It is easy to take everything on ourselves during deployment, but we must remember that our spouse is our partner even when away.
For many military families, even a regular schedule can be full of last-minute changes and the service member missing dinner again. We learn to remain flexible and expect the unexpected. Deployment, however, while often dreaded and always lonely, can offer more consistency. As spouses, we know that for a certain amount of months, we will be the only parent around. The experience of deployment is never easy, but we can plan ahead to reduce some of the stress for ourselves and our children.
1. Staying Connected
The most important part of raising children when your spouse is deployed is giving them stability and keeping the family connected. Children need to know that even though mom or dad is away for a while, that parent is still a part of the family, is still a leader of the family, and still deeply loves the family. It might take some planning and creativity, but there are multiple ways to keep everyone connected during a deployment.
Video or Phone Calls:
Video or phone calls on deployment can often be limited or interrupted. You can spend all week thinking about the things you want to talk about when you get the special call, and all of it will fly right out of your brain the second that the phone rings. I cannot count how many awkward conversations I have had with my husband, saying absolutely nothing of worth and then remembering the 462 things we needed to talk about immediately after hanging up.
Here is what I have learned to do: have a list going at all times of things you need to talk about. You may not want to put the list on your phone because you will be talking on your phone when he calls. Have a list somewhere in the house or your purse. You can include funny things the kids said, the weird noise your car is making, the question of where he put all the extra lightbulbs, etc. If your kids are old enough, have them write things on the list or let them make their own. They can write down things that happened at school, questions they have, and dreams they had. When dad calls, everyone references the list. This will make phone call time more productive, and everyone will feel more connected than if you just try to wing it. If you have a child, like I do, who puts just about everything on the list, perhaps have her number the topics by priority so that she doesn’t miss the things she really wanted to talk about.
Letters or Emails:
I encourage writing something at least weekly. It feels so good to get our thoughts out in written word, and having the documentation of deployment to look back on in the future can be really encouraging. Kids especially can feel a deep connection when they write to someone; they feel more comfortable being vulnerable when it is in writing. You can create a safe, kid-friendly email address or just let them use yours. Buying some special stationery can be a fun way to encourage hand-written letter writing if email isn’t an option.
Kids love putting together care packages! They will feel connected with their deployed parent as they choose items for the package and put it all together. They will feel important and will be so excited to hear when the box is received. Even more fun– put tracking on the package so they can follow along with its progress online!
Before deployment, my husband records videos on my phone for every major event that he is going to miss—holidays, birthdays, back to school, etc. That way, if he is unable to contact us on those days, I have a video to play for the kids. It might be the middle of June when he leaves, but he will make a video telling us Merry Christmas or singing Happy Birthday for an early spring celebration. Little ones won’t realize that the videos weren’t sent on the day they are played, and older kids who know that they were recorded months in advance might roll their eyes but will be thrilled inside that Dad thought about all of this in advance.
People generally don’t like to be disciplined. During deployment, when the discipline is on your shoulders, your children may take out their frustrations on you even more than usual. You mustn't take any of what they may say or do personally. Give them room to be upset. They are upset about more than just the consequences of their choices because deployment is hard for everyone, and children can’t always recognize that it is causing them to feel so much. Continue to stay consistent in your discipline because children feel most comfortable with clear boundaries. You best support them by following through the same way whether their other parent is deployed or not. As far as possible, involve your spouse. You can always delay discipline by telling your child, “I am going to talk to your dad about this.” This allows your husband to remain involved and your child to know that mom and dad are still a united front.
3. Their Mental Health
Kids don’t always know how to express the ways they feel about deployment, no matter their age. It is important for us as parents to take the lead in caring for our mental health. By setting an example, you can help your kids deal with the emotions of this time. Parents can talk about their own feelings, good or bad, so that the children know that it is acceptable to do so. Journals can be very helpful in working out how we are feeling, so you may want to gift each child with their own journal and pen set at the start of deployment. Kids who can’t write yet can draw pictures and dictate to you. At dinnertime, one of my favorite ways to get a gauge on how they are feeling is with “High/Low.” Every person states their high point of the day and their low point of the day. Exercise is also very important for mental health and can help to keep our emotions in check so try to get outside every day if possible. Maybe plan a pajama day one weekend a month to just relax or let the kids each choose dinner or the Friday-night movie. Of course, if you see signs of major distress or depression, do not hesitate to reach out about counseling.
4. Your Mental Health
Give yourself some grace. Deployment is stressful for everyone, and you aren’t going to be at your best all the time. You do not have to be everything for everyone. Model this by praying with the children and reading your Bible with them, or even just in front of them, to actively show them that you are relying on Jesus for strength. Take time for yourself. If you can, get a sitter and go grab a coffee or see a movie or sit in the library. If you would rather stay home, send the kids to bed early and have a quiet evening to yourself. Or order pizza and let them watch a movie while you lay in your bed and read. Take care of yourself to best take care of them.
5. Don’t Forget Your Spouse
It is easy to take everything on ourselves during deployment, but we must remember that our spouse is our partner even when away. If we leave him out of decisions, discipline, and celebration, his relationship with the kids will suffer, and he will have a harder time reintegrating with the family post-deployment. Find a way to include him during big events like holidays, birthdays, the first day of school, etc. Maybe you email or mail pictures, or maybe he wakes up in the middle of the night to make a quick phone call when it is morning where you are. Perhaps you delay discipline, if appropriate, until you can explain the situation to him to get his input. It takes more time and planning to keep him involved in the day-to-day aspects of raising kids while he is deployed, but the payoff is absolutely worth it when you see that he still feels his place in the family and that the children still fully recognize his authority as parent.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Wyatt
Megan Moore is a military spouse and mom of 3 (through birth and adoption). A speech-language pathologist by training, she now spends her time moving around the country every couple of years. She is passionate about special needs, adoption, and ice cream.
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You can read Rhonda's full article here!