Monday, February 21, 2011

10 Ways to Support a Military Spouse (During Deployments)

This morning I saw one of those videos that people make up now that has two cartoon-type characters chatting in robotic voices. Usually, one of the people is ignorant (meaning "uneducated" vs. "stupid") about the issue being discussed and the other person is rather caustic in getting the point across. Sometimes, these are very funny... I love the one where the two women are talking about having lots of children.

The one I saw today was about a military wife answering stupid questions. The writer said in her comments that she would never actually answer people's questions that way and that some people were offended by her caustic tone; many military wives found a laugh in it and a bit of "letting off steam," if you will. From that, it occurred to me to write a post about how to best support military families (more specifically, spouses with children) during deployments. I write these in no particular order, because the reality is that what one spouse finds helpful, another spouse simply may not need. I've tried to include things that many spouses would find helpful.

10. Offer to take the kids out for a day of fun, "just because." If Mom knows that her children are having a good time with someone she trusts, she's more likely to enjoy her time alone. This will give her time to go shopping, eat a nice meal, enjoy a bubble bath, etc. Some ideas for the where to take the kids for their fun time: to the movies, Laser tag, putt putt golf, a playground, on a picnic, to a museum or a science center type place, etc.

9. Invite him over with the kids for a gathering. This doesn't have to be fancy - it can be a backyard cook out, movie night, etc. but be sure to get the rest of "the gang" involved so he doesn't feel awkward about accepting the invitation!

8. Remember the special occasions and be there to celebrate with the family. She is lucky to have her husband home for the birth of a child, much less birthdays, anniversaries and holidays! Set up a sitter for her birthday and take her out somewhere. Give the kids a little extra time on their birthday or perhaps help cook the holiday meal when the time comes.

7. Speaking of helping cook meals: Take a little time to put together a "freezer meal" when you're making your own dinners. Give this to the spouse to use on the nights when he just doesn't feel like putting together a healthy dinner for everyone (or even himself!) It doesn't really cost much more and the grocery stores sell disposable baking tins in sizes from individual portions all the way up to a meal for a family of five! What a simple way to say, "I'm thinking of you."

6. When you ask "How are you doing?" and she says it's been a hard week, try to resist the urge to jump in with a "BTDT" (Been There Done That) story of your own. There are some spouses who will only be annoyed by your efforts because, to be honest, your husband going away for three weeks on a business trip to Orlando, Washington, D.C. or Texas is not quite the same as her spouse heading out into a war zone for a year or more. You're trying to be sympathetic, and that is generally understood by the spouse, but it can be grating to hear when she's already had a rough time. You taking the time to just listen is more important than you trying to match her trial for trial.

5. So what should you do when you've asked and it hasn't been so great? Well, just listen and perhaps offer something more like, "That must be so hard. I'm here for you whenever you need help or just need someone to talk to," and really - really - mean those words. He will need someone to talk to, use as a last-minute, panic-attack drop in child care on occasion, dinner company, etc. during the time she is deployed. Those friend connections are more important than you think!

4. Help purchase things for a care package - or send one of your own! Many spouses send packages almost every week or every-other-week and though they don't mind it, they begin to feel repetitive after six months of the same thing, so having new things to send or knowing that someone else is thinking of their loved one too can relieve some of that tension.

3. Unless you know her really well, don't bring up that he can die/be injured at any time while he is deployed. For even the most stalwart military spouse, that is a constant ghost of a thought. Think about it for a minute: would you want the reminder?

2. Offer to come help out with a bigger project while his sweetie is away - or even just to be there for the company while he works on something. Many spouses pass the time during deployment by working on a bigger home-improvement project. This can be anything from decluttering the garage or work room all the way up to replacing a backyard fence or setting up a kids' play set. Perhaps he won't need help going through the papers in the storage room, but having someone around to chat with while he works always makes a tedious task more pleasant!

1. Be aware of the homecoming date and be available to help out wherever needed about two weeks beforehand. Even as she anticipates her husband's return, the last two weeks of a deployment can be very stressful. She is worried about what outfit to wear, how does the house look, do we want a night alone together? Do I take the kids? How will he look different? How much is different about her that he might like (or not!) In the meantime, the tension makes it hard to deal with the every-day events of home and child-rearing. Having someone who is open to stopping by to take the kids, help scrub the kitchen down, etc. takes some of the tension away.

I know that this list is not going to be universal - not every spouse is going to need each of the things I've mentioned, but I hope that those who know a military spouse whose husband is deployed will find a few useful tips and ideas here as starting points. Many military spouses get "used to" doing it all without help - until it's too late and they find that the stress has hit a high point and they aren't sure where to turn. On the flip side, many non-military want to help but don't always know what is needed or the best way to offer. I'd like to think this list helps bridge the gap a little. Cheers!

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  1. I'm glad that you took into consideration that WIVES as well as HUSBANDS deploy, and that it DOESN'T make a difference if the "stay-at-home" partner is male or female, the need to support them BOTH is important. Too many times people think that the male whose WIFE is deployed is strong enough/stoic (adjective
    1. of or pertaining to the school of philosophy founded by Zeno, who taught that people should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submit without complaint to unavoidable necessity.) enough to not NEED support! NOT TRUE! There are LOTS of people of both genders that just feel that they SHOULD be able to go it alone - but NICE that OTHERS ARE CARING ENOUGH TO JOIN IN! (*bold print the following: THANK GOD FOR THOSE THAT SERVE SO WILLINGLY AND UNSELFISHLY FOR ME - THE ONES IN UNIFORM AND THOSE THAT ALLOW THEM TO DO SO!!)

  2. The men who stay home had to be recognized too - especially as it's a growing phenomenon. While women are still largely the ones who stay home, the men are there too. They are typically offered meals (clearly they can't cook for themselves ;) but little in the way of fellowship. For the male spouses that I know, that is every bit as important!

  3. Great post!
    Thanks for sharing!
    I am the one from Sunrise Learning Lab who just wrote a reply back to you about Winter Promise...I signed to follow your blog and hope that you will pop by to see my blog too:)

  4. Hi! I am participating in Wifey Wednesday this week too. I love this list. I am the daughter of a navy man who was away a lot in my younger years. I have no idea how my mother did it; other than we visited my grandparents frequently. Right now, my neighbor's husband is preparing to be deployed over the winter. I will make sure to keep this list handy for when the time comes. Thanks!


I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


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