During the holiday season, many of us turn our attention to those in need. However, one group that endures great hardship, but is often overlooked, is the military family. Most of us do not stop to think about the responsibilities and hurts that these families bear – especially around the holidays. Throughout the year, they sacrifice time spent with their spouse or parent during deployments, they sacrifice friendships and a stable home life each time they move across country, and they sacrifice peace of mind because they love someone in a dangerous occupation. These stresses are only magnified from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
While most Americans think of deployment as our country's chance to keep peace around the world, to military families it means long separations, emotional distress and lifestyle adjustments.
Whereas corporate parents may say goodbye to their children for the next eight hours, parents leaving for deployment say goodbye for the next six months. Imagine missing the birth of your child; fearing your infant will forget who your are; or feeling guilt over knowing your spouse is struggling alone, while at the same time worrying that your family will do a little too well without you. The family left at home doesn't have it much easier. Military spouses suddenly find themselves in the role of single parent – donning the hats of mother, father, accountant, mechanic and full-time chauffeur of the family – and they are often in cities where they have no family to call on for support.
Deployment during the holidays means that the military dependents commemorate Christmas dinner and ring in the New Year as an incomplete unit, while the deployed member spends the day without family in a foreign, or even hostile country. Imagine how heartbreaking it must be for a parent consoling a child who doesn't understand why Mommy or Daddy can't be home to open presents on Christmas or watch the fireworks on New Year's Eve with them.
Over the years the military family moves often – relinquishing a stable home life, leaving behind friends, and enduring an erratic civilian career – and the negative impact of this transient lifestyle often hits home hardest during the holidays.
Of course most civilian families will experience a move due to a job transfer at some point, but military families are uprooted every few years. In fact, "uprooted" is a misnomer, because they are never in one place long enough to plant deep roots. This is a season intended to be celebrated with loved ones, but what about the military family who just moved to a new town and can't afford to travel to see family or friends?
Another way that military families sacrifice is the emotional toll from worrying over the safety of their loved one and the stress of this lifestyle. But even with these powerful emotions present, the family often suppresses these concerns out of benefit for the military member. Military spouses are reluctant to express frustrations when talking with their deployed partner, they put aside disgust at living in a subzero climate for the next three years, and they try to keep the holiday mood festive even though part of their family is away.
So as you consider helping those in need this holiday season, or throughout this new year, recognize that the families of military personnel make extensive sacrifices that civilian families don't.
If you know a military family suffering through deployment, consider making them a part of your family over the holidays. Offer to take a family portrait by the Christmas tree or Menorah to send to the deployed family member, or give them long distance phone cards to keep in touch. If you know a military family who is new in town, invite them over for a New Year's Day meal. However you may choose to help a military family, consider it a small thank you for how they have contributed to our liberty. By helping them, you are supporting and giving peace of mind to a military member who is risking so much for our freedom.
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