It’s two weeks before Christmas and you have to tell your five-year-old that mommy won’t be home to bake cookies with her, or your husband that his “all-thumbs” hands will have to wrap the presents this year. Your Guard unit has just been called up for deployment.

This holiday surprise played out for some Vermont families whose Guard member deployed to the Middle East on Dec. 8 with the Vermont Air National Guard. According to one airman,

I’ve had a couple deployments. This is the first time that I have left during the holidays. I have an almost 6-year-old daughter at home, and she’s being good about it but I’m sure she’s a little disappointed that daddy’s not going to be there for Christmas.

Then again, if the holidays can bring some disappointment to military families during the holidays, they can also bring moments of extraordinary joy. Returning from an 11-month deployment, a Navy reservist mom surprised her son while he was greeting Santa at their local mall. His response speaks for itself. Watch here.

For Guard and Reserve families, the holidays can be an especially uncertain time. Yet the challenges they bring can also be an opportunity to strengthen family bonds, not despite of, but because of, those challenges. It’s an opportunity to learn adaptability, to initiate new traditions, and to think creatively about how to stay connected as a family when some members are apart.

So, whether you or your Service member is coming or going—or your family is experiencing new challenges during the holidays, there are many great resources to help families cope or adjust. Ranging from personal accounts to tips and tricks, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites.

gift-wrappingHow to Handle Holiday Separations

From recording a reading of a favorite holiday book or story and sending it to your child, to creating a holiday ornament with your child’s name on it, these suggestions help military families stay connected even while apart.

Easing Holiday and Reintegration Stress

“The holidays are a great time to reconnect with family and friends and spend time with your loved ones, but the holidays can also be difficult. For Service members who are coping with invisible wounds, the holidays may be stressful – especially for members of the National Guard and Reserve who may not have the same deployment support networks as their active duty counterparts.”

New Orders, New House, New Holiday Traditions

“Be flexible.” “Ban ‘Perfect’ from your vocabulary.” “Redefine your family traditions.” These are the core tips in this post on building flexibility into your holiday expectations.

6 Christmas Books for Military Kids

Whether or not your family is dealing with a deployment this season, youngsters may benefit from knowing they’re not alone in their experience as a military kid. This list collects some holiday reading material especially for them.

For the Military Spouse Going Through a Deployment Over Christmas

In this post, Julie, a blogger and National Guard spouse, describes the emotional impact of her husband’s deployment overseas during the holidays. She closes with these words:

Know that this too will pass. Know that you are stronger than you think. Know that your holiday might look a little different than it did in the past.