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Keeping Families and Service Member Parents Connected During Holiday Separations

Military separations due to extended training assignments, unaccompanied overseas relocations, and deployments are challenging year around. During the end of year holiday season, the time apart can feel even heavier for both parents and children. This holiday season, if your military family is experiencing a separation, consider these ideas to help bridge connection, closeness, and cheer through the miles.

  • Learn about a new holiday tradition
    • Look into the customs and holiday traditions for the local community where your Service Member is located. Consider trying out a new tradition together this year; this may have you cooking a new dish for prosperity in the New Year!
  • Watch a holiday movie together
    • The internet has really allowed us to improve these painful seasons of separation. Find a time for an extended video call together and share in a movie as a family. Several streaming services have functions to allow for group watching, or utilize additional devices if you have them such as the service member calling on their phone but watching the movie on their laptop.
  • Host family game night
    • Another internet win is the ability to play a variety of beloved board games together through websites or apps. Popular games such as Monopoly, Boggle, Settlers of Catan, and Codenames can be played for free or a low cost app fee, and allow for real time play. A nice added bonus is playing together while on a video call and setting out to have the same snacks in both locations.
  • Schedule a time to open presents as a family
    • If your family engages in gift exchanges during the December holidays, coordinate a time that allows you to share in that tradition together. If time zone logistics would require children opening gifts at a different time than usual, consider a new tradition where select gifts are opened at your typical time (such as during Christmas morning or on the last day of Kwanzaa) and other gifts opened when the family can be joined together virtually.
  • Ask the service member parent to record a holiday story
    • Books at bedtime are a wonderful nightly routine and this season has room for a lot of holiday themed books. As time zones are often a challenging barrier to contend with, ask the deployed/separated parent to record themselves reading a holiday story on either audio or video; later children can enjoy this special recording as they wind down for bed. Many classic children’s books can be found online and referenced with purchasing the hardcopy book.
  • Get crafty together
    • Flex your creativity together and have a virtual craft party. Depending on where your service member is located, they may be able to pick up some supplies at The Exchange or a local store. Or perhaps you have a chance to send off a box that will arrive in time. However a pen and some paper can also go along way when you let your creativity take over. Draw Christmas trees together; paint a snowy scene while sipping on hot cocoa; or try your hand at constructing a gingerbread house out of cardboard and paper scraps.
  • 12 Days of Christmas Notes
    • It may be too late to create Christmas countdowns with Advent Calendars, however the spirit of a daily surprise can be created during the 12 Days of Christmas starting on December 25th. To keep things simple and without needing an extra trip to the post office, have family members write out short notes to each other for each day. These could include an affirmations, a daily joke, sharing a fond memory, or a compliment. Each day, have members read their note to each other to mark the day (which will also get you 12 days closer to a family reunion when this separation is over).

We know military families are some of the most resilient and creative people out there. What other activities or traditions has your family modified to maintain the holiday spirit through military separations?

By: Venée M. Hummel, LCSW

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