By Lizann Lightfoot, The Seasoned Spouse
Every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, millions of Americans make the effort to drive or fly “back home” to spend the holidays with loved ones. Military families would love to have that opportunity, but it isn’t always realistic when they live far from family.
When I first married my Marine, he was at a duty station that was conveniently only a few hours from each of our families. We drove home for every holiday and major event for the first year of our marriage. Even though it sometimes resulted in arguments or tension between us, we kept celebrating with our parents, even after we had our first baby.
At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky we were to live close to family. His base was the farthest I had lived from home, so I didn’t consider the variety of locations the military could send us. I should have counted my blessings. Our next duty station was in another state, 10 hours away. Then… we were sent overseas. That was the move that finally cut the figurative apron strings. Now we live on the opposite side of the country, which my mom says, “might as well be overseas.”
It can be a tough decision when family asks, “are you coming home for the holidays?” Military families need to weigh that decision with factors like military leave dates, their budget, and whether they will see family during an upcoming PCS move. If you are struggling with this question, here are some of the reasons for a military family to stay in their own home for the holidays.
Sorry, we’re staying HOME for the holidays:
It’s too expensive to fly.
Cost is a major factor for military families. Depending where you are stationed, getting flights to your parents’ house may be a major ordeal. Especially when you add in rental cars, hotels, or other travel expenses. When considering travel plans, try to get tickets way in advance. Remember that the cost of tickets increases throughout the months of November and December.
We don’t have enough leave dates.
Some service members save enough leave to take two weeks of vacation at the end of the year. However, if they haven’t accrued enough leave, they may only get 4-day weekends for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. That doesn’t give them enough time to fly home and visit.
We visited last year.
Some people think going a year without seeing family is unheard-of. For military families, seeing relatives every year is extremely lucky. If we saw you last year for the holidays or during a PCS move, then please don’t expect us to make the trip again. Maybe you could come see us instead?
We’ll see you all next year.
If we already know we have a PCS move in our future, we plan to visit family when we are in between duty stations. That means we might not visit during the winter holidays. Making two giant trips in one year is daunting, especially for those with young children.
We want to start our own family traditions.
It’s one thing for an engaged or newlywed couple to return to their parents’ house for the holidays. We did this even when we had two children! But at some point, couples want to stay home for the holidays with their kids and make their own family memories. You can’t blame children for wanting to wake up at their own house on Christmas morning, instead of Grandma or Grandpa’s.
The kids are in school.
When my husband deployed and I had babies or toddlers, I could return to my parents’ house and visit for a month. But once the children were old enough to be in school, we were suddenly bound to the school calendar. This means visits can’t be much longer than a week, and only during Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Spring break. It’s ok to miss a few days of school, but they will have to make up any work they miss.
I don’t want to travel by myself with all the kids.
During deployments, it is particularly challenging for the spouse at home to travel solo with the kids. Depending how many children you have and how old they are, a cross-country flight can be a nightmare.
It’s easier if you come visit us!
When military families aren’t able to make the long trip home to see relatives, they are usually willing to open their home to visitors! Sometimes it is easier for Grandparents or siblings who don’t have children to make the connecting flights on their own. Our children can sleep in their own beds and stay on their normal schedule, while still enjoying holiday fun with guests. This is my favorite strategy for the years when we can’t make it home for the holidays.
When you decide to stay put, there are many creative ways to celebrate with military families near your base. In military life, our friends basically become our family! So try not to feel guilty or homesick if you can’t travel home this year. You have good reasons. Just make the most to enjoy what you have right where you are.
Lizann Lightfoot is the Seasoned Spouse, a military wife who has been with her husband since before Boot Camp—15 years ago! Together they have been through 6 deployments and 4 different duty stations (including 1 overseas in Spain). Lizann spends her days at home wrangling their 4 young children, cooking somewhat healthy meals, writing about military life, and wondering where the family will end up next. She is the author of the book ‘Welcome to Rota,’ and of the Seasoned Spouse blog.
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