By Tanya M. Nowak, M.A., LMHC (Army spouse),Family Resiliency Trainer, FOCUS JBLM
My spouse just broke the news that he will be deploying, yet again! First, my heart drops and then, tons of thoughts start racing through my mind. Thoughts like: “Will he be safe? Will he be able to call and write, and if so, how often or regularly? How will we tell the kids? How will they react? How will they handle it this time?” I remember the last deployment and try to think back to how I dealt with the separation then. I know deep down in my heart that I can get through it, since I have been through this before. But what if this time it is different? The place he is deploying to is not the same, it might be more dangerous. How will I hold it together for my children? Not only will he be leaving during the summer, but he won’t be there for the new school year either. The kids will be so sad not having their Dad here. Dad won’t be able to go on the family vacation or drop them off on their first day of school. My mind is tempted to go farther down that road but I stop myself and take three deep breaths because I have to hold everything together for my kids, the other spouses, and myself. After the initial shock wears off, I go into preparation mode. First step is to get the “honey-do” list written, so all the things that have to get done can be completed before his departure. Some of things on that list might be getting a new lawn mower, making sure you have enough salt for the water softener, obtaining power of attorneys and getting a contact phone number for the rear command or making sure the cars have updated registrations and decals. The goal is to have fewer things to worry about while he is gone. Preparing or “getting my ducks in a row” helps me reach this goal. When I engage in proactive planning, this helps calm my nerves somewhat. Talking with my spouse about how things might be different when he is gone helps me feel better. Going over the hard questions (the “what ifs”) and getting a plan in place helps as well. Once I get things moving at home, I start really connecting with friends and neighbors, letting them know that my husband will be deploying. It is amazing how supportive they all are. I also become more involved with the Family Readiness Group because I know it can be helpful to support others that haven’t been through a deployment and it keeps me connected to other spouses going through the same deployment as my family. Knowing you are not alone is a tremendous relief! I also start planning trips with the kids to see family, so we have some distractions during the summer and the holidays. Making plans for the coming months helps break up the year into more manageable pieces. Family and friends will be visiting throughout the year, which will be nice. I get the kids enrolled in activities so they can have fun and stay busy, which in turn keeps me busy during the deployment. We will make a family calendar together with the kids to enter our schedules and upcoming events, which will help with establishing our new routines. This is also a place I can schedule some time for myself to relax. Not only does the family calendar keep us organized, but it is also a way to share with Dad what has happened while he was deployed. It will be wonderful for him to be able to see and share in all of the accomplishments and the hard moments during his absence. My husband and I will start setting up ways for the kids to feel close to him while he is gone. We will make memory boxes with the children and create a big map, where the kids can tape postcards and anything he sends. It will also give them a visual where Dad will be during his deployment. I will talk with the children to come up with a schedule to make care packages for Dad. They will each be able to add something special that they want him to have in the months to come. I also want to encourage them to draw pictures, to write their Dad letters and emails in order to let him know what they have been doing. I know this will not be easy on any of us, but we have to make the best of it. We will become stronger throughout the process. The first stage is the unknown and the fear. The second is the planning and preparation. Then comes the third stage, after the service member has left and the sadness and loneliness creeps in. That signals to me that its time for stage four: get into a routine. We pick ourselves up and get motivated to become active and busy. Then we get into a routine. Before we know it the deployment is almost over and the fear of reunion hits because our routine will change again and we will lose some of that independence we have gained. However, we are so anxious to see our service member again! Then, finally, the reunion! We are together as a family again. We’ll learn to accept the “new normal”, just as we did the last time. We all have changed during the deployment, but we love each other and will adjust to the changes. We have learned to be flexible and adjust to change, because change is ever present in the military family. It isn’t always easy, but we have learned to be patient with each other and allow sufficient time for all of us to adjust. After all, we are all that we have. The 8 C’s for thriving during deployment Calm – When you find yourself getting upset, take a few moments to calm down before moving forward. You can use deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or any other technique that works for you. Coordinate – Make a list of all the items that need to be done before your spouse deploys and have a backup plan for what you will do if they don’t all get done before the deployment. Communicate – Talk to your spouse about any concerns you have or plans for staying connected during the deployment. Also make sure to talk to you kids about the upcoming deployment at whatever level is appropriate for them. Connect – Reach out to those around you to build a strong network of support. Calendar – Draw out a calendar so you can map out schedules and make plans. Care – In addition to caring for your kids and spouse make sure to take some time for self-care also. Create – Find fun and creative ways for you and your children to connect with the parent who is deployed. Celebrate – Yes the reintegration period can be tough, but take time to celebrate a safe return home.