This is a guest post from Army wife Sonia Garza of Spouse Connexion. I frequently invite military spouses to be guests here and share their deployment accounts, since we all have unique experiences. Some families only go through one deployment within a year, but Sonia shares her tips on the high op-tempo lifestyle when the deployments are continuous.
Hi, I’m Sonia Garza, and I’m a survivor of a frequently deployed soldier. As a wife of a green beret, I know how difficult it is to get used to frequent deployments. Truth be told, I never knew what Army life would look like…I mean, who does? But I knew my role as his wife, and friend, was to support his dreams, so here I am….left alone, yet again, on deployment number 6….or 7…I lost count.
There’s nothing special about our situation though. Most of us military spouses know what it’s like to live through a deployment. Deployment… it’s my most feared word, and I personally refer to it as our “D-day” when he leaves. My husband will teeter around the next upcoming deployment but I can always tell by the awkward silence what’s to come.
It’s no lie that deployment can put a definite strain on a family and a marriage and having 6 months at “home” (sort of, because we all know they still do trainings, schools, and pre-deployment trainings), and 6 months gone, has proved to be very difficult for all of us.
And now that my children are getting older, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do the deployment thing without knowing how it will affect them, and it seems I’m not alone in my worries. Blue Star Families published their top concerns for military families and that was one of them. As an adult I feel like I have the ability to regulate my emotions in healthy ways, as best I can. I mean, wine is therapy, right? But it has been the toils on my children that have my heart aching most days.
The thing about deployments is that every deployment looks different depending on our stage in life. We have done a 6 month to a 15 month deployment, and while it never ever gets easier, I do believe that I have become smarter, more creative and more resourceful in my approach to each one.
So, here are a couple ways I have found to get us through these frequent deployments:
Keep the kids engaged
Before my husband leaves for deployments I get a spark of creativity to ease the deployment onto the children. I have done the deployment wall, fully decorated with a map of “where daddy is in the world.” It has since collected dust so this year I wanted to do something different to engage the kids.
With an idea, I solicited for two shoeboxes and a glass jar from neighbors on the community Buy Nothing page. If you haven’t heard of this group, look them up. They have saved me many times during deployments. With two shoeboxes in hand I wrapped and traced my husband’s hand with my child’s hand on the top and left it for the kids to decorate and color. This became their “daddy boxes.” Inside, my husband included a couple of trinkets of his for the kids and now that he’s gone, he sends home postcards to each child and after I read it to them, they place it lovingly in their boxes. I also made family bracelets so they can wear something that daddy is wearing too.
Along with the boxes, this year my husband and I worked on a deployment board game with 180 spaces to the end. Yes, it was a daunting site to see 180 empty spaces, filled with the days gone that hubby would not be around, but because we made it look like a Super Mario game, our kids were thrilled to play. My husband was Mario, so naturally our son picked Luigi, Mario’s main sidekick. My daughter picked Princess Peach and I became Yoshi. Every morning the kids come down and move the stickers one more space and at the end of each 7-day block, I give them a special treat, usually a hershey kiss from the glass daddy jar.
Find any activity to keep the children focused on the positive. Included in the children’s boxes are monthly envelopes they can open at the beginning of the month. Inside are tickets to an activity or experience, like movie tickets and frozen yogurt coupons.
Tip: I am planning to make a similar box for myself with monthly goodies so I have something to look forward to. Who says you can’t have a little fun too?
Our Best Communication Strategy
After so many deployments and TDY’s it’s become easy to just put my nose to the grind and focus on me and the kids. It’s my way of coping, out of sight, out of mind. But solo parenting is made even harder if you haven’t communicated how you want the children disciplined in his absence. Get on the same page! Talk about your expectations before he leaves.
My kiddos are quick to mention daddy and want to talk with him and it has forced us to figure out how to communicate better. This deployment we are relishing in the fact that technology is on our side, even if the time zones make it difficult. My husband and I established a time for him to FaceTime each week so he can see the kids and so we can talk about our week with each other.
Tip: When hubby is deployed to an area that makes it hard for him to communicate back home, find creative ways to keep in touch. Send him a deployment journal (or composition book). Fill it with pictures and quotes. Then, start your letter to him inside. Kids can decorate the page or write a note of their own. Mail it to your hubby and have him write his note inside, then send it back to you. You can keep filling out and trading the journal during the deployment.
There are days when things get tough and the children simply miss their daddy, and I miss my husband. That’s when I come to them with my full heart and give them the biggest hug. I hug them so I can receive a little hug in return, and hopefully our embrace will carry us through another day of deployment.
I don’t know for sure how many deployments we have ahead, but with 7 years to go before retirement, I’m betting another few. So from one spouse to another, keep your chin up and hang in there. You’re not alone. I’m here for you. And although I may seem to have this life figured out, there are days when I’m not surviving the deployment at all. So when in need, I hope you’re there for me too.