I’m a 23-year-old woman married to a soldier, and my husband just left for a 9-month deployment. I stay at home with our two-year-old son, and I’m wondering if you have any tips for how to get through his time away.
*I asked my former student, Bethany Kavanaugh, to answer this since she is a military spouse.*
First, let me say thank you to your husband for his service to our country, and thank you for supporting him on the home front. It’s a difficult situation to be in, and sometimes it can be incredibly overwhelming.
When your significant other deploys—regardless of how long he’s gone—your immediate reaction is to sit on the couch, wail loudly, eat Ben and Jerry’s, and watch horrible Jennifer Lopez romance movies (speaking from experience here). It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to feel upset. Don’t feel guilt for having these feelings; your husband—the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life—is now gone for an extended period of time. There’s a void, and it’s okay to be upset about that.
At some point, however, you’re going to have to put the Ben and Jerry’s down (Milk and Cookies is my favorite flavor) and carry on. I’m not going to feed you some nonsense about the fact that this is your time to learn how to be independent, because when my husband was gone, I still screamed at the top of my lungs when I saw a spider and tried to get someone else to kill it for me. My toddler wouldn’t do it for me, but that’s a different story. However, these are some methods I have put to use, and I hope that they will help you too.
Here’s my go-to list to make it through my husband’s deployments:
Get into a routine. Find a pattern that works for you and your son, and stick with it. I have three kids, and sometimes the only thing that gets me through the day is looking forward to their bedtime every night. I love my children, but I also love the peace and quiet that their bedtime brings. Having a routine will also make it much easier on your son; he is going to recognize that his dad is gone even though probably won’t understand it. Having a routine has always been important to me, and I can’t stress that enough.
Make a friend. I’ve never been one for FRG meetings; in fact, I tend to avoid them. However, I almost always find someone whose husband is also deployed, and we get together and do things to keep ourselves and our kiddos occupied. It’s so much easier to do our husbands’ deployments together! Still, keep in mind that your situations are different. Just because she gets to talk to her husband on a certain day doesn’t mean you will get to talk to yours. Your husbands will probably be doing different tasks, and their schedules may not be the same. Your husband will talk to you when he can. Trust me. Husbands will stand in line and wait HOURS just to get a five-minute phone call with their wives. He wants to hear your voice just as much as you want to hear his.
Get active. Take your son to the park to play. Take him on walks. Exercise is great for both of you, and it will help the time pass more quickly.
Get a hobby. Make sure that you do something for you—knitting, gardening, scrapbooking, or whatever you’re interested in. Just make sure that each day you devote time specifically for yourself. It will keep you sane. I play softball every year, and I have a babysitter who watches my kids so I can have some much needed time away from my little monsters…I mean, darlings.
Plan a vacation. One of the things I love to do is plan a trip for when my husband comes home. Most soldiers get 30 days of leave after redeployment, and our family always takes a trip. Even if it’s a trip back home to see family, we make a point to do it and have a great vacation. I map everything out because I’m a planner, and it keeps me occupied. Plus, planning a post-deployment vacation gives you something to look forward to and to be excited about.
Plan out care packages. My husband has told me that when soldiers get care packages, it’s like Christmas. My husband was in an area where running water and hot meals were few and far between, so he really looked forward to what I had to send. I always stuffed the flat rate boxes completely full of goodies. Some people like to plan out theme packages. I sent him a package every two weeks so that he always had something to look forward to, and I had fun buying everything and putting it all together. You can go online to USPS.com and have them ship a bunch of flat rate boxes straight to your house for free.
Chronicle your son’s growth. During one of his deployments, my husband didn’t have access to computers for Skype, and his phone calls were also rare. But, I know that he missed not being able to watch his kids grow, so I took pictures like a madwoman. I then got prints of them and kept them all in order in a photo album so that when he came home, he could flip through and see how our much our children grew during the year that he was gone.
If you need help, get help. Sometimes military spouses get overwhelmed with the Superwoman sticker that gets slapped on their chest when their spouse leaves. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Don’t think that you have to be perfect. My husband is gone right now, and I have days where I cry. I have days where I mentally kick him for having to leave. I have days where I consider buying a one-way ticket to anywhere but here and wonder if my neighbors will notice if I just leave the dogs and kids at their house and never come back. I have days where I feel so depressed that I can’t even bring myself to get off the couch, and I don’t even have Ben and Jerry’s to comfort me.
However, the most important thing is that while it’s okay to feel this way, it’s also important to get help if these feelings get out of hand. Please find a good therapist if you’re getting too overwhelmed or sad. It could be depression or anxiety, and I would much rather you get help for this than struggle on your own. You do not have to be stronger than you already are. It’s okay to get help.
Military OneSource (www.militaryonesource.mil/) offers free therapy with a referral. Simply call (800)342-9647 for a confidential referral and to receive a list of counselors in your area.
Count down the days. I had a chalkboard on which I wrote the number of days until my husband came home, and the kids and I updated it every morning. My sister-in-law made a HUGE paper chain that went around the entire house, and she let her daughter pull a link off every day. I know people who put marbles in one jar and move the marbles from a full jar (Days to Go) to an empty jar (Days Down). It’s especially helpful if you get your son involved because it makes it easier for him to have something tangible to see. Plus, when you’re down to the last 60 days or so, the days seem to go by much faster than in the beginning!
I hope that the next nine months go smoothly and quickly for you and your son. Deployments can be sad and lonely, but for how rough they can be, just know that welcome home ceremonies are twice as exciting. When you finally get to wrap your arms around and watch the smile on his face when he gets to hold his son again, you will forget all about the fact that he’s been gone for so long.
Good luck, and know that I’m rooting for you!