If you ask any military spouse who has endured a deployment or a brief separation from their service member you will probably find at least one thing in common. Something will always break, explode, get lost, get stolen, become attached or unattached very soon after they leave. It’s as if there is a strange “separation phenomenon” that only happens when your spouse is in Iraq, BMT, Afghanistan, out to sea or some other place where you can’t text them to come and figure out why the toilet is overflowing and where the shut off valve is. What’s even more bizarre is that you will probably never have these issues again.
When my husband deployed to Afghanistan recently, within the first month I fell down the stairs and broke my toe. My baby boy had some health challenges that, though weren’t serious in the grand scheme of things, were definitely inconvenient. And my 3 year old suddenly aged 13 years and knew way too much about how to help me care for him (Mommy, he doesn’t want that, he needs his paci..???). If it’s your first deployment or separation you may be surprised at how these things unfold, and at how well you will handle them. So read on for your battle plan, and if you’re an experienced warrior I know you’re nodding your head in agreement.
Predeparture. Your deployment survival depends heavily on your preparation. Your spouse is key here to help you get yourself together before he leaves. Establish a list of contact numbers, ESPECIALLY to people in his unit. Your husband’s unit is ultimately YOUR unit too so get to know them! Get a tour of your unit before he leaves. Ask questions, find out who the commander is, the first sergeant and his immediate supervisor. Shake hands and lay eyes on the people he serves with because you serve with them too.
During separation. Now that he’s gone, you will quickly adjust to life with a new “normal”. Here are some tips to help you and your children through the tough times:
- Stay attuned to your child’s behavior and actions. Talk to them frequently about the separation and help them deal with their emotions. In this day and age of technology, no longer do they have to wait 2 months for a letter! We Skyped with my husband, posted online videos and made a “countdown calendar” with stickers for my daughter.
- Schedule, schedule, schedule. The quicker you’re on one the better for you and them.
- Cereal for dinner. One very wise spouse clued me in when she learned I was still cooking dinner. Life got a whole lot more simple when I finally got out of that habit and on some nights served up some Cherrios.
- Engage your support team. It’s difficult and they know it. The right support team will encourage you in this and be a bright spot for you. Make sure the team you select supports the military, supports the work you do as a military spouse and knows when to be quiet and let you vent.
- If you don’t have kids, yaaay for you! This just got a little easier. Now is the time for you to focus on some goals or projects you’ve been procrastinating on that can be a source of pride for you and him when he returns.
Post-separation. He’s baaaaack….and so is your sanity. Now plan a great reunion:
- Get excited, but be aware that there is still a readjustment period. What was normal without him is now weird with him. So give yourself some time to reestablish a new routine, especially if you have kids.
- Get smaller kids ready with a “fun things to do with Daddy ” list.. If you have toddlers, saying, “Daddy is coming home in 2 weeks!” probably won’t do since most toddlers don’t know 2 weeks from tomorrow. I prepared my daughter by asking her what things did she miss doing with daddy. Then I asked what she wanted to do with him when he returned. She came up with 5 things and then we repeated that during the weeks leading up to his return. It wasn’t until we were at the airport that she realized he was really coming back.
- Plan some fun family time, but don’t overdo it. You don’t want to tour the city, and go out every night and not appreciate the fact that he’s actually home.
- Plan some adult time. I’m a believer in marriage as the most important human relationship you will ever experience. Therefore, I advocate…do what you need to do to get alone with your man! Do you have a basement? Use it! A garage? Make it work! A babysitter? Even better!
Separations can be difficult but with the right plan, resources and tools you can be successful. And if you go home with family during the deployment, revel in the blessing of having so many people around you to love on your children, on you and to help you through it.