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.
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 you can nod your head in agreement.
Pre-departure. Your deployment survival depends heavily on your preparation. Your spouse is key to help you get yourself together before they leave. Establish a list of contact numbers, especially to people in the unit! I can't tell you how many spouses I know who do not know where their husband/wife works or what they do. That's part of your job as a military spouse... to know the key contacts in his organization. If he worked at Walmart would you know how to reach him? Your spouse's unit is ultimately your unit too so get to know them! Get a tour of your unit before they leave. Ask questions, find out who the commander is, the first sergeant and immediate supervisor. Shake hands and lay eyes on the people they serve with because you serve with them too. Troops never go into battle alone and neither should you.
1. Make a list of valuable contacts of people on and off base (neighbors, people at your church, friends, family).
2. If you don't know how, ask your spouse to show you basic repairs of things that could easily break or need replacing. Or, if you don't want to know how, that's where that list of contacts will come in handy.
3. Have a contact list of repair people: appliances, plumber, car service, etc.
4. Engage with babysitters. If you don't go out much now, trust the wisdom of other spouses who know, you will definitely want to when he's gone. Meet new sitters, connect with old ones and do a trial run to make sure you have great quality care when deployment starts.
5. If you haven't done so yet, go around the base with your husband or wife and visit key facilities where you can get easy and helpful information for deployments/separations. For instance, at my base, during a deployment a spouse is entitled to free or reduced oil changes, free or reduced hourly child care, parent's night out events, etc. But if you don't know where the help is, you won't get to experience all these great services.
6. Help your kids by preparing them frequently. Emotional meltdowns are common and can happen at any age and any stage of your kid's development. For smaller children, help them by cluing them in to what's going to happen in the coming months. Maybe even let them help Mommy pack or put a special note written (or scribbled or colored) by them. Remind them of the important work their Mommy does (think "Superhero" here) and why she needs to go away to accomplish this great responsibility. This will work even if the separation is basic military training (BMT), temporary duty (TDY) or temporary additional duty (TAD).
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.
7. 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 two months for a letter! We Skyped with my husband, posted online videos, made a "countdown calendar" with stickers, and even got a Flat Daddy made. Flat Daddy was always a huge hit.
8. Schedule, schedule, schedule. The quicker you're on one the better for you and them.
9. Cereal for dinner. One very wise spouse told me this when she learned I was still cooking dinner for four. Life got a lot more simple when I finally got out of that habit and on some nights served up some Cheerios.
10. Engage your support... uh, bra. At NAMMAS.org we call it the support bra, the people who hold you up (and together) when life is tough. Deployment is difficult and they know it. The right support bra will encourage you and be a bright spot for you. Make sure the people you select supports the military, supports the work you do as a military spouse and knows when to be quiet and let you vent.
11. 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. Here are some tips for a great reunion.
12. 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 re-establish a new routine, especially if you have kids.
13. Get smaller kids ready with a "fun things to do with Mommy" list. If you have toddlers, saying, "Mommy is coming home in two weeks!" probably won't do since most toddlers don't know two 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 five 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.
14. 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 she's actually home.
15. 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 spouse! Do you have a basement? Use it! A garage? Make it work! A babysitter? Even better! Get creative... I'm sure you can think of something. :O)
Now it's your turn! Have you deployed or have held it down at home during one? What suggestions can you give a first-timer just going through it? Leave your comment below! And if you want to continue the discussion, build your own support bra and connect with other military moms and spouses, join our conversation at www.nammas.org!