Deployments are hard. Really hard. Hard enough when you have to manage your own emotions, but so much harder when you have little ones who have all the same emotions but have no idea how to deal with them. For an adult, six, nine, eighteen months can be broken down into chunks. “If I can make it to Mother’s day, I’ll be a quarter of the way through and the summer will fly by.” Kids just see mom or dad gone day after day with no end in sight.
My husband deployed 5 times…once before we were married, once while I was pregnant with my first and three times with kids of varying ages. His 4th deployment was for 15 months (the girls were 8, 6, and 3) so I had to find creative ways to count down until Daddy returned. We made an insanely long paper chain that literally draped the entire house. We had a little tree that we added little yellow ribbons to every day he was gone. We had a bowl full of hershey kisses, one for each day he was gone, so the girls could get a “kiss” from Daddy each day. (Admittedly, there were nights that mommy got lots of kisses from daddy and had to restock the bowl!) And finally, one of our favorites that we still have on our mantle, I made a deployment calendar where the girls turned the number each day, counting down the number of sleeps left until Daddy came home. Something about counting down made it feel like the time was whittling away.
A friend of mine is facing deployment with her little ones and I made her a deployment countdown for her two little ones, hoping it will help them pass the time as well. Other things you can do to help a family during a deployment? Stop by with a dinner they can either heat or pop in the fridge. Don’t say, “Let me know if you need anything.” I can almost guarantee they never will because military families are built to stay strong and asking for help is a hard thing to do. Offer to take the kids for the afternoon. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done in a few hours kid-free! Never say, “I know how you feel. My husband travels for work and I don’t know what to do with myself the week he is gone!” Hire a sitter and take your friend out for dinner. First thing that goes away is adult time because it’s a full time job and then some, keeping the kids on an even keel.
Choose your words wisely. Never say things like, “You must be so worried he won’t come home,” “You must be so worried/lonely/tired/stressed.” Of course they are worried/lonely/tired/stressed, but part of dealing with a deployment is pushing all of that to the back burner and focusing on keeping everyone moving forward day after day. And an important note, especially to those who have loved ones deployed together, never say “I heard there was an accident.” There have been instances that the spouse had not heard about the accident and it was in fact their loved one that was hurt.
Finally, do lend an ear and ask how it’s going, how their loved one is and ask to see pictures from deployment. It’s what they are thinking about every second of every day, yet they don’t want to burden anyone with talking about it. This keeps their loved one with them. More often than not, with little ones, it’s rare to have an adult conversation during the day!
To all those facing deployment, my heart goes out to you. May the days pass quickly for you and your family, and may your loved one return safe and sound. A most heartfelt THANK YOU for being the glue that holds everything together and for YOUR sacrifice while your loved one serves our great country.
(Photo credit: Catsh Photography ©2009)