Some of the bravest individuals I know are the ones who fight for our country and enlist in the United States military, additionally their loved ones holding it together back home could (and should) be considered just as brave. Be it spouses, kids or grandparents, members of a military family are working hard and staying strong, while someone they love is risking it all as a soldier.
So many questions come to mind when talking with military families, and the biggest one for me is always: How do they handle a deployment? Proudly is the one word answer, but keep reading this post for a more in-depth look at what it takes to live certain aspects of a military lifestyle while also raising a family.
BEFORE A DEPLOYMENT
As a wife and a mother, I have no idea how a person could ever truly prepare for a spouse to be deployed. The weeks leading up to their departure would be especially grueling. It was amazing for me to specifically hear how some military spouses do it and diligently work to keep their kids feeling safe and comfortable in the wake of a parent leaving for an extended period. Timing was a key component for breaking the news to their little ones. Multiple moms, with husbands in the armed forces, detailed out how if they tell their kids too soon about it, then that is all the children will discuss. However, telling them too late can result in anger or even more sadness. It seemed like a three to five week time line worked best for sharing news of a deployment with younger kiddos.
A mother and military soldier I know named Michelle discussed preparing tweens and teenagers for deployment. She mentioned that the weeks leading up to her own deployments were opportunities to remind her older aged kids that just because she was going to be gone, it did not mean they were allowed to slack off or misbehave. She would hold them accountable no matter where she was stationed. Well done Michelle (and others like her) who never stop parenting even while being deployed to the other side of the equator.
Michelle also gave credit to her husband, who served in the armed forces and understood the perils of leaving home in order to fulfill a military duty.
“He was my biggest support system; he knew exactly what I was going through while deployed…the emotions of missing home,” detailed Michelle. “He always reassured me that what I was feeling was normal and okay and that to stay strong because what I was doing while deployed was laying the foundation for our children’s future for their guaranteed freedom in the United States of America.”
I have never in my life had to give a time table to my kids for something that was going to be difficult to endure, beyond a flu shot appointment or long car ride to an allergist. I can’t make a comparison to having a family member deployed, because I don’t have to. However, people living a military lifestyle are obligated to outline, plan, and prepare for hardships so their kids are taken care of.
DURING A DEPLOYMENT
There are so many challenges that come with a deployment, but it seems I heard a lot about “the time” in general from military personnel and their families. It can be hard to put time into context for little ones. My friend Adrian is currently living in Germany with her three sons and husband who is a Major in the US Army. Adrian’s family has been through multiple deployments, with her husband being overseas for two of her oldest boy’s five years.
“It’s tough for children to understand how long a year is, so using milestones is helpful,” explained Adrian. “Marking days off a calendar or using a paper chain helps put the time into context.”
Her husband’s most recent deployment was nine months long, and Adrian’s oldest took to keeping track of when his dad would return by marking X’s on a calendar. Adrian uses different benchmarks, which can include highlighting a holiday that falls at the half-way point or looking only a month ahead to an event that keeps the kids motivated and less sad about the long stretch of time before their dad’s return.
“We try to plan at least one big fun thing to do each month. (It) gives us something more short term to focus on,” said Adrian.
Another military wife, named Allison, explained to me that it was the little things she takes for granted that could be the most difficult about a deployment. The simple act of being able to call your spouse whenever, and ask a quick question is not a viable option. Another harsh reality of an overseas deployment for military families is that the person you love is stationed in a different time zone, in a potentially remote area. It is an added complication to be on a reverse schedule then your partner in life.
“It’s a bit stressful at times when you’re on completely different time schedules, being a full time parent, and not to mention the uneasy feeling of when their life is on the line and they’re thousands of miles away,” said Allison.
I would take this to be more than a “bit stressful at times,” but this quote and others like it that I heard throughout my research really shows that military families are super tough. It is also a good reality check for me when I want to complain about my husband being gone for two nights with work or on a guy’s trip, at least we are in control of the situation and the trip schedule. He is not out there endangering his life abroad for months at a time. I am also able to be in contact with him -on my own terms- by way of phone calls, texting, messaging, and all of the other numerous social media outlets.
During deployments, a lot of military families gushed about the community, family, and friend support they receive. While many of them try to keep life consistent and the same, they do appreciate all of the help received from others. Grandparents got serious shouts of praise, and they deserve it.
AFTER A DEPLOYMENT
The internet has a lot of on-line support regarding reintegration. The majority of articles I read highlighted patience on the parts of the soldiers and their families. Raleigh Duttweiler published a compelling article, on military.com, title Here’s What You Need to Know About Reintegration It spoke directly to military spouses, while also being a beneficial read for the general public in terms of trying to understand the process of welcoming a soldier back home.
A loved one returning home safely may come with a range of emotions from joy to relief to even some trepidation. However, every single person I interviewed for this article spoke mainly of pride.
Despite having to miss birthdays, holidays, baseball games, the birth of a child, funerals, and other significant life events, all of my contacts mentioned having immense pride for their deployed loved one. It was also noted that military families appreciated when citizens showed public support for the troops. It is beneficial to hear stories about people and businesses trying to pay it forward to soldiers, military spouses, and their kids.
Adrian, who I mentioned earlier in this post, stated she has heard people say to her things like…”I don’t know how you do it; but the soldiers wouldn’t be able to do their jobs if they didn’t have a strong person at home to help raise the family.”
I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you to all of the military families out there that share their husbands, wives, children, and parents with us and go through the trials of deployment in order to keep us safe.
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