Deployment day comes and it’s time to say goodbye. You dress the kids up in their best outfits and head out to the pier where you wave goodbye, wiping the tears from your eye only to stay as strong as possible for the little ones. One might think that this would be the hardest day but a military spouse might disagree. The hardest days are the ones where the air conditioning goes out, one of the kids busts out their two front teeth, and you realize you have a flat tire all in the same day. These days are the challenging ones. The day you wave goodbye is actually a relief because you can finally start counting down the days to homecoming. The stress and anxiety that was built the last couple of weeks while preparing for deployment is released when your service member pulls away.
As a proud military wife of three deployments, I have learned the importance of being prepared while your service member deploys. It is the service member’s responsibility to stay focused on the mission and the spouse’s responsibility to carry on the duties and everyday rigamarole of home life.
It is important as a military spouse to first tell yourself that not everything will go how you want it to. It is important to admit to yourself that “you are not perfect and will make mistakes” during deployment. For example, this last deployment my family experienced, I was so overwhelmed with unloading the groceries from the car that I left my youngest inside (only for a few minutes, before I realized she was missing). I cried for a week to think that I could have left a child in the car and not realized it, but then I had to let go of the guilt and make some adjustments to make sure it never happened again, as I still had four more months of deployment left.
Each challenge will make you a little stronger and build that much more character. Here are just a few things one can do as a military spouse to help with the demands of deployment.
- Get Busy. It’s important to still have a life even though a part of the family is missing. Keeping normalcy is important for the kids but staying busy is also important for the spouse’s health. Make a list of to-dos that you might want to accomplish before the deployment is over. For example, this last deployment I had a goal to participate in a “Tough Mudder,” which is a mud and obstacle race. It took training and focus but, before I knew it, my race was approaching and the deployment was more than halfway over. Make sure to get the kids involved in planning a schedule so they too will have something to look forward to or work towards.
- Split up the deployment into four quarters and plan a trip or event for each quarter. For example, the first quarter my family took a camping trip over Memorial Day weekend with other families. The kids had something to look forward to and this caused a distraction as to how many days were left until dad came home. The second quarter, grandparents came to visit and we planned events around town to share with our company, and again had a blast while more time passed us by.
- Find Support. As a military spouse, support is so important. Creating a good support system can either make or break a deployment. Many people are willing to help if you just let them. It is important to admit we cannot do everything alone. For example, when my mother had a heart attack, it was friends that stepped up and watched my girls so I could tend to my mom. It was friends that invited me and my girls on family outings and got us out of our house. Having other adults to talk to and relate with is important. Finding support can be as easy as making a phone call to support groups for military spouses. Also great places to seek out are churches, book clubs, and play groups. I found most of my support through church friends and my daughter’s soccer team.
- Get Involved. All services have some form of F.R.G (Family Readiness Group). This group keeps you up-to-date with everything that has to do with your service member. This group will plan events and social outings, send out monthly email updates as to how your service member’s unit is doing, and provide support in times of emergency at home. I attended most monthly meetings and was informed of all the latest news.
- Take Time to Grow. There are a lot of times when being a spouse, parent, or friend take up all of our time, and days or even a few minutes of quiet time is scarce. I know as a mom of two energetic girls and wife to a military husband, I don’t always get time to sit and reflect on me. Deployments are great for focusing on “me time”. I read new books, watch movies that I wanted to watch (of course when the kids went to bed) and spent time reflecting on what I liked or might want to change about myself. Keeping in mind that deployments are stressful and can be quite a load on one’s shoulders, it’s very important to have quiet moments to reflect.
- Keep Your Service Member Close. Make sure to always keep your service member close. You can do this through taking family pictures before deployment and then posting current up-to-date pictures in the house. Prepare boxes to send to your service member. My girls loved that they could prepare a box for dad and then decorate the outside (send a box at least once a month). Stay in touch through email, even if your service member can’t write as much as you might hope. Writing to them creates the reality that they are still there and a part of your life.
Being a military spouse takes a special person. It takes dedication and selflessness. It is nights and days alone, being a single parent, while also paying the bills, mending boo-boos, and helping with homework. It means being both mommy and daddy, even on the days that you are just too tired. Getting though deployment is an accomplishment to be proud of. When you become a military spouse you do not get a manual that tells you how to feel, how to act, or what to do. However, being a military spouse comes with honor, humbleness, and complete pride in the cause you are serving and supporting.