In between the family gatherings, the office parties and all of that chaotic shopping, consider taking a pause. Even with the busy, frantic energy this time of year brings, there is always time to think about those who unfortunately, can't be surrounded by their loved ones. Military families have a different story than the rest of us, and they must learn how to go extended periods of time without seeing or holding their spouses or parents. If you feel inspired to help out someone, these experts give their best advice on how to make a difference:
Early childhood educator and author Kimberly King is a former Navy wife of 15 years and mom of three children. She says that there's often a disconnect between traditional and military families that can feel like a barrier to friendship. "I remember Christmas of 2013 quite vividly. My husband was deployed to Afghanistan and I had two small children to care for in Washington, D.C," she says. "My family was over 12 hours away so they couldn't help with the day-to-day. Sundays during December were so hard. I would just sit and cry from being so lonely, tired, and worried. I had a few friends that helped during the week but weekends that were the hardest, and we felt the absence of his presence."
Her advice for helping during the holidays is simple: "We would love for our kids to be invited over to play. We would love to be surrounded with support, like child care or a hot meal, when our spouses are deployed or TDY (Temporary Duty Assignment). We would love to be invited to coffee just to talk. We would love to meet you and be welcomed to the neighborhood," she says.
For families who are deployed overseas or ones that are in between moves, you might feel like you're interfering when you offer to help them out. The truth is quite the opposite: anything to make them feel at home and loved is a great idea. "I will never forget my first christmas away from my family," King says. "We were in transition moving from the U.S. the Italy. Our brand new Italian friends knew of our situation. They invited us to a special dinner in their house. While we were at dinner part of the family snuck over to our hotel room and filled our room with little wrapped presents. They gave us cards, candy, notes, ornaments, a bottle of wine. When we returned to our hotel room, I cried. It was as if Santa came. The kindness of total strangers was so amazing and a moment I will never forget."
Some military families struggle to make ends meet, making holiday presents hard to afford. Veteran and caregiver Sarah Dale says toys, clothes, or—really—anything, can go a long way to help. Best of all? You can make sure everything comes full circle by buying a gift from a veteran. "Many of these families have businesses they run out of their homes to keep the lights on," she says. "Buying a gift from their business helps support their family in the most dignifying way."
A valuable way to teach your kids the importance of peace and service is to let them participate. That's why King says getting them in on the beauty of volunteering will encourage them to be lifelong supporters. "We all need to feel connected during the holidays," she says. "Our military families make a huge sacrifice. Teaching your kids to do a good deed or pay it forward is helpful to the military families and your child. King's husband witnessed this first-hand when he was deployed. "My preschool organized a holiday care package for my husband and sent it without my knowledge," she says. "It was full of thank-you letters, handmade crafts, and christmas cookies. He loved it!"
After deployment, many veterans, understandably, have a tough time adjusting to civilian life. Zachary Randolph, Army veteran and Director of St. Joe's Residential Veteran Program in upstate New York, says families can offer assistance to the families of those veterans having difficulties in many ways. From providing childcare so the spouse can shop to cooking a meal, the smallest gesture can make a big difference.