The Unconventional Holidays :: What to do When Your Spouse is Working


My idea of the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas spent with my husband and family went out the window when I married my husband, a first year medical school student, almost five years ago. Figuring out how to split the time between each side of the family was one thing. But throw in the long, grueling hours of residency with little say in the work schedule, and you’ve got yourself an extremely annoying a challenging future of unconventional holidays.

Last year was the first Thanksgiving my husband had to work. This year was no different. We’ve been fortunate to have him home for Christmas thus far…though I’m sure that will not always be the case. Fortunately, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to adapt and still make the holidays feel special and celebrated.

1) Be willing to adjust

unconventional holidays
Playing at the park last Thanksgiving while dad was at work….still a happy boy!

Thanksgiving does not always have to be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November, and Christmas dinner doesn’t have to be served on the 25th. You can celebrate the holidays whenever it works for your family! It felt weird taking my kids to get happy meals and play at the park last Thanksgiving. But they were happy, and I was fine doing Thanksgiving dinner later when my husband would be home. Unconventional? Yes. But, you do what’s best for your family, and the rest works out.

2) Don’t miss out on the fun

Would my husband prefer being with us at Breakfast with Santa, driving through Christmas lights, playing flag-football Thanksgiving morning, etc. etc.? Of course! But it doesn’t always work out that way. Make time to still do the things that make holidays magical. Your kids will probably be so wrapped up in the activity they may barely notice their dad or mom wasn’t there. And taking pictures or videos and sharing with your spouse is a great way to stay connected.

unconventional holidays
Visiting the Gaylord Texan during the week on one of his “off days.”

The other option is to do activities on their off days. It may require a bit more planning, but adjusting your schedule so that the entire family can enjoy your holiday activities might be worth, say, taking the kids out a little early from school. Last December my husband worked most weekends, so we took opportunities during the week to do a few Christmas activities together.

3) You are capable of hard things

This is probably the most important thing to remember. My other mom friend who’s husband is in medical residency often tells me, “You can do hard things!” Navigating the holidays with a spouse’s crazy work schedule can feel overwhelming. Communication, setting expectations for each other, and going with the flow will help you, your spouse and family enjoy the holidays and avoid the pity-party.

I also remind myself that so many other parents do holidays solo or part-time all the time. For me, it is just a time and a season that our holidays don’t go the traditional route, and that’s okay. Because at the end of it all, spending time with each other is what’s most important to me. Whether we get to do that for all or part of the holiday isn’t nearly as important as the quality of the time we do get to spend together.


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