite traditions such as baking, decorating, and hosting special get-togethers. But the hustle and bustle in November and December can sometimes magnify the feelings and emotions we keep in check during the rest of the year.
Cooking dinner for your family on a weeknight isn’t normally a big stressor but cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 30 when you’ve just moved and your kitchen is still new to you can rile your emotions. Trying to meet everyone’s expectations for the holidays and facing the pressure we place on ourselves to make the holiday season “special” can sometimes make us want to go to sleep as we are defrosting the turkey and not wake up until January!
With a little pre-planning and organization, you can successfully make the holidays memorable for your family without driving yourself to the looney bin.
This is easier said, than done. We always want to do it all, but with a bit of prioritizing, you can get most of your wish list accomplished. Start with a good list. Don’t attempt to create the list in one sitting. Make your list and revisit it several times. You will find that over time, maybe a couple of days or even a week or two, you will refine your list. Making a gingerbread house might seem like a great idea. But when you are trying to juggle baking for the neighborhood cookie swap, providing goody bags for your child’s second-grade class, and you might be coming down with something, changing it to gingerbread cookies might be more manageable. You will feel better about taking items off the list as you prioritize, cutting out those things you just don’t have the time or money for.
It can be hard managing expectations for military families moving every couple of years. Your new duty station may not have the same holiday traditions that your prior base had. Our current city has Santa arriving by fire truck each year to kick off the holidays. A milspouse friend of mine was so excited because, at her prior duty station, Santa came door to door to collect gift lists from the kids. It was an exciting event her kids would surely miss in their new location. This could have been a real downer for her family, but she was able to manage their expectations and avoid disappointment by explaining that Santa had different traditions at each duty station.
Thanksgiving with family is your tradition and now when you are 3,000 miles from home, it is not going to happen this year. Change the tradition. Some of our best Thanksgivings were actually Friendsgivings spent with other military families. While you might miss Aunt Lisa’s green bean casserole, your military spouse neighbor’s grape salad might start a new tradition!
Eat the Elephant (or Candy Cane) One Bite at a Time
So you’ve got this great list which you’ve edited several times in the hopes of making it more manageable. The problem is you will get it completed about a week before Valentine’s Day! What you need to do is break it down further.
For instance, you’ve got out of town guests coming for the holidays. Great! But now your list has grown quite a bit. You’ve got to get the guest room ready, plan meals and outings, possibly buy gifts, all of this on top of your normal holiday shopping and prep. Take it one step at a time and see where you can scale back to keep yourself sane.
First, give the guest room a once over. What do they really need? Is there room in the closet or a drawer in a dresser where they can unpack? Concentrate on these essentials. Do they need holiday décor in the room? Probably not. The rest of your home will most likely be festive, so toss a holiday throw pillow on the bed and check the guest room off your list.
Don’t Let Distance Get to You
While out of town guests during the holidays can triple your to-do list, it might be preferable to being alone during the holidays. Many military families who can’t make it back home to family and friends feel disconnected. The kids might feel that ‘it just doesn’t feel like the holidays because they are not able to spend it with their cousins. And this will take a toll on you, the parent whether you are the active military spouse responsible for taking them away from their friends or the at-home parent responsible for creating the perfect family holiday.
LET IT GO! Yes, it can be draining to have to be the family cheerleader especially when you are disappointed yourself. Whatever the disappointment is, choose to look at it from a different perspective.
You are in temporary housing with all your holiday décor in storage. You could be missing your Grandma’s nativity set sitting in storage or you can take your 40% off craft store coupon, buy a bunch of craft supplies and let the kids create their own décor.
You just arrived at your new duty station and you have no idea what the local holiday traditions are. Check out the local facebook pages and groups which often list upcoming activities. The active-duty spouse can talk with coworkers about what the best activities are for the kids.
Don’t Feel Guilty
This is another easier said than done. You might feel pressure from family to travel home for the holidays. If work and school schedules allow and ‘home’ is only a few hours from your duty station, going home might be an option. But for many military families, time, distance, and money are roadblocks to heading home for the holidays. Extended family may not understand you can’t afford to fly your family of six across the country during the holidays in a year where you’ve just spent money PCSing.
Better yet, you’ve laid out the cash to fly ‘home’ and they expect you to make the rounds visiting each sibling or cousin. So you end up spending the whole vacation driving from home to home to see everyone. By the end of it, no one is happy and you need a vacation from your holiday vacation!
Really evaluate what YOUR family needs. Maybe you had a rough PCS and the kids haven’t adjusted well so a trip home to family is just what they need. Or you are just getting settled in your home and you don’t have the finances to make it home. Prioritize what your family, the family often strained by the demands of military life, needs. The wishes of friends and family who don’t ever have to bear these stressors have to come second.
Military life means constantly changing. Some changes are easier than others. If you make a conscious effort to go with the flow, not reinvent the wheel and take aiming for the ‘perfect’ holiday off the table, you can keep the emotional ebb and flow of the holiday season in check. Sometimes, if you really look at what is upsetting you, you might realize you are the one most affected. The rest of your family might not care that you didn’t prepare all five family-favorite side dishes.
Look at what is most important to you. Set your plan and set reasonable expectations. Don’t be so hard on yourself and enjoy this most joyous time of the year!
Written by: Carla Olivo