How to plan a military unit family event that accommodates everyone.
It’s time for the unit holiday party, which probably means a room full of crafts, kids eating cookies, a bounce house, and a visit from Santa. For someone like me, with 4 little kids, that works out great. But there are some families in the unit with older children. Or perhaps *gasp* no children at all! Understandably, these families feel left out of the kid-friendly events. Should the unit make a greater effort to accommodate all its diverse families by planning different activities?
Why are unit family events always planned for kids?
As a member of our unit’s planning team, I get this question a lot. Spouses who work full-time are frustrated when unit events are held during the day. Families with older children complain when they have to pull their kids out of school. And couples without children can’t stand the noisy environment filled with crazy kids and frazzled moms.
“Unit events should cater to as many families as possible: not only those with children, but those without kids too!” ~The Seasoned Spouse
But the answer is simple: the unit events will cater to the needs of whoever plans them. In some units, that means stay-at-home moms who are volunteering and planning events around baby naptimes. In other units, the leaders are childfree people who are focused on the service members’ requests. Often, the service members request daytime events because they don’t want to give up their nights and weekends for “mandatory fun.”Unit family days cater to families with kids, because they are the majority. But they leave out childfree couples. #milspouse #milkids Click To Tweet
Is it fair that units focus resources on families with children?
Before I had children, I was not sensitive to parents’ needs. I’m ashamed to admit I made no accommodations for the parents with toddlers at my wedding—mostly because I had no idea what they would need. But now that I’m a mom of 4, I see things from both perspectives. On one hand, it seems unfair that base events are often designed for kids.
On the other hand, couples with children are more restricted with their social plans. Couples with young children need to pay for a babysitter and get up early with the kids. Without childcare or kid-friendly activities, families with children would not attend unit events, especially stay-at-home moms during deployments. Families with kids have neither extra time nor extra money, so they lean on the unit for relief. Meanwhile, couples without children often have the ability and funds to make their own social calendar, so they don’t need as much help from the unit.
Why can’t the unit plan alternate events for couples without children?
Couldn’t the troop funds be separated for multiple smaller events? Sometimes, perhaps, a variety of activities could be offered throughout the year. But when it comes to holiday events, there will most likely be just one unit party. First, because there are already separate events for the single service members and the married ones. Next, because extra events would double or triple the amount of planning and communication. Different venues, multiple caterers, and advertising both activities would overwhelm the budget and the volunteer planning team. Finally, separating families defeats the purpose of a large unit event. A holiday party should celebrate service member families, and let them meet co-workers. If families are segregated by age, rank, or number of children, then any sense of unit cohesion is lost.
The unit can only plan 1 holiday party, so it will be filled with kids. Why? Click To Tweet
How could military unit family events incorporate more families?
What if a unit wanted to plan events that were both kid-friendly and interesting for couples without children? It can be done! Child-free couples don’t need separate events. Military units should also try to accommodate the couples without children. Try these ideas:
- Event time should be in the evening. Have activities available continuously, so those who work and show up late can still eat.
- Schedule adult activities, not just kids’ games. For holiday parties, consider an adult gift exchange (with alcohol!), silent auction, raffle, or Bingo.
- Make sure prizes will interest any adult, not just parents. Focus on food, wine, movies, gift certificates, date night baskets, local massages or products. Our last unit gave Christmas ornaments to every adult, with the unit name and number on it. Everyone appreciates a good keepsake.
- Give singles and childless couples a role at events. They can be organizers, decorators, planners, gift-wrappers, greeters, food servers, face painters, or even dress up as Santa! Giving them a responsibility will help them feel needed and valued, so there is a reason for them to be at the event.