If you are the solo parent when your spouse is away on deployment, these tips will help you embrace community and thrive. (Written by my friend Kelly).
No deployment is ever easy and no two deployments are the same. My handsome husband has been deployed four times in our ten years of marriage. He has also spent significant time away for training and schools. Basically, we live for long weekends when he is actually present and in his civilian clothing.
We have three little Army brats of our own: twins who are 5 and an 8 month old. Presently, this is the closest we have lived to our family in a long time- a cozy 600 miles from my hometown. Extended family support translates to Facetime, frequent phone calls, and weekend trips from grandparents/siblings every couple of months. Our Army family fills in the gaps- attending Christmas kindergarten performances and calling in sick to work when your 4 year old sprains her neck taking off her pajamas and you have to call 911 (while your husband is in Afghanistan).
It is a unique combination of stress: your partner in a combat zone, parenting children who are often anxious, and maintaining normalcy in your household. Every bill, every chore, every trash day is now your domain. Communication is infrequent. Inevitably, after days of cell phone silence, my husband would call the moment I would step into the shower. Basically, it sucks.
Some tips I have learned along the way and wisdom shared by more seasoned military spouses helped me through difficult days of deployment parenting. Parenting well will look different for all of us- and, especially in times of emotional hardship, give yourself some grace when you don’t hit a home run. The days are not easy- but they will pass.
We have all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Especially in deployment, embrace your village. Positive relationships within your military community are rewarding in so many ways. It was great for our girls to have friends who understood what it was like to be a military brat. Their dad deployed too and they totally got it why our family looked a little different that year. The sisterhood of military spouses can be a really beautiful thing and their unique understanding continues to be such a comfort to me.
Hire thy Babysitter
We had an incredible babysitter at our last duty station. She provided me with time away from my minions to have dinner with friends or do something relaxing. I definitely recommend having a babysitter and budgeting a bit more for free time. The lack of adult interaction during a deployment is often the hardest for me- my conversation with those who still drink from juice boxes is precious, but not riveting. Using my babysitter more helped save my sanity and gave me the boost I needed to continue to parent well.
Planned Visits and Fun
Asking family members to visit at strategic points during the deployment helped. When homecoming seems a lifetime away, a visit from grandma might be a more realistic countdown for the kiddos. A visit to family or friends could also be something fun to break up the separation into more manageable units. If extended family support is limited, plan for a trip with the kids to a local hotel or save to visit a local attraction for a boost in morale.
A Reason to Party (or Dance)
Small celebrations can be lifelines that pull you through the long days. A special cupcake treat for the beginning of each new month encouraged us. The girls started dance while Daddy was away- utilizing resources on our military installation allowed for free ballet (and the option for some free child care). I was so tempted to make his last deployment a marathon in my yoga pants but my girls would have suffered for it. The extra effort for a few more manageable activities and play dates made all the difference. Confession: said yoga pants may have been worn to a few play dates. It got real in ’12.
Maintaining your Normal
Geographical stability is often something we cannot provide for military children. We move often, timetables get shifted, and we are unsure if both parents will be home for any weeknight dinner. During a deployment, my children have done better when their normal did not change. Their routine was consistent and our schedule was manageable. The predictability of their day to day gave them some comfort and I felt better knowing that I, at least, could provide that. A consistent bedtime was a lifesaver- 7:30 pm was my grown up time with a cup of tea, girly television, and full control of the remote.
Communication and One on One
Talking about Daddy and talking to Daddy whenever possible was huge for the girls. Seeing his face on Skype and having a visual confirmation that he was indeed safe did wonders. Checking in with the girls individually was something I tried to do on a daily basis. It was a lot of fun to take one of the girls on a date for some quality time. It gave me a chance to really see how they were doing and also the opportunity to continue making memories while Daddy was away. It is so important for the kid’s life not to stop- even when I was guilty of wishing moments away to speed the clock.
Mama’s Emotional Health
Maintaining your emotional health is integral because our children learn their coping skills from us. What they see, they will emulate. Focusing on what is true (not the what if spiral) and finding a healthy outlet for stress is something I want my girls to do. Prayer pulled me through many a dark moment and relying on my faith community was beauty in a difficult place. Seeking help when you need it does not make you crazy- it makes you human. Military life counselors, chaplains, or a licensed family therapist are tools at your disposal. We have all been there- so no judgment from this soldier’s wife.
Each day marked off the calendar is one day closer to homecoming. You are stronger than you realize. Keep your chin up and hire the homecoming photographer!
Thank you so much, Kelly, for sharing your heart and your wisdom with us. Ladies, if you have friends or family with husbands on deployment, please send this their way as encouragement!