Preparing for a military deployment can be hectic and stressful. Prolonged separation from friends and family isn't easy to handle, particularly if the deployment might bring the soldier into harm's way. Despite the changes your family is going to be experiencing, there are ways that will help you get prepared for the employment. These coping mechanisms will give you a place to express your feelings in a healthy way, and prepare you for the changes that are soon to come.
Understand what changes are coming.
Experienced military wives often say that the six months before deployment is the worst phase. For example, many families will make an increased effort to enjoy the service member before they leave, but those efforts can easily be squashed by unpredictable work-up schedules. While it's not the fault of the service member that soccer games or birthday parties are missed, it can still hurt nonetheless. As deployment looms closer, some families find that they argue more. Preparing for changes like these sooner rather than later will help you from going crazy in a very-unpredictable time. Talk to other military families about what changes they went through and what they learned from them. This way, you won’t make the same mistakes they did.
Be ready to ask your child's hard questions.
Depending on the age of your children, they might be confused about what exactly is going on. They are likely to ask a lot of hard questions that you need to be prepared to answer. Think about the best ways to explain military deployment to your own children by factoring in their personalities and how they respond to surprises. Also talk to other parents who have deployed to get a sense of questions kids ask, how to respond and how much to share. Consider also alerting your children’s schools, teachers and coaches about your upcoming deployment, so they have insight into the changes facing your family. This way if the children reach out to other trusted adults besides you, the adult knows what is going on.
Check your finances.
On top of the emotional concerns, a service member and their family must deal with are financial needs of deployment. While deployed, military personnel are still responsible for financial commitments back home which can include credit card debt to mortgages. Before your spouse gets deployed, create a budget to prepare your finances for success. Make sure the parent staying home has access to all the accounts and can stick to a payment schedule. The bank you work with might also have active-duty policies in place that can help set you up for success.
Prepare for emotional stress.
Partners of those deployed report higher levels of anxiety and stress, and just learning of a spouse's deployment can mean emotional chaos. One study of 130 US military spouses took a close look at stress and found that spouses of deployed servicemen had markedly higher stress scores than spouses of non-deployed service members. Spouses also become at an increased risk for substance abuse, such as increases in binge drinking. Self-care gets thrown out the window as well because the spouse at home is focused on taking care of the family. With the help of a good support system, you can put safeguards in place to avoid falling into these emotional pitfalls.
Furthermore, children are at a higher risk of depression and other psychosocial issues. Toddlers of deployed parents can experience confusion and separation anxiety. Older children with a deployed parent show higher incidents of lashing out, sadness, worry, and depression, so it's important to take time to check-in with them as well. Give them tools they can use to express their anger in a healthy way and encourage family togetherness during this time. Consider even going to a family psychologist before, after, and during the deployment so that they can teach everyone how to get through it with grace.
Keep a steady and fun routine.
It’s important to keep a routine for both yourself and your children. Having something to look forward to every day, even the mundane tasks of life, can be comforting and help pass the time during deployment. Keep bedtimes, chores, and discipline the same if possible. Find a fun way to countdown the deployment. Some families have jars of candy, others create an elaborately decorated calendar. Whichever mechanism you use, counting down is a tangible trick that brings you one day closer to homecoming.
Set out communication expectations.
There is a chance your service member can talk to the family every day, but there is also the possibility they might not be able to at all. Layout communication expectations before your service member deploys so that there is no confusion. There’s nothing worse than a spouse assuming communication will be constant throughout the deployment, when the servicemember may not be in a position to call more than once a week. Make it a conversation your children are included in so they can expect how often they will get to communicate as well. When you or your kids feel lonely during the deployment, consider writing letters or creating gift boxes to send.
Offer to help a military family.
If you are not in a military family but are close to one, you may want to offer support but are unsure of how to do so. While you don't want to overstep your boundaries, most families need your support now more than ever and might have a hard time asking for it. There are some different ways you can offer help to make their transition to having both parents home to one a bit easier.
First, give the spouse a break. Offer to babysit for a few hours so they can go to the grocery store, get some work done around the house, or just have some time to themselves. Pick the kids up from school or offer to take them to soccer practice. Most military families don’t have the luxury of having their extended family close, so childcare options are limited. Having someone they can trust offer to help out with their kids is a big deal.
In addition, consider bringing by a meal. This is one less meal that the spouse has to think about or prepare. It can free up some time in their day and help them avoid ordering pizza for the fourth time in a week. Offer to help with house, car, or other basic maintenance. Consider mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, or changing the oil in the car. With their military member gone, all of those small maintenance items are left up to them and they might not have the tools or knowledge to do it. It is a huge relief to have someone step in and take care of it.
Check-in often and ask how the family is doing. Allow them to share as much or as little as they would like. Deployments are lonely, so knowing they have someone they can talk to and share with helps to combat feelings of isolation can help. This will also give you great insight into other ways the family could use some help or support. Many spouses won’t come out and ask for help. If you notice a need, speak up and offer to help. Often a blanket “let me know if you need help” will go unused. Try offering to do something specific and you'll see tangible ways you can give support.
Getting through a spouse's deployment is not easy, but it's not something you have to do alone. There are many resources available for families that can help with everything from childcare to emotional support. Once you have these support structures in place, you will feel more at ease and ready for the change.