1. Salute your soldiers. In addition to saluting their dad whether he is home or away, the Crooks clan makes it a point to honor all military families on Christmas. "We always hang a sock for the UNforgotten soldiers," says Tara.
2. Let gifts come from you. In the Crooks' home, Santa brings the unwrapped gifts while the parents offer wrapped surprises. "I always make sure the girls know the presents are from Daddy and Mama, and that he is with us even if he isn't physically present," says Tara.
3. Don't do it alone. Tara encourages all military spouses not to "give up" the holiday just because your spouse is gone. Instead, make travel plans to be with family or create a "makeshift" family with other military spouses near you. "It's very hard if you don't have children, but celebrate anyway. If you have children, it is easier to put the focus on them and it can help take your mind off your spouse not being there," she says.
4. Don't sweat the small stuff. If your spouse is home for the holidays, the pressure of making it perfect can be overwhelming. But, Tara reminds herself (and you) that nobody else in the family is stressing about perfection--except you. She adds that "sometimes, the more imperfect, the more fun it is. So take a deep breath and find something fun to do!"
5. Host a theme party! Get into the holiday spirit without having to do all the heavy lifting! Tara suggests having a cookie exchange with friends and asking them to bring their recipes too, or get moving with what she calls a "holiday progressive dinner" where each course is served in a different home.
Please tell us a little about your family.
My husband is a [Major] in the US ARMY. I am not in the Army. I am a spouse. We have been in the Army for almost 14 years. I was not a part of the military when I was a child.
How does your family celebrate the holidays? What are some traditions that make up your holiday season?
We typically go "home" to Missouri for the holidays. But this year, we are having Christmas at our house.
Our family has all sorts of little habits, rituals, and yes, traditions. Especially around the holidays. We started one last year that was giving the girls their own Christmas tree to decorate. On Christmas Eve we always get new pajamas. Christmas presents from us are wrapped but from Santa they're unwrapped. We always read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve during our traditional "program" and we always hang a sock for the UNforgotten soldiers.
Do you know if your spouse will be home for the holidays this year? How do your holiday plans differ, if at all, if your spouse is home vs. deployed?
My spouse will be home for the holidays this year. When my spouse is gone, we go home for Christmas. The traditions continue and we try to keep it as normal as possible. However, we do a conference call with him on Christmas day while we open our presents. We have also gotten pretty creative in our care packages. I always make sure that the girls know the presents are from Daddy and Mama, and that he is with us even if he isn't physically present.
Can you offer tips for any military spouses going through their first deployment/holiday season?
Stay busy. Don't "give up" the holiday just because your spouse is gone. It's VERY HARD if you don't have children, but celebrate anyway. If you have to make travel plans to be with family, do so or make a "makeshift" family and join up with other military families. But don't do it alone. The holidays can be VERY hard to make it by yourself. If you have children it is easier to put the focus on them and it can help take your mind off your spouse not being there.
What are some ways that you stay connected with your loved one while he/she is deployed?
Care packages, Skype, phone calls, and we always do emails back and forth. Honestly, I think I communicate at a deeper level with my spouse when he's deployed. Sounds strange, but it's true.
If your spouse will be home for the holidays this year, what are you looking forward to most?
Just being together! My favorite part of the holiday is Christmas Eve when everyone is together playing games and having fun. I love to cook and it will be wonderful to have him here to savor my cookies! It's also nice to have someone to put the toys together!
Do you have any tips for other spouses who might be stressed or feel the pressure of making it the "perfect" holiday?
The only person who is stressing is you. Seriously, I tell myself this all the time. No one else is stressing about it being perfect. Sometimes the more imperfect the more fun it is. So take a deep breath and find something FUN to do!
What is the hardest thing about having a deployed spouse during the holidays?
Not being together. Celebrating all of the holidays with your family and it just doesn't feel complete without him there. A lot changes . I don't have the help with the kids, the packing, the travel etc. but most of all, I don't have him to snuggle down with on Christmas Eve or to make me laugh when we have all of our celebration!
Tara Crooks is a an army wife of almost 14 years, mother of two young girls, and military family expert who has made it her mission to help her fellow spouses tackle military life with helpful resources and a feeling of community. She's a speaker, author, host of Army Wife Talk Radio and co-founder of the Army Wife Network.
>>For more tips, read the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Holiday Boot Camp for the Military Spouse.
Image used with permission by Tara Crooks.