Military life comes with a lot of unexpected twists and turns but one of the hardest to overcome is accepting the reality that holidays, celebrations and a ton of special events may not be the way you want them to – you may be miles away from all that is familiar, finances could be stretched, your military member could be deployed, friends and family are a long way away, etc. I quickly discovered that I could either treat holidays and special occasions as something to survive or make the most of what I have. What I have discovered after nearly 20 years of military life is that if you are waiting for the perfect holiday, birthday, anniversary, Christmas, etc. you may be waiting a long time. Waiting for the ideal holiday means that you miss out on a lot of laughter, fun, and possibly, new and exciting adventures. It also means that you miss living life. Putting everything on hold isn’t realistic or healthy for anyone.
Here are my top 10 tips:
- Make a holiday ‘to do’ list – Focus on what you and your family would like to do rather than what they want. I was surprised and relieved to discover that most of the time our lists include over 75% of things that will cost us next to nothing. This summer we made a list of 100 things we wanted to have accomplished before September, it has been a great way of refocusing us while their Dad is away. It has given them things to look forward to, goals to achieve and a bit of a challenge.
- Track your finances – Have a good understanding of what your budget is for celebrations and holidays. Get an app that tracks your spending so that you stay on track and don’t add to your stress by having more debt after the fact.
- Find the positives about where you are living – We can easily fall into the trap of complaining about where we are living and why it is less than wonderful. Take 10 minutes to sit down and find 10 things you like about where you live and then focus on those. It seems simple but you can change the way you feel by focusing on the positives. If you are living in a PMQ think about all the stresses you don’t have that come with home ownership, etc.
- Plan events in advance – Planning means that you may have more people able to attend, you won’t feel as stressed and rushed, and you will have something to look forward to. When you are more organized for an event or holiday you end up being able to live more in the moment and enjoy it rather than racing around last minute or discovering that you waited too long to invite people and now no one can make it.
- Learn about your community – Take the time to find out what supports and services are available to you as a military family. It surprised and saved me to discover all of the resources and services that were available to me (without the Petawawa MFRC childcare drop in/off, I might have lost my mind!).
- Create new traditions – Find out what unique celebrations or events take place around you and try something new with your friends and family. Making new occasions and activities can make the other ones easier to cope with. The more events you have in a year, means the increased likelihood that you will be able to spend some of them all together or where you want to be.
- Focus on the everyday – I don’t think that life is all about focusing on birthdays or celebrations such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day. Try having an unbirthday party or go out for dinner for no reason and focus less on the ‘big’ events so that when they are missed by one or more of you it isn’t the end of the world.
- Time is a bigger gift than you think – Putting down the electronics can be a better gift than buying more technology. When I ask my kids what they want most they are usually not things that money can buy (a family game night, a family dinner, a bike ride, tobogganing day, etc.). They want my 100% focus and time. When I give it to them and put down the phone or get off the computer we all end up happier. Over the holidays set aside technology free time – everyone will benefit.
- Make technology your friend – While I know tip number 7 encourages you to put away technology, there is a time and a place for it too. Blogging, Skype, Facebook, etc. did not come naturally to me but I made ‘friends’ with them and it helped bridge the miles and missed moments. The kids post pictures, tell about my failings, talk about their day and what they are missing. It also helps my husband to reconnect with us and not feel so left out.
- Celebrate – You may not feel in the mood to celebrate or acknowledge a holiday but it is important that you do. If you have a family member that is away or you are too far to be with friends and family, find another way to have fun. You will not only feel better but those who love and care about you will also feel better knowing that you aren’t at home alone and feeling sorry for yourself. If you have children, you are modelling that life goes on even when there is change – a life skill that will take them far. Think about what you have endured, accomplished and what you are doing as a tough job (being a part of a military family) and celebrate it.
Many of these tips I have learned the hard way. Being away from family and friends, moving, struggling with finances and having to ‘do it all’ at times does take its toll. It is one of the reasons that I truly believe that thriving in a military family can only happen when we set goals, take chances and risks, learn to laugh through the tougher moments, embrace change and find opportunities to celebrate and enjoy the year in as many different ways as we can.