I remember all too well the challenges that my family faced when my dad’s National Guard unit was called to active duty for Operation Desert Storm. I was 16 when my dad got activated — two days before Thanksgiving. But I was 17 when he returned right around Easter. I didn’t recognize my dad — might have had something to do with the squiggly mustache he’d tried to grow, and he didn’t recognize me.
Today, when a service man or woman is called to active duty and deployed, that solider or sailor is often gone for much longer than the few — excruciatingly long — months my dad was gone. As one of my friends put it, being a supportive spouse when you’re loved one is in the active duty military is not for the faint of heart. When you’re loved one is deployed during the holidays it becomes even more challenging.
Now that I’m a mom of four active kids who homeschools them, I have a shadow of an idea what my mom endured while my dad was away. However, she also had to keep the family business running. That’s not something I need to do.
When I asked my friend Hannah Conway, a military wife who’s husband just ended his service, about what it’s like to be a military spouse, she had some great insight. As she puts it: “Many of us try to go it alone…no one wants to ask for help or admit they need it, and military wives have a lot of pride to some degree…a good thing, but it can also be very harmful.” She would encourage the military wives “to be a friend to others and look for ways to serve in and around their community. I have found that I’m able to keep my perspective when I’m serving.”
But how can we serve them? More specifically, how we can help women (and men) who find themselves facing the holidays alone? I asked my mom, Hannah, and another friend Kimberly what they would have found helpful when they were living those times. There are some simple ways we can come alongside these men and women and show love in meaningful ways.
- Gift them free time for Christmas shopping. The year my father was deployed all of my gifts came from the same store. They were very nice gifts, but my mom didn’t have the time to shop around town like she normally would have. My friend Kimberly’s husband has been in the military the entire time of their marriage. She remembers many times Christmas shopping with her kids, because they were too young to be left at home. So she took a blanket and tried to hide the gifts from her children – while they were shopping with her. Imagine what a blessing a few hours to go shopping along would be.
- Take the family a meal and include them in your holiday meal. I can remember times when we were far from family that my parent would fill the table with others. Why not make it a service member’s family this year. Let them be part of your celebration. The next time you’re making a lasagna for your family, double and freeze the second for a military family. Kimberly said that being included in a meal when you’re alone and not near family is a blessing. You can organize meals for the family through services like com.
Invite the family over for a meal and game time.
- As Hannah put it, “I can’t tell you how nice it was for my friends to invite me and the kiddos over when [her husband] was gone. I didn’t have to cook, clean, or think about dinner…all I had to do was enjoy my time.” That would be a gift for anyone, but how much more for a military spouse serving at home alone.
- Yard work or snow removal. Depending on where you live, the military spouse may be blessed with help in the yard. For example, right now the trees are dropping hundreds, thousands, millions of leaves. If you and your family helped with raking it would be a huge blessing. And if the winter is like that of 2013/2014, snow removal would be an immense, practical help.
- Offer to babysit for any reason. Gift the spouse with time to do whatever they want – not just Christmas gift shopping. Let them have time to relax from the duties of being a single parent. As Kimberly said, military spouses are strong, but t’s hard to feel alone.
- Give them the opportunity for adult conversation. If you’ve ever had a period where a spouse was traveling or you were a single parent, you know how much you crave real conversation. Have them over for a cup of coffee or meet at a bookstore. Invite them to join you at a Bible study. They need community even more when their spouse is deployed.
Can you think of other ways you can serve our active duty military’s spouses?