I usually don’t know what to do with that word. Just as I am trying to create a “home,” I seem to be leaving it.
Military couples say “home” is not where I hang my pictures, and bumper stickers say it’s where my heart is. But there is something about the holidays that makes me want to go physically home.
After years of military life, I think I have figured out that “home” is a place where I feel known and, perhaps more importantly, seen. It’s a place where I feel understood and safe. It can be found in the arms of my spouse and over coffee with a friend. It is a longing that all of us have, and it doesn’t go away.
You have likely felt it too.
Some of you will travel “home” this season to be with those who knew you before you were a part of this great big military family. But when you arrive, you might also bring a little bit of desperation to the party.
The constant feeling of being away from home, while also trying to establish a home, can make anyone desperate to feel seen, known and understood.
Many adults subconsciously revert to a younger version of themselves when returning to their childhood homes and families, known in counselor parlance as the “family of origin.”
We do it even though life, war and military marriage has long changed us — and it happens without us planning or knowing. The phenomenon might be, for example, a reason visiting your in-laws with your spouse drives you crazy. Before your eyes, his personality changes to match the maturity level of his much younger years.
Or perhaps, like me, going “home” means you uncontrollably share your most vulnerable stories of what military life is really like. After all, they asked. But when I do that, I often find myself wishing I could recapture my words, just in case my listeners don’t really care or understand.
Or maybe you are my opposite and stay quiet, all the while assuming no one cares to notice that you are different since the last time they saw you.
It’s a great irony, really. In effort to find “home,” we set ourselves up for hurt when we walk into Christmas with expectations to which others are oblivious. And why wouldn’t they be? Families, even awesome ones with amazing holiday treats at the ready, are not mind readers.
But the holidays and visiting home don’t have to be hard or isolating. If your spouse is with you this Christmas season, I urge you to find “home” in each other in the midst of your travel. There is no one else on the planet with whom you will find a level of acceptance for how military life has changed you. And chances are your spouse will notice if you revert to that childhood version of yourself around your family members more than you will.
By preparing ahead of time, you can rely on each other to be your “home base” if part of who you are or the experiences you’ve had, what I call “sacred spaces,” feel misunderstood. Your spouse can be a support if something triggers you. And you can be the safe place where your spouse feels seen and understood.
Just as important, remember that those sacred spaces exist in everyone’s story. Military life is hard, and it’s easy to want to soak up all the empathy in the room even unintentionally. But each person around the family table desires to be seen, whether they’ve held down a home front or not. Everyone has a story they wish to tell, a significant moment in time that made them who they are today.
So perhaps the best gift we can give is to create an opportunity for understanding and empathy — a shared sacred space — where we all truly listen to each other and then vulnerably love each other in light of that story.
Make time to ask the oldest family member about a moment that made them who they are. Ask a child about the best memory they had of the last school semester. Ask a teenager about a friend who showed up when they thought they had no one. Ask your spouse to share why their battle buddy was given such a worthy role.
Maybe in our listening as well as sharing, the greatest surprise is that we will find a “home” in what we do for each other.