How to celebrate deployment holidays

The problem: Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries can be the most challenging deployment holidays. Keep reading because: I’ll show you how to keep them fun without losing your mind!

Deployment holidays are the worst. These celebrations are all about family, and it’s hard to carry on when the family isn’t whole. Going home to celebrate with relatives is not always possible. You may be tempted to skip over some holidays, and just let the kids enjoy classroom celebrations at school.

Don’t.

Kids love routines and repetition. If your children are old enough to remember how a holiday was celebrated last year (when the deployed parent was home), then they will notice the loss of traditions this year. They will feel the ache of an absent parent even more. So what’s a solo parent to do? How can you single-handedly create a joyous celebration for your kids without losing your own mind? Take a breath, then keep reading…

For deployment holidays, keep traditions, but keep them simple! Click To Tweet
  1. Keep up the traditions. Children love traditions, and their memories of special events are much more vivid than you might think. I am constantly surprised by my kids telling me, “Mom, remember that one time when we…” So yes, they remember how you celebrated Christmas last year. And their birthday. They even remember the place where you got ice cream after going to the beach! When you celebrate an annual holiday or event, it reassures children that everything is ok, life is continuing like ‘normal.’ Dad may be gone, but we still have a family that is loving and warm and fun. Does that mean you need to recreate the same holiday menu and decorations and activities every year? No. It does mean you should keep the kids involved. But…

    “Keep up the traditions, but keep them simple!” ~The Seasoned Spouse

  2. Keep things simple. No one is expecting you to be a Pinterest queen during deployment. And frankly, kids don’t care much about decorations and fancy crafts. They will remember food, or anything that they personally helped with. So ask your kids what their favorite memories are of this time last year, or what is their favorite thing about the holiday. Then try to focus on those traditions, and give yourself permission to forget about the rest.
  3. Let go of your guilt. Moms are under a lot of pressure just to take care of feeding people, clothing them, and keeping the house clean. Why do we pile extra expectations on ourselves? Especially during a deployment holiday! You need to let go of the ‘ideal’ of doing some holiday activities with your kids. “Wouldn’t it be fun if we all baked cookies together?” or “I have to dye eggs with them, because that is what my mom always did!” Try to be practical. You may end up doing some of the holiday preparations on your own, at night, and there is nothing wrong with that!

    Here's what every milspouse needs to know about holidays during deployment, especially if you have kids.

  4. Celebrate with friends instead of family. Plenty of other military families are missing spouses every holiday. If you live near base during deployment, it is easy to get together with other moms and kids and plan a simple holiday celebration or play date. Everyone brings a little food, the kids play together– bam! successful Thanksgiving. I think I have celebrated every single holiday at some point with a potluck playdate.

    Deployment holidays are the worst! These 7 tips make them easier. Click To Tweet

  5. Go to events on base. There are always seasonal events sponsored by the base housing communities, MWR, or the base chapel. These events are usually free, and are always family-friendly, so it is a simple no-fuss activity for you and your children. Events in town sound glamorous, but first give serious thought to the logistics: how will we get there? Where will we park? Will there be lines? How will I keep us all together in the crowd? Don’t get me wrong, I have figured out ways to take all 4 of my kids out in public on my own. And sometimes we enjoy local celebrations. But events on base are always less headache and stress for me.
  6. Don’t be afraid to add new traditions. Sometimes when my husband is gone, I don’t want to change things or add anything new, because then he won’t be included. However, I have learned that it is okay for us to grow and change even when we are apart. The kids get older while he is gone, so they are constantly learning new things and developing new interests. Sometimes I add teachable traditions that help them learn about a holiday. I send him pictures to keep him updated. So next year (hopefully!) he will be able to participate in the new tradition with us!
  7. Remember the past, and look forward to the future. A holiday without your spouse can be challenging and depressing. I find it helpful to focus not just on the present bitter experience, but to sandwich it into the sweet memories of the past and the exciting anticipation of the future. Yes, this year he isn’t with us. But last year he was, and what fun we had! And hopefully he will celebrate this with us next year! It’s a lot easier to swallow the complete sandwich than it is to choke down the loneliness of today.

If you are going to be on your own this holiday season, hang in there! You aren’t alone. There is a whole community of solo parents out there who are all going through the same struggle during a deployment holiday. You are strong, and your kids will remember these holidays fondly, even if your heart is aching inside.

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Military spouse, Mom of 4, and a published author. I help the military spouse community by offering encouragement and advice for military life. This is a tough life, but we are all stronger together! Send me your questions, and I will be happy to chat!

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