In all families, there are challenges throughout the holiday seasons, but being a part of a military family means there can be additional hurdles – living away from family, friends coming in and out of your lives, family members on training exercises or deployments over holidays, regular moves, extended absences, living and working in separate cities – the list could go on and on. Still, you also have to juggle and attempt to honour family traditions and celebrations throughout it all.
It can send even the most level-headed person into a downward spiral. I often give myself a pat on the back if I have managed to acknowledge a birthday by posting something onto their Facebook wall!
For me, remaining sane over holidays has come down to three key things – prioritize what is truly important to your family, don’t get stuck on specific dates, and ask for help.
Last year I was exhausted as we headed into fall and found myself sometimes dreading having to do all the “usual” traditions, which included everything from cookie exchanges to an annual Christmas party, from tree decorating to large dinners. I was fortunate that holidays were such magical times for me growing up, and now I often put a lot of pressure on myself to make them equally so for my family.
I decided that being on IR, having a full-time job, running the kids about, making lunches, dinners, grocery shopping, and trying to be all things to all people might actually (finally) take me right over the edge and that I had to do something to save my sanity. I needed to get back to a place where I looked forward to holidays and carrying on traditions.
While I could not and would not want to skip Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, I decided to check in with my kids about what was important to them and made a list of all the things we did or always have done over the holidays they loved. It was interesting to discover that some of the things I had been killing myself to do didn’t even hit their radar.
Some of the traditions that I had been working so hard to maintain had really been only for me or other people or because I thought it was what they wanted. What they really wanted was our time, and they didn’t care as much about what day things actually happened on just that they happened. They wanted family dinners, family game nights, and things like a trip to the farm to pick out our pumpkins and ride the hay wagon and a day to trim the tree and decorate cookies.
Plan the When
No one in my family cared about what day we did our annual family fondue dinner, had a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, or trimmed our tree. They just cared that we did it (I will note that the only exception was that no one wanted to move opening presents to another day other than December 25th!).
Be Open to Change & Compromise
I began to realize that I could remain much more sane (and much less alien-like) if I didn’t try to cram everything onto two or three days of the year. This also means that as our kids grow older and get girlfriends and/or boyfriends, our family won’t be tied to one specific date that ends up being ‘come or you miss it,’ but that we are more tied to being together, making it work for everyone.
Ask For Help
Lastly, we also looked at whether or not we had to do it or could we invite ourselves elsewhere! Being a military wife and mom, I have learned that sometimes you just have to stick your neck out and ask for help. It isn’t easy for me to ask as I hate feeling as though I am a burden to others or am adding to their workload. However, as I looked at the madness in the coming months, I had to acknowledge that while I could do it all, it would come at the cost of my sanity, and it isn’t worth it.
I have boldly invited myself to someone else’s house for a Christmas dinner, and we are doing a potluck Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday night, so we have two days to sit around in a turkey food coma, and I don’t have to cook it all.
Relax & Enjoy Yourself
I really feel as though it isn’t about where we celebrate or who does it or when we do it but about the time we spend together, and I know that I may be able to relax and enjoy myself more knowing that I don’t have to do it all.
So, as we head into a busy time of year that is often filled with traditions, stress, crazed moments, and hopefully a lot of family time and laughter, take a few minutes to talk to your family about what is truly important to them over the holidays.
Remember, become the Chief Warrant Officer of delegation, and invite yourself to other people’s houses to share in the madness that often makes the holidays so fun and memorable. And make sure you don’t get stuck on having to do things on a specific date and time and if all else fails… use paper plates!