Friday, October 11, 2013

Five Ways to Help a Family in Deployment

Every time I talk to friends, family and coworkers, I get questions about deployment. They aren’t always overt questions—it’s rare that anyone starts a conversation with So…your husband is in a war zone. How’s that going? But I live in a civilian community, and for many of the people around me, my family is their first taste of military life up close. People want to know how we are doing, how he’s doing. Sometimes, they even want to help. You may well be one of those people looking for a way to help the military families in your life. If so, this post is for you.

I don’t pretend to know what every family needs while their soldier is away—my friend Josie says deployments are like snowflakes, no two being the same.  But I think as a general matter, you can’t go wrong doing these things.

Counterbalance Murphy’s Law. That whole “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” adage is all too true during deployment. The car starts acting up; the lawn revolts; the perfectly functioning appliances suddenly go on the fritz. And if other military spouses are anything like me, they tend not to want to bother other people with these issues. But if you happen to be handy around the house, you could really be a lifesaver. Just simple things, like "Hey, I'm putting up our Christmas lights this weekend. Need help with yours?" Or "Winter is right around the corner, need help getting your pipes ready?" Or maybe even just "I have a free Saturday morning. Have anything that needs fixing?" Life. Saver.

Don't be afraid to ask. Talking about where our husbands/wives are, or what they are doing, or what they might need, does not bother us. We talk openly about this with our children to help them understand, and sometimes your questions are an outlet for Mom/Dad, and for the kids. But if you are going to ask, please be more specific than "how are things?" That's a big question and hard to answer on the spot with anything more than polite platitudes. (The "so...your husband is in a war zone" question is actually better than that; at least it's kind of funny). 

If you want to know what our soldier was up to the last time we talked to him/her, or what he/she is eating, or how he/she likes his/her living quarters, go ahead and ask those questions. Talking about concrete things can sometimes help keep the mind from wandering in to the abstract territory where the "what if's" live.

Give Mom/Dad a break. When your spouse is deployed, the easiest things can become really hard to do, and often they fall by the wayside. And by the way, this goes for working and non-working military spouses. An hour away from work and home obligations becomes a precious commodity because, um, where will the kid(s) go for that hour? Consider something like this: "How about I take the kids to the park so you can get a pedicure/go to the dentist/go grocery shopping in peace?" Just an hour makes a world of difference.

Remember holidays are hard. Whether it's a birthday or anniversary, or even one of the biggies like Christmas, being apart from their soldier is hard on a military family. It's heart-wrenching to watch your children experience something you know your servicemember missed, and can never get back. And we never wish our loved one were here more than when we should be making memories with them. So keep that in mind before asking questions about holiday plans (and please don't take it personally if such questions make us flustery, fidgety, or otherwise uncomfortable; it's not you, it's the holidays). 

Consider inviting the family to do something diverting (the zoo, a holiday festival, dinner and a play date, making holiday treats together) to get their minds off of the missing piece in their puzzle. Especially around the holidays, a time that is busy for everyone, taking time out of your own schedule is recognized and appreciated.

Remember Mom/Dad is a person, too. This one is critical. I think people generally understand that deployment is hard, stressful, a drain, and a challenge to manage. What people may not realize is that deployment is L-O-N-E-L-Y. For example, I have a standing once-a-week lunch date with a girlfriend who works nearby, and sometimes that hour with her is the only adult, non-work conversation I get all week. ALL WEEK.

On top of that, your best friend, the person you talk to and spend time with most, is thousands of miles away, not very accessible to you, and certainly not able to hug you/share a margarita with you on a tough day, or belly laugh with you on a great day. It is very important to remember that military spouses are people in need of quality time with other people. Adult people. Who want to spend time with them and let them know they are not alone.

Follow Blue Star Families on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ and build a support network so you can keep your family and personal community strong throughout the duration of the entire deployment life cycle.

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  1. So do you have Thanksgiving plans??? We do a big meal in our garage and would love for you and Howie to join us. We always eat close to noon and play in the yard. That gives you the rest of the evening to join some one else or take in a football game! Think about it! also Ben is very handy and would be more than willing to fix a pesky problem...all you have to do is let me or him know! Thanks for giving me ideas of how to help you! We pray often for you guys and J. thankful for our freedom and for your sacrifice...Hugs! Kerri

  2. Whether near or far I love you. I am always on the other end of the telly to talk to. And, of course, I am just sad that the standing lunch date is not with me...