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10 Ways to Be 'Home' for the Holidays

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November 9, 2013

By Marc Acton 

No matter which military branch’s insignia graces your uniform, spending time away from home is one of the prices of freedom that’s hardest to pay — and distance is never worse than during the holidays. There’s good news, though. If done right, long distances apart actually can refresh and improve relationships, giving you an opportunity to hit a sort of relationship reset button and get back to basics. These 10 ideas can put you on your way toward making sure the distance between you and home ends up being a good thing.  

1. Decorate together.

Whether you’re on a short tour holed up in a hotel room or deployed somewhere hot and sandy, put up a couple of decorations. Take pictures of your work and share them with your personal home front — it’ll help them feel like they’re a part of your celebration. Getting your favorite ornaments sent from home adds a familiar touch and reinforces the message to your family that you are all still a team.

2. Show your face.

Texting and talking on the phone is great (try to talk every day), but there’s no substitute for face time. Use video chat to talk about your day, but don’t stop there. Set up a webcam while you open presents on Christmas morning or have your family wire you in for a special holiday dinner via a laptop at your seat.

3. Send snail mail.

Email is quick and easy, but it’s inherently impersonal. Send a handwritten letter with your top three favorite holiday memories with your loved ones. Handwritten letters feel more special, and talking about your previous experiences together will reinforce your history — and help solidify your future.

4. Make presents personal.

Expensive gifts say, “I love you” in one way, but thoughtful gifts say, “I care about you enough to pay attention.” Both messages are important! Along with your regular gift, try giving your spouse a present related to a special event in your relationship, like a CD of music from a concert you attended together or a framed picture from a family vacation. For kids, give a photo ornament or a “Daddy pillow” that’ll help them keep you in their mind each night.

5. Give them some sugar.

Let’s be honest, it’s not Christmas without baked goods. Bake treats yourself if you can ship them quickly (and you have a kitchen available). Plenty of delivery services also take online orders. Try to pick something your family traditionally eats so they know you weren’t just hungry — you were thinking of them. 

6. See the  lights.

 Take a virtual tour of lights wherever you are, using a video camera to record the decorations and add your personal commentary. Send it home, and ask your family to reciprocate. It’s not quite the same as being there, but re-creating these special moments will make the holidays feel at least a little more normal. 

7. Experience the holiday together.

Shared experiences can be a very powerful intimacy-builder, and losing them while you’re gone is one reason being away is so hard. Combat this over the holidays by sharing experiences that don’t require physical proximity. Read the same book as your spouse, or have the whole family watch the same Christmas movie and then talk about it afterwards. It will increase intimacy and give you something to talk about besides boring day-to-day minutiae.

8. Surprise!

Keep your cohorts at home guessing with unexpected bonus gifts or thoughtful “just because” gestures. Catch a spouse off-guard by having something fun delivered to his or her workplace. (Enjoy those bonus points for letting them look good in front of their friends, too.) For the kids, an edible arrangement delivered to their school will show you’re thinking of them. (Just check with the school first to ensure it allows special deliveries.)  

9. Get real

Don’t just communicate during this season — communicate well. Daily phone calls are great to maintain intimacy, but just talking about any old thing isn’t going to cut it. Even if you don’t feel like it (or you’re worried about being a downer), share difficult emotions. Find a balance between staying positive (very important!) and being real, which is necessary for true intimacy. It can be difficult, but it couldn’t be more important for your relationship.

10. Keep an eye on the finish line.

The holidays are a great reason to take time to discuss your impending return. If you’ve been gone a while, consider arranging a romantic getaway to go on when you get back. If that’s not feasible, spend time together planning a special homecoming date. Focusing on your return will help you visualize it, and visualization is a powerful tool that can help you make it through the holiday season and avoid the mid-tour doldrums.

About the author: CWO2 Marc Acton, ARNG, is a Blackhawk pilot and freelance writer based in Tennessee. This is his first article for MOAA.