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Holidays on the home front

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–For military wife Michelle Fryc (pronounced Fritz), being apart from her husband, Donald, during the holidays is something she has come to expect and endure. “That’s just the way it is,” this mother of seven says. About half of their nearly 20 Christmases together have been spent apart due to deployment.”

How does a military mom make Christmas a memorable family event when Dad is not there? How does she deal with her own feelings of missing her husband while trying to be strong for the children? While every family is different, most military moms agree that the holidays are best enjoyed during a deployment by keeping fun family traditions, connecting with loved ones and creating consistency out of a crazy holiday schedule.

TRADITIONS

Family traditions often falter during a deployment. It might be difficult to celebrate without your husband at home. You may feel strange leaving him out of the things he enjoys doing every year. But Michelle has learned that whether Donald is home or not, keeping family traditions is extremely important to her children. It gives them a sense of stability and serves to honor the spiritual aspects of the season as well.

As a family, the Frycs have come to enjoy the special things they do every year. “Of course, we enjoy them more when Donald is here,” Michelle says. But she does her best to maintain the richness of the holiday and give her children distinctive memories of an exciting Christmas celebration. Traditions do not have to revolve around any particular family member. The customs the Frycs observe include everyone in the family.

— Put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend in order to enjoy it throughout the holiday season.

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— Send a special Christmas letter or e-mail to relatives and friends updating them on your family’s current events.

— Serve special foods that are reserved only for the Christmas season. For Michelle, that’s a special Norwegian treat the children love: rommegrot.

— Count down the days to Christmas with an Advent calendar. If you already are counting down the days until Daddy gets home, place the calendars side by side. Count down one in the morning and the other before bedtime.

— Attend a Christmas Eve service on post. It helps to see other families that look like yours.

SHIPPING OUT

Military wives often spend deployments in close proximity to their extended family. Beverly May and her 2-year-old daughter Jennifer left the army post at Fort Campbell, Ky., to live in Huntington, W.Va. “I wanted to be closer to my family while my husband was deployed,” she explains. Extended family can provide support and company, and most grandparents will jump at the chance to be a part of their grandchildren’s lives. By moving back to her hometown, Beverly also was able to reunite with friends from high school and college. “Quite a few of us have gotten together for a Mommy & Me group since they have small children, too,” she says.

However, it is not always possible to relocate, especially if your child is enrolled in school or if you are employed. In that case, be sure to maintain your connections with friends and family members. It is too easy to isolate yourself during a deployment, consumed by the ongoing demands of serving on the frontlines as both mom and dad.

— Pick up the phone. “It’s important to keep in touch with family and friends, whether in person or by phone,” Beverly advises.

— Investigate the support groups available to you. “Reach out to other military spouses who are going through the same thing,” Beverly suggests. “It helps to talk to someone else who is going through what you are dealing with.”

— Take a class. Try a Bible study or an exercise class. These usually offer childcare, and the weekly commitment will keep you motivated.

AVOID BATTLE FATIGUE

The infamous hustle and bustle of Christmas can keep moms on the run. Older children are involved in Christmas play practices and school parties. Younger children are staying up late, enjoying more sweets than usual and operating completely off their schedules. While it is a lot of fun and only happens once a year, too much of a good thing can lead to cranky children and a frustrated mom. Organization in your schedule is key, including:

— Make a calendar from a piece of poster board and post it in a prominent place. List all the events you have going on and see how much white space is left. While keeping busy means you do not think about missing Dad as much, proper rest is essential for this time of year. Block out days for resting at home.

— Monitor the amount of sweets you keep around the house. Store some of the candy and baked goods in the freezer to enjoy at a later time.

When traveling, it may offer a diversion from missing Dad on the home front, but it can be accompanied by the stress of being away from your own familiar surroundings. In order to enjoy yourself and your child, adapt your schedule, but do not abandon it.

— If you are traveling across time zones, keep in mind that your child cannot make that switch easily. Keep your watch on “home time” and try to work with what her body is accustomed to regarding mealtimes, nap times and bedtimes.

— Your child will enjoy outings more if you work around a daily nap or rest time. Nap time gives you a chance to spend some quality time with other family members as well, perhaps even providing the opportunity to have an uninterrupted conversation!

— Make sure your child has everything she needs to be comfortable. Take along the special blanket, doll or stuffed animal that accompanies your child to sleep.

PEACE TALKS

It often is difficult for your heart to remain at peace when you know your husband is in constant danger. Military wives kiss their husbands goodbye when they leave for active duty, not knowing if they will ever kiss them hello again. How do you keep your peace? “We talked about Chris a lot over the holidays, and everyone tried to stay busy,” Rachel Brown remembers of her husband’s deployment. “We all missed him, but Christmas is about God, and it’s a good time to remember that God will take care of you.”

When her husband Kent was deployed, Beverly was asked to speak about peace at church, for one of the Advent candles. She spoke of the peace her daughter brings her and what a blessing it is to have her to spend time with while her husband is deployed. “I also reminded everyone of the peace my husband and other soldiers are bringing to our country by being in Iraq.”

Keep your focus. It is not easy to be alone for Christmas, worried about your husband and fearful about the future. Day by day, trust your husband’s life and yours to your Heavenly Father. Aim for a holiday celebration that recognizes first and foremost God’s one and only Son, sent to redeem you from your sins. He is always by your side, and He understands what it is like to be in the trenches of loneliness and depression.

When you are tempted to fall into despair, take time to read 1 Corinthians 10:13 and Hebrews 4:14-16. These verses will remind you that God will give you the strength to make it through this time. In Jesus, you can find the mercy and grace to help you survive and thrive. Ask God to fill you with His joy, cover you with His protection and surround you with His love this Christmas. Make it a celebration that starts in your heart.
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Rebecca Ingram Powell, a writer based in Nashville, Tenn., is on the Web at www.rebeccapowell.com. Reprinted by permission of ParentLife, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.