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3 Ways to Embrace the Holidays with your Military Spouse

Morgan Kelly Burke
Nov. 4, 2011

Military spouse Laura Crawford shares tips for making the most of holiday deployments as part of the Care.com Interview Series

As a Marine spouse of 11 years, Laura Crawford isn't new to the world of deployment during the holidays. But her 3 kids will be when they face their first holiday deployment next year.

Although Crawford will do everything she can to make this year's holidays special while her husband is home, she knows the challenges of celebrating without him.  With deployment looming, she talked to us about how she plans to make the most of this year's holiday season and offered some great tips for military spouses.

1. Dive in head first. Yes, it's easy to feel down when you are separated from your loved one. But, as Crawford advises, "keeping yourself busy and wrapped up in the joy of the holiday being celebrated around you is the best thing you can do for yourself." She suggests participating in local events, decorating your home, and if you have kids, focusing on them with crafts and activities.

2. Go out and see the world. Getting away to see family and friends can be the perfect remedy for a lonely holiday season, but it's not your only option. "If you're still not really in the mood to be around family or friends, travel to a destination you've always wanted to see," she suggests. "Holidays and Christmas are the perfect time to see other sites and festivities you don't see very often."

3. Be mindful of your spouse. "Remember, you're not the only one without," says Laura. Keep your spouse involved by sending your children's craft projects, lots of photos and care packages filled with your loved one's favorite treats!

Get more ideas and tips from our full interview with Laura below. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Laura Crawford
Please tell us a little about your family.

My husband and I have been married for 11 years now, all of which he has been active duty in the United States Marine Corps. His total time in to date is 13 years, and he plans on doing the full 20, or maybe more. We have 3 children. My son is 4, and my twin girls are now 20 months old. Growing up I was not in a military family. However, my father was a Marine during Vietnam, my step-dad Army, and my grandfather Navy.  

How does your family celebrate the holidays? What are some traditions that make up your holiday season?  

We try to celebrate all holidays as any other family would. Before we had kids we used to travel to see family. Now, though, that we have a family of our own we don't do nearly as much traveling as we used to. We have some really fun tradition for each holiday. On Halloween, the ‘candy goblins' come to collect the candy the night after Halloween and leave a fun surprise (toy/games/not sugar-filled goodies) in its place. Thanksgiving is the one holiday we still manage to travel for.

Christmas is loaded with fun things. Some of them are seeing where our Christopher Pop-in-kins elf will be to greet us every morning. He seems to come around the first week or so of December. On Christmas Eve, after the cookies and milk are laid out for Santa, we sit at the table and make s'mores on our tabletop s'mores buffet. This is probably one of our favorites. We also do Advent Calendars, but this year, now that my son is old enough, I'm changing it up. Each day there will be a little ticket with a clue that will lead him to a daily surprise. That's much more fun than just digging out candy or sugary treats daily.

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?

This year, my husband will be home for all of the holidays. Next year, though, he will not be. Before we had kids, this would not have affected me as much. I would have gone to see family, talked to my husband when possible, and the days would go on as normal. With kids is a bit different, and next year will be their first time to experience deployment during the holidays. I find that I'm already thinking about how I will handle it, and how I will help them to cope during the sad times, knowing they are going to want to celebrate with Daddy. So far my only answer is that we will run things as we would as though Daddy were here, keeping up all the same traditions. We will buy Daddy gifts, and include him in everything else the best that we can. I'm also thinking that we might put up a small Christmas tree to sit on the kitchen table where we will make decorations that will represent our memories with Daddy, and our thoughts and wishes for him. But if you ask me this question again next year, I'll let you know how it goes.

If you have spent the holidays with a deployed spouse, how did you celebrate?

You really have to treat the holidays like any other day when your spouse is deployed. You can't dwell on the fact that he is not there. You take each day as it comes, and get through it to the best of your abilities. Keeping yourself busy and wrapped up in the joy of the holiday being celebrated around you is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Can you offer tips for any military spouses going through their first deployment/holiday season?

I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to not dwell on the fact that your spouse is away. No one likes being away from the ones they love during special times and occasions, but immersing yourself in the festivities of the holidays is the best way to enjoy them when you have to be apart. Your spouse and his fellow Marines/servicemen will be doing the same wherever they are. They almost always make sure to take a little time to enjoy the holiday with each other.

What are some ways that you stay connected with your loved one while he/she is deployed?

This is where you have to give major props to modern technology. The first time my husband was away, we sent letters and utilized Instant Messaging. Now you have tools like Skype that allows you to actually ‘see' each other while you chat. This is going to be a great thing for us, and the kids, to get through our upcoming deployment. But it's not just face time that matters. It's also important to make sure that we ‘include' Daddy in our daily lives. We'll mail projects from school, pictures taken, crafts made at home, and other tokens of our love to let him know we are always thinking of him and to show we are supporting him every day.

If your spouse is deployed over the holidays, what are your care package favorites that you'll be sending or have sent in years past?

Care packages often contain items of necessity, like body wash, socks, etc. Christmas is a great time to ship all of those favorite goodies that your spouse is missing from home. Peanut butter cups always seem to make their way into the boxes I send.

We always try to include family during a deployment. They love to help and be involved, and if between all of us there is a bit of an overload of stuff going overseas it just means there is more to share with the other Marines.

If your spouse will be home for the holidays this year, what are you looking forward to most?

He'll be away for training through Halloween, and right up until Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward spending a fun Thanksgiving with our family and going on the post-Thanksgiving camping trip. For Christmas, I'm mostly looking forward to enjoying the holiday, and the season around it, with my husband and children at home. Planning ahead for next year, I will be taking lots of pictures so that we can post them up all around our tree and living room so that we can feel like Daddy is still there with us on Christmas day.

Do you have any tips for other spouses who might be stressed or feel the pressure of making it the "perfect" holiday?

Whether your spouse is home or away, no holiday is ever perfectly perfect in the manner of pure perfection. It's not worth missing the enjoyment of the moments by stressing over what's not there.

What is the hardest thing about having a deployed spouse during the holidays?

As mentioned, next year will be the first deployment during the holidays since we've had children. What I feel is going to be the hardest part is not me having to be without my husband, but the memories that are created during the holidays that my husband is not going to be able to personally witness as they happen. It breaks my heart to know what he is going to miss, but I will not let him miss it completely and will be taking LOTS of pictures and videos.

Always faithful Marine wife Laura Crawford has her hands full with a 4-year-old son and 20-month-old twin girls. She shares stories about her life as a woman, mother and USMC wife with a mission to bridge the gap between the military and civilian world on her blog Semper Fi Momma.

>>For more tips, read the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Holiday Boot Camp for the Military Spouse

Images used with permission by Laura Crawford.

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