When you are childless in the military -- by choice or by force -- there is still no avoiding kids during the holidays. Children are everywhere you go. They’re at the mandatory Christmas parties, the PX, command parties, and, sometimes, the balls.
For many childfree couples, being without kids during the holidays is no problem at all. But childless families can feel the sting. For those who long for children of their own, the most wonderful time of year can sometimes seem far from it.
Here are some strategies childless military couples can employ to avoid a blue Christmas this year and revel in a very merry -- and childfree -- holiday.
Nearly 1 in 5 Military Couples Are Childfree
According to the DoD’s 2011 Demographics survey, just over half (56.6 %) of all active-duty military families are married, but only 43.9 percent of all servicemembers have children. That number might seem small at first glance, but it works out to around 273,400 military marriages that are childfree. That’s like the entire population of Newark, N.J., or Buffalo, N.Y. Yet there is really no programming for families without children.
When surrounded by other families with 2.5 children in tow, you and your spouse alone might not feel like a complete family. But you are, says Dr. Bret Moore, a former active-duty Army psychologist and practicing military marriage counselor.
Moore has made a career working with military families, and he understands just how strong the stressors of the holidays can be when you don’t have kids.
“Family is a very broad concept,” Moore explains. “Sure, children are an integral part of many families, but not the only part and not for all. A husband and wife is a family.”
For others, he says, brothers, sisters and cousins complete the whole, or maybe you’ve found home in a larger military family. “My point is to look beyond children and appreciate and enjoy those within our larger family,” he says. And when you start there, it’s hard to feel alone.
We’ll Always Have Paris
If you are far from home, it can be tough to rely on your nearest and dearest for holiday cheer. It isn’t difficult to take some time to enjoy where you are right now, though.
Don’t concentrate on what you’re lacking. Focus on what you have. Spike the nog! Dance until the wee hours! Enjoy that your carpeting does not include the miscellaneous Lego or Barbie shoe!
Without children, Moore says, “You are more free to travel and be spontaneous.” And that’s worth acting on. “This might be a good time of year to go for a short trip. It doesn’t have to be a grand vacation. And if you find yourself saying, 'we don’t have enough money,' think how much the average person spends on diapers.”
For the record -- that’s close to $3,000. And yes, I hear Paris is lovely this time of year.
Shake Up The Present
Even if there aren’t children in your home sleeplessly awaiting the arrival of the man in red, there are children elsewhere who are desperately hoping that someone will remember them this Christmas.
Focusing on the children in need, Moore says, will help you fill not just their hearts with the holiday spirit, but yours, too. “Look into volunteering at local foster care centers or with Casa for Children.”
Find a hospital that needs an extra set of hands to read stories or play with the children. Many mid-to-large size hospitals welcome volunteers for some pediatric units.
If you’re low on time, you can still make a huge difference. “Become an angel,” Moore urges. “Each year, my wife and I adopt a few children from the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Nothing feels better than buying gifts for children who may otherwise not get a gift for Christmas.”
For one Air Force wife, being an angel has become her Christmas miracle, too. After Nicole and her husband tragically lost a baby during childbirth a few years ago, they found solace “adopting” a child every Christmas in memory of the one they lost.
Honor the Past
Each December, Nicole and her airman pour their hearts into the project, doing everything they can to give that one child the Christmas of their dreams.
“Enjoy where you are right now in your life,” she says, “but if you have that longing to focus on children at Christmas, remember how many there are out there that aren't lucky enough to have the Christmas we were given each year growing up.“ Giving that Christmas dream to a child in need will warm your heart, too. “Giving in that way is sure to bring lots of joy,” she affirms.
Look To The Future
Joy, Moore agrees, is something we should all find this time of year. So if find yourself celebrating a childless Christmas this year, take a moment to enjoy it. Spike the punch. Give Vixen a run for her money. Wait up for Santa. And take a moment to be Santa, too.
While you and your servicemember might feel like the only family without children in the most fertile place on Earth, remember, you’re not alone. There’s a whole Newark-sized city of us out there, getting through the holidays and trying to make them merry and bright. Know that we are raising a glass to our lives as is -- and toasting yours, too.
-- Marine spouse Raleigh-Elizabeth Duttweiler is a digital media reporter currently based out of Camp Lejeune. She is a regular SpouseBuzz blogger and the Discovery Editor at Designmom.com. Her work has been seen in the Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and SheKnows.