When thousands of people are crisscrossing the skies to joyfully reunite with their loved ones for the holidays, someone has to get them there! And when thousands of other people are desperate to get millions of last-minute presents to friends and family all around the world, someone has to get them there! If you are married to a pilot (or flight attendant), there’s a better than better chance that you will be spending the holiday alone – at least the calendar holiday, that is! It is, shall we say, one of the ‘understandings’ of aviation life.
Those of us who are left behind often talk (dare I say complain?) about how difficult, lonely, and frustrating it can be to navigate the holidays with a traveling spouse. In fact, I recently shared a blog with you called [NOT] Home for the Holidays that contains some great ideas and perspective on how to survive the holidays when he is away.
What we often neglect to consider or comprehend, however, is the other perspective – our spouses’! We get so caught up in our own circumstance and so overwhelmed by the mile long to-do list that we feel forced to tackle ‘alone’, that we never stop and ponder life from his vantage. But we should! Yes, getting through the holidays while he is traveling can be hard, but it is equally if not more difficult for the spouse who is on the road!
When he’s traveling over the holiday, we certainly feel a great big hole in our hearts that can only be filled by him. Missing him is a good thing! It means we have a man worth missing. However, we are still ultimately surrounded by comfort and familiarity. While he is immersed in a constant flow of nameless (and often times very cranky) strangers, we are still surrounded by our own community, church, friends, family. While he is yet again lying his head down in a noisy, unfamiliar hotel room, we are sinking comfortably into our own safe, warm pillows. And while we are filling our tummies with a nice hot meal, he is noshing on peanuts and stale airplane pretzels because there’s nothing left open on Christmas Day by the time his last leg ends.
It’s all about perspective! This is not about telling us not to feel what we feel! That would be silly. It’s about teaching us to look outside of our own boxes and also see the man we married and love. It’s about taking the circumstances we are given and seeking out the joy. It’s about making the holiday a little bit brighter for all of us!
So how do we help our traveling spouses have a happier holiday season?
1. Stop complaining to (and in front of) your spouse. It’s the craziest thing! They (our pilots) rarely-to-never complain about having to fly on the holidays. They understand it is an inevitable part of the career and accept it for what it is. ‘Paying their dues,’ so to speak. It’s not that they want to be gone on the holidays anymore than we want them to be gone – they don’t! They simply know it is what it is and roll with it because they know perseverating on it will not change it. We, however, most definitely did not sign up for this part of the aviation life and reiterate that fact to anyone and everyone who will feign listen. In fact, as a whole, we complain so much about them having to work over the holidays that we don’t even realize that we are complaining anymore! (We are, believe me.) Here’s the problem. Our husbands desperately
want need to provide for us and make us happy. It’s in their male DNA. Many of them even define their own overall success as men on the happiness of their spouses. When we constantly bemoan the career that they chose to support their families with – the very same career that helped pay for the holidays, by the way – and over dramatize our own sacrifice and the devastating consequences his absence will have on us for the holidays, they feel like we are also bemoaning their ability as men to please their wives! And in a way, if you think about it, we actually are. It is very, very personal to them. In fact, they often perceive their efforts as men and husbands to have fallen short. It’s a dagger to their egos…and ultimately to our marriages.
2. Stop complaining when your spouse isn’t around too. Heck…let’s just stop complaining! Why do we live in such a deep-rooted culture of complaining? That with which we fill our hearts will be the inevitable overflow of our actions and words. If we pack every last crevasses in our lives full up with negativity and complaints, we leave no room for reveling in the beauty! Those online complaining sessions will certainly get us exactly what we desire – mass rationalization for our frustrations, no matter how irrational. But it’s not healthy for our marriages. Complaining in front of our children will set a negative foundation upon which they build the perceptions of their father’s job and intermittent absences. Complaining to our friends and neighbors will assuredly leave them feeling sorry for us and generate some sympathetic pats on the back. But none of these things will change the root of the circumstance or bring him home for Christmas. However, they will continue to cultivate seeds of resentment and bitterness in our hearts. So instead of constantly complaining, intentionally seek out the beauty and joy in your life and share that instead.
3. Be grateful. Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful. It’s an intentional turning of your focus from those things you don’t have to those you do. No, he might not be home on the calendar holiday, but he has a great job, you are both alive and well, the bills are getting paid. If you have a roof over your head, a vehicle to get you where you are going, heat to keep you warm, clean clothes to put on in the morning, running water to shower and brush your teeth, a tech device of any sort with which to communicate, and even a single present under your tree, you have more then the majority of the people in the world this Christmas. Most of us have all of those things and a whole heck of a lot more. Don’t just be grateful either! Tell him how thankful you are that he works hard for your family. Tell him how grateful you are that he is a good man. Tell him how grateful you are that he has a great job where he can utilize his passions to bring other families together during the holidays. Tell him how grateful you are for the roof over your head. Tell him how grateful you are. He needs you to verbalize your gratitude and respect for him just as much as you need him to verbalize his love for you.
4. Celebrate together. The holidays are not about a little square on a piece of paper with a number written in that demands you acknowledge an event confined within its carefully drawn sides. It’s not the date on the calendar that defines the essence of a holiday, but rather the beloved people with whom we celebrate. It’s much more important that you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, etc. as a family than it is to celebrate it on the actual calendar date. Around here we adoringly call them ‘aviation holidays!’ Remember, Santa is a pilot too, and he totally gets it! He’s more than willing to make a special trip to a fellow aviation family’s home on the 21st, 29th, or even in January to ensure that they get to spend it together. Because that is what matters most. Furthermore, if you are able, you can even consider meeting your traveling spouse where he is on Christmas Day for a very special adventure and a holiday none of you will ever forget!
5. Remember to remember him. Even though you have your own very special aviation holiday celebration planned or completed, I cannot deny that there’s still something about the date that psychologically affects them/us. Perhaps it’s seeing all of those other families in varying states of togetherness on social media, the happy reunions happening in front of them at the airport, or the empty streets and closed restaurants that remind them that the vast majority of others are with family. Let him know he is being thought of and missed on the holiday! Slip a small gift, card, or treat into his luggage. Text him words of encouragement. Tell him how proud you are of him for bringing families together (he is a super hero!!). Knowing he is on your mind and in your heart that day will put his at ease and combat the loneliness that attempts to sneak in and steal the day.
6. Rethink the syntax. The words we use and how we verbally construct our thoughts go a long way to set the tone of the statement we are making, whether consciously or not. We often do not consider how deeply our word choice affects the mood and reception of our sentiment. Try flipping things on their head and really think about the things you say and whether they reflect a positive and grateful attitude. For example, instead of answering curious friends and family with, “No, he’s not home for Christmas,” tell them, “We are celebrating on the 20th!” Instead of stating that, “We are alone on the holiday,” try, “We are excited to all be together this week!” Instead of telling people, “It’s so frustrating that he’s gone again,” tell them, “We are so proud of him for helping other families reunite!” Instead of, “He’s always gone,” try, “He always works so hard for us!” You get the picture! You will be surprised at how much a simple change in syntax and word choice can hugely affect his attitude…and yours!
7. Include him. There are a lot, and I do mean a lot, of activities that seem to all fall in the last thirty days of the year. It can be very disheartening and frustrating for your traveling spouse to not be there to enjoy them with you and/or to miss important events in yours/your children’s lives. Again, he doesn’t want to be gone. In fact, he often inwardly feels miserable that he’s not there. But he honestly doesn’t have to completely miss them anymore. The introduction of FaceTime and other recording/video calling software over the last decade has completely changed the way we can be together when we are apart. FaceTime him into your advent ceremony or gathering, etc., watch a movie together even though he’s in a different place using video chat, record important events and watch them together when he’s home, let him read holiday stories or do bedtime prayers with the children over Zoom, send lots of pictures and updates of your activities throughout the day, keep an ongoing Marco Polo conversation with him. There are so many ways to include him with today’s technology that he no longer has to be quite as ‘away’ as he used to be.
8. F.L.Y. and let F.L.Y. We often speak of the importance of F.L.Y.-ing (First Loving Yourself) to the overall well being of the ‘left behind’ spouses. Not only do you need this, but your husband needs to see that you are enjoying the life that he is working hard to help provide for your family. However, it is equally important that we let him F.L.Y. as well, especially during the holidays when he can feel more lonely and left out than normal. Be grateful when he gets opportunities to have a moment of joy or take care of himself while he is on a trip too! Staunch the undertones of jealousy in your voice and sincerely tell him that you are glad he has a break from the monotony of work. They are not mindless robots and need to experience joyful moments even while on the road to keep the loneliness at bay and stay motivated too. If he is invited to a Christmas dinner by another aviation family, be glad that he is not alone and eating stale pretzels! If he has a long layover and takes advantage of the chance to catch a new flick, be grateful that he’s not stuck in a hotel room bored and depressed and has found a moment of joy. He is your spouse, and you should want him to have fun. I know you miss him and want to experience those things with him, just like he wants to experience life with you. I know it’s hard. But we need him to come home to us a happy and rested husband instead of a burned out and depressed one. If his activities are honorable to your marriage, let him…in fact, encourage him…to F.L.Y.
9. Pray for your spouse. Your spouse will likely experience moments of loneliness and frustration at being away from his home this holiday season no matter what you do or how hard you try to encourage him. That’s okay and perfectly normal! Find time each and every day to offer up a sincere prayer for the encouragement, safety, joy, and wellbeing of your traveling husband. Place a hedge of prayerful protection around your husband, his aircraft, and even his passengers as he travels around the world. Prayer is a powerful tool that we all have access to. Praying for (and with!) him regularly and intentionally will not only affect his heart, but it will also soften yours and help open your eyes to his perspective.
Holidays apart are one of the expected and understood nuances of aviation life. While they can admittedly be difficult for us as we juggle the holiday chaos without him at our sides, they can be as equally difficult for our spouses for different reasons. Perspective is everything. While we cannot change the circumstances we have been given, we can change how we react to them! Joy is a choice. Let’s choose to live life joyfully this season – encouraging one another, loving fiercely, focusing on our blessings, and seeking new and better ways to help our traveling spouses have a happier holiday.
I love you, aviation family!
Happy holidays from our happy hangar to yours,
Angelia (a fellow Pilot Wife)
Just Winging It: Prayers for My Pilot Wife (autographed)
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