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A Military Family's Guide to Embracing Deployment
Military families face numerous challenges on a daily basis. However, one of the toughest experiences for a service member and his or her loved ones is deployment. The difficulties that surround the absence of a husband, wife and parent can begin during the pre-deployment phase and last long after a loved one returns home.
With so many hurdles to cross, it is important for families to ready their hearts and minds for what to expect. Asking questions and having open conversations can help children cope with the absence of a parent. Simple items like pictures and blankets can comfort little ones when they are missing a mom or dad.
Spouses face their own battles on the home front during deployment. Anticipating anger and grief can help a spouse prepare for the emotional rollercoasters ahead. Staying busy with hobbies and activities can also help take the mind off the obvious void of a husband or wife. No matter the challenges a family faces during and after deployment, preparation and support are keys to coping.
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A Military Family's Guide to Embracing Deployment
For many military families, an overseas deployment is one of the toughest challenges they'll ever endure.
American service members sacrifice a great deal to keep our nation safe. But those left behind can face myriad financial and emotional hurdles. Deployments can put some of the strongest bonds and family relationships to the test.
There's no standard or cookie-cutter approach to dealing with deployment. Each spouse and family comes to grips with their own anxieties, fears and needs.
But some recurring themes, questions and concerns tend to crop up, especially among military families facing their deployment. What do you do? How do you prepare yourself?
This is a guide intended to give you the information military spouses wish they would have known. It features advice, insight and comments from spouses and family members who have endured the process.
The goal is to help you prepare as best as possible for the sacrifice that awaits.
\"I thought I knew what I was getting into from the beginning. I knew he wanted to join the military, but he joined the Guard and plans on going active. He just got out of basic training at the end of May, and at the beginning of June we found out he deploys in January. Now I have no clue what to expect.\" - Kayla Karlstrand-Mitchell
Many military families have said the pre-deployment stage entails the most difficulties. Emotions run high, fear sets in, and if you're not organized in regards to paperwork, finances and home preparation, you might be in trouble.
Knowing what to expect beyond the to-do list can help you attack the tasks at hand and reduce your emotional stress. Here are some things to expect after a deployment is assigned.
What to Expect Emotionally:
• Tension: When there are multiple obligations with deadlines to deal with on top of your spouse's constant absence for preparation and training sessions, tensions can run high and resentment may surface. Arguments between spouses and tantrums from children are common.
Try keeping a list of all the to-do's and organize the tasks around your schedules. Often, the branch your spouse serves will have a preparation packet to work through.
Combat Zone Deployments - 2010 Total Active Duty Deployed: 369,000+
• Iraq 45,600
• Afghanistan 103,700
• Libya 8,500
Also, try to set your mind to being flexible and forgiving. With tensions running high, things may be said in haste, and the last thing you and your spouse need before departure is conflict. Schedule specific days for romantic dates or set times to discuss emotions, fears and other planning details.
•Withdrawal: When fear, confusion and anger set in, spouses may find themselves pulling away from each other as a defense mechanism. Knowing this is a typical response, you can allow yourself and your spouse some grace when fears arise. Patience and open communication are going to be your best tools to overcome the challenges.
•Jealousy/Resentment: While your spouse is away training, they are forming bonds with their unit. They may come home excited about those bonds and upcoming missions together. Feelings of jealousy may arise and a spouse may feel as though their service member wants to leave.
Focus on the fact that these fellow service members will be the ones protecting your spouse when deployed. Strong bonds need to form and your spouse's excitement will help with his or her own need to cope.
Ways to Bond Before Your Spouse Leaves:
•Simple Getaway: Turn off the cell phones, leave the computers behind, drop the kids off with a sitter and head out for a weekend vacation. Even if you stay in town at a hotel, get some quality intimate time with your spouse. Try to let go of all the anxieties surrounding deployment and live in the moment.
•Fun Photo Shoot: Make some memories together. Explore your favorite parts of your town and take fun, silly pictures to brighten your days when you spouse is gone.
•Write Letters to Each Other: Write letters to each other reminding how much you love each other and ways to stay strong through the tour. That way, when times get rough, you each can pull out the letter to read and recall your strong connections.
•Plan Events for the Return: Planning events for when your spouse returns can help you remember that this deployment is not permanent and that your spouse will return. It can also keep you two excited about the return as well as have you bond over what each other thinks is fun. Just remember to keep plans tentative because military plans can change.
\"I wish I knew how hard it would be for our little girl not see her daddy as much, but other than that I love it. It doesn't bother me what people say or that I'm not around my family 24/7. The life of being an Army spouse is what it is when he puts his name on the paper.\"
- Katelyn Putnam
What Children Need to Know
Children may not understand all of the details surrounding a war or a combat zone, but they may not need to. They need to know their needs are met and will stay met even with a parent's absence.
•Try to make it clear that you love your child no matter what. The parent at home may be sad at times, but the child needs to know that it's normal and not their fault. Parents love their children in happy times and sad times.
•A child needs to feel secure and supported. If mom is gone for a while, dad needs to be there. A child will develop independence and self- confidence knowing they have support if they stumble.
•Involving your child in an organization such as a sport or club will help them feel a sense of camaraderie and belonging with others. They may get lonely with a parent gone, so any social reinforcement will be beneficial.
•Your child can embrace the deployment by having expectations to meet. Give them some tasks to do while mom or dad is away and they can gain pride and a sense of achievement.
•Try to keep calm and honest with your reactions and explanations of the deployment. Children have intuition as to what their parents are feeling, so being honest will create a sense of trust. Obviously, some details may be beyond their under- standing, but you can be open with basic information.
\"It's hard to get used to but I'm almost two months in and I couldn't be more proud of my soldier. It's hard to be apart for long periods of time, but it makes our relationship stronger.\"
- Tiffany White
Have Kids? (2010)
5.3% are single with children
38% are married with children
33.2% are married with children
8% are single with children
58.8% have no children
Of those Deployed (*2008):
•42% have children
•30,000 children have experience parent injury or death during deployment.
Prepare a Discussion with Your Spouse
Before you communicate with your child, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page as to what and how much will be discussed.
•Make a bulleted list of affected routines and activities sur- rounding deployment and discuss one at a time
•Decide how in-depth a discussion should be considering your child's age and understanding
•If there are disagreements, take a break and come back to it
•If no solution can be found, seek counsel from other military families who've been through deployment before
•Discuss what you two hope to accomplish after talking with your child and make sure your plan leads to the goal.
•Brainstorm responsibilities for your child to have once the parent is deployed.
•Prepare each other for questions your child may ask.
Prepare Your Child
Studies show that children with deployed parents experience more stress, depression and behavioral problems than those with parents at home. Prior to deployment, make sure your kids understand what deployment entails and formulate ways to help them cope during deployment.
Here are a few ideas and potential resources:
•Operation Military Kids (OMK) helps bring deployment- affected kids together in social, recreational and educational events. Programs are offered in multiple locations across the United States.
•Mock Deployments like that of the Fort Hood Army Community Service allow kids to simulate the deployment process. They receive physical exams, platoon assignments and field equipment to explore.
•Recordable Bedtime Story: Thank goodness for technology and stores like Hallmark for providing bedtime books that can record the deployed soldier's voice. Now kids can go to bed to their favorite stories and maintain an intimate connection with both parents.
•Recordable Stuffed Animal: A lot of children choose to sleep with a stuffed animal for comfort. Build-A-Bear and Cuddle- Tunes are two places to create an animal with a recorded message. Deployed parents can leave a recorded nighttime prayer or message for their child.
•Photo Blanket: A blanket is another common comfort object for children. Sit down with your spouse and child, choose photos of some favorite memories and sew them into a quilt. If you're unable to make your own, there are plenty of sites like Portrait Quilts that can manufacture one for you. A parent's T-shirt can also be sewn into the blanket for extra personalization.
•Bedtime Song CD: Deployed parents can sing their child to sleep every night with a CD recording of their voice. The child and parent can even sing favorite bedtime songs together in the recording, allowing for a memory of the parent's voice, as well at the interactions they had be- fore deployment.
•Photo Book and Story: Deployed veterans can print photos of themselves and the child into a booklet and write a personal story or message for the child to look at everyday. It's another way to remind the child of good memories and the love the deployed parent feels for the child.
\"Well ladies this is my tenth deployment, so please if you need anything send me a message! I will try and help if I can. We are all in this together. That's why we are called 'A MILITARY FAMILY'\" - Laura Baie
\"You know what I'm tired of hearing is be positive, chin up, I'm sorry, I'm sure its hard don't be so negative. My heart hurts almost daily. I do try to be positive and chin up but I can't do it every single day. I know my husband is sacrificing a lot for us and I am so damn proud of him, but I miss him everyday and I hope time flies faster. Just one day I wish someone out- side the Army family would really truly understand how bad it hurts.\" - Heather Nicole Fincher
Now that you and your spouse have a plan, it's time to put all that you've prepared into practice. While you're separated from your spouse, you may experience a lot of confusing emotions and circumstances.
We asked some military spouses a single question: What do you wish you would have known?
The Process of Grieving
Ashley mentioned that a military spouse has to grieve a loss. Grieving is not as simple as accepting your spouse has left and moving on with your life. It's a process with a few stages to work through.
Things to Know:
•Ignoring pain will not make it go away, but being active and addressing it can help.
•It's normal to have confusing emotions surrounding a deploy- ment. Feeling emotions do not make you weak. Cry, scream, laugh or whatever you need to do. Feel what you feel.
•Grieving can trigger multiple emotional responses. It's OK if you don't cry.
The 5 Stages of Grief…
Once you realize what you're facing, you can progress to the other stages of grief.
The Anger Stage: Why does this have to happen?
Anger arises from conflicting attitudes or expectations. We want someone or something to blame. We want to justify our position and our feelings surrounding the \"wrong.\"
Unfortunately, it can go beyond a mental fixation and affect your physical health. Anger can make you tense, shallow your breathing and give you a constant feeling of pressure. The only way to deal with its effects is to feel them out.
Here are some ways you can do just that:
•Talk about it. Don't just express anger; talk to a trusted friend, family member or therapist about the entire deployment situation and your perceptions.
•Do an aggressive physical activity such as bike riding, boxing or running. Go hard and release some of the tension.
•Breathe long and deep. It may seem ridiculous and frustrating to sit and breathe when so much is running through your mind and body. Taking the time to breathe, however, is a way to calm down. Be patient and breathe until you feel your thoughts become more succinct and rational.
•Step back and reason your way out of anger. Break what caused the anger into segments and address each with a more objective, positive spin. Realize your anger will not change the deployment.
\"How to deal with post deployment problems: the sleepless nights, the night sweats and the anger at first. Being a military wife isn't easy and the things we're faced with back home can be hard, don't get me wrong I wouldn't change it for the world but knowing how to handle post deployment problems would have made things easier.\" - Kary Whittington
\"I wish I knew how hard the deployments are especially with only hearing from my husband maybe three or four times a month. When you try to talk to someone about it, all they say is 'You chose this life so you need to get over it and accept it because you knew what you were getting yourself into.' I hate when people say that to me because you know what? I can't help who I fell in love with, and because I love him, I'm going to stand by him and support him!\" - Natasha Anne Rathbun
The Bargaining Stage: I will do anything if only...
You can't perform enough good deeds to convince the military to keep your spouse home. Bargaining is a part of the grieving process. It's normal, but it's still a stage to get through.
Here are some steps to traverse the process:
•Recognize the bargain you are trying to make.
•Ask yourself if bargains have worked before.
•Admit that you can't change your spouse's deployment, no matter how hard you try.
•Think of ways you can take care of yourself and cope with reality.
•Supplement your bargaining attempts with self-care.
\"A few months ago I wasn't sure I was ready for him to come home. They'd just announced the extensions and I was in a pit of depression. We were both in our deployment \"groove.\" Having your spouse come home in the middle of that groove can seriously throw things out of whack; it can take months to get the ship righted again. But the closer it got, the more excited I became.\" - Nikki Lomax-Larson
The Depression Stage:
I'm down and don't feel like doing anything. The military is rooted in a sense of strength, meaning any perceived weakness can sometimes be stigmatized, including depression. Military spouses face the same stigmas, but battling depression alone is near impossible and it's a grief stage to address like the others.
When your spouse is in the midst of a deployment, the loneliness you feel can seem unbearable, making you question how you can make it through the next month, week, day and even hour. The stress can make it a struggle to get out of bed some days.
Recognize you're not alone. Spouses everywhere are fighting deployment depression by finding ways to cope with the situation.
Here are some successful coping methods used by those who've been through it:
A weekly activity can give you something constant to look forward to as well as keep you moving and active. Some deployment depression can lead to and be elevated by weight gain, so joining a regular class at a gym or having a walk with a workout buddy can act as a double defense.
Reach Out to Support Groups
There are plenty of groups dedicated to deployment, depression and the military life in general. A blog on Military Money lists some great mental health resources for spouses to turn to including online sources. If you can't get to a support group in your neighborhood, the online message boards are a great way to connect with people going through the same thing.
Be sure to remain connected with friends or meet new ones by picking up a hobby or joining a club. They may not know exactly what you're feeling, but a weekly coffee or lunch date is a way to get out of your own head and have some fun. Some spouses experience guilt when it comes to having fun, but consider it a way to take care of yourself and be in tip top shape for your spouse's return.
Missing your spouse gets harder when you realize you can't always share the day-to-day life with them. Journaling is a way to release those urges and record details for when you do get the chance to speak.
You can write out your feelings, your memories, fears or whatever else you need to soothe your mind.
Another idea is to keep a negative thought log. Writing releases them from your mind and can help you can find ways to counter the thoughts.
The mind can be your biggest enemy when it comes to fighting depression, so focusing on someone or something else can be a great ally. Volunteer somewhere or create a project for yourself, like redecorating the house. It could also be a great opportunity to take on some higher education. The military has great benefits for college and it may be a great way to fill your time.
\"He had spent months…on end without any time to himself. He retreated to the wood shop on base and built a table and a wine rack. I was deeply hurt. It took me a while to realize that it was not about me, and besides that, the wine rack was lovely. He just needed to ease back in to the relationship\" - Lee Anne on SpouseBuzz
\"I was nervous, restless, had a hard time sleeping and could hardly eat... And then we had the dreaded delays. Lots of delays. Lots of questions. Some major heartbreak when we knew that he wouldn't come home on the scheduled day.\" - Jill, from A Troop's Girl
\"I knew I was going to struggle with my own anxiety and depression, but what's even worse is knowing that he feels these things too, and with him being gone I constantly worry about his not only physical health but mental health as well. I never knew how painful it would be when he gets depressed. He is the love of my life and when he is in pain it kills me to my core\" - Leah Berney
•Photography: Taking photos can be quite a relaxing hobby. Not only that, but for spouses with kids, it's an easy one to pick up and put down throughout the day. There aren't craft supplies to pull out or messes to clean up, and thanks to the Internet, interesting photos are always in demand. Sites like Shuttershock allow you to upload photos and each time a user downloads your image, you get paid $0.25.
•Furniture Restoration: If you're the type who has a good eye for design and enjoys a treasure hunt, furniture restoration is a great hobby to check out. Thrift stores and garage sales can provide cheap furniture like stools, tables and other goodies that you can buy and makeover. A bit of paint and sandpaper can create antique finishes while image transfers and color can create a modern marvel. Public libraries have D-I-Y books you can check out while the Internet can provide multiple how-to techniques to try out.
Take Care of Your Health
Eating right, aiming for eight hours of sleep, exposing yourself to sunlight and being sure to relax can help keep your health and mood in tact. Depression will use anything to spiral down, so taking little steps like eating a nutritional meal or taking a yoga class can go a long way.
Ways to Keep Busy
In regards to \"escaping your mind,\" many military spouses have found comfort in hobbies. Here are some to consider exploring:
•Resin Jewelry Making: This hobby may sound complicated, but there are plenty of sites like Inspiri-Art-and-Craft.com that offer step-by-step guides to making resin jewelry. You'll have to invest in a few supplies like a heat gun and jewelry molds, but both can easily be found at craft stores.
•Freelance Writing: Get that itch to write every now and then? There are many opportunities to be a freelance writer for articles, web content, blogs and books. FreelanceWritingGigs.com is one of many sites out there that lists writing opportu- nities for people at home. The beauty of it is you can do it in your spare time and determine your own deadlines.
•Scrapbook Making: Being around so many military families gives you a special market for sentimental items. You can make and sell scrapbooks for other military families, or you can hold your own workshops to teach others.
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