Home for the Holidays… Without your Spouse.
I laid in bed, savoring the familiar sounds and smells of Christmas morning. Sunlight streamed through the window, still decorated with the curtains I chose years ago. Stenciled flowers ran unevenly around the top of the walls, just as they had since I painted them in 8th grade. Downstairs, I could hear my mom clanking pans to start breakfast. I could smell sausage and coffee.
And then, I heard my own children waking up: the 3 year old, the toddler, and the baby. I couldn’t spend any longer savoring my childhood memories. I was a Mom now, visiting the Grandparents for Christmas.
When you are in your 30’s, married, and have your own children, it is strange to find yourself back at your parents’ house, sleeping in your childhood bedroom. But that is exactly what happened to me. Because my husband is in the military, I sometimes visit my parents’ house without him, while he is away on deployment or training. This turns me into some hybrid version of single mom and overgrown teenager. Spending the holidays with my parents can be refreshing and make deployment speed by. It can also be a huge stressful headache. Whether you are just visiting your parents, or living with them during a deployment, here are some tips for surviving your time at your parents’ house.
Challenges of going home for the holidays… and how to solve them:
The Challenge: Being Treated like a Kid. Going back to your parents’ house can instantly return you to the parent/child relationship you had in your teens, no matter how long ago that was. My parents suddenly want to know where I am going and when I’ll be back, as if I have a curfew!
- Solution: Discuss Expectations. I have to remind my parents that I have been an adult for a while now. It helps to lay out rules and expectations for the visit. Do they expect me to run to the grocery store for them and make dinner? On the other hand, do I expect them to babysit for me? Together, we can decide what it means to be an adult visiting ‘home.’
The Challenge: Family Complaining about the Military. Ugh, at some point, we all have to suffer through comments like “your spouse is missing another holiday with the kids?” or “Well, you knew what you were signing up for.” Families without military members are often clueless about military life, and might not even support war.
- Solution: Don’t Fight, stay proud. There’s no need to fight the whole family alone. If the offender is a distant relative, just brush it off and remove yourself from the conversation. If it’s a closer family member, try to remind them politely that your spouse’s service requires sacrifices from each of you, and you have agreed together this is what is best for your family. Have some military friends you can call or text for moral support if things get ugly. I have a free Deployment Support group on Facebook perfect for this!
The Challenge: Grandparents Telling you How to Parent. My parents did a good job raising me, but I don’t always agree with their advice for my own kids. Sometimes they reprimand my kids for things I don’t think are a big deal. Or, when I have already said ‘No’ to something, the grandparents decide to give it to my kids anyway. Being a solo parent is hard enough without having to fight battles against adults, too!
- Solution: Choose your non-negotiable rules. At the beginning of the visit, talk to your parents about rules: their house rules for grandkids, vs. your family rules. If there are differences, decide which of your rules are non-negotiable. Maybe you don’t really mind if grandpa keeps giving the kids cookies… as long as he helps them get to bed on time!
The Challenge: Adults who Don’t Understand Kids. In my family, I’m the only one with children. And I have 4. My brothers and sisters are fun aunts and uncles, but not great babysitters. They can be irresponsible with little kids, or leave things around that are not child-proof. They have unreasonable expectations for my kids, and get impatient with the amount of noise. This makes visiting ‘home’ exhausting for me.
- Solution: Public Patience, Private Venting. No one really understands kids until they have them. Try to be patient with other adults. Tell them what is normal for your kids. “Sorry, I can’t go anywhere at 2 PM. The baby needs to sleep then.”
The Challenge: No Privacy. Being home for the holidays often means a full house, and sharing your childhood bedroom with your baby. Living in someone else’s house for any amount of time can be frustrating. It’s worse when you are away from your spouse. All you want is a quiet phone conversation and some personal space, but instead you are surrounded by other people.
- Solution: Designate Time or Space for yourself. You might need to hide in your car or a bathroom, but you need time for yourself. When my husband is deployed, I usually write to him in the evenings. (Words are my Love Language.) At my parents’ house, I was able to do that in my childhood bedroom. Knowing that I had a designated time and space to talk to him made me feel more peaceful during the day.