by Sarah Landrum, Guest Contributor
You know the drill. Your spouse’s gear has been packed and repacked more times than either of you want to count. You’ve driven them to base half a dozen times thinking that it was the day.
And when the day finally comes, you’re drained, sad and left with way too much time to think about what you should do with your life for the next 9 or more months—or whenever the military remembers to send your spouse home.
Some preparation and planning will go a long way into helping you maintain harmony, even though your other half is overseas.
Take Care of Pre-Deployment Prep
Yes, you’re the stay-in-country cheerleader of the team, but if you have kids you’re going to be twice as swamped. Before your spouse leaves, make sure you’ve done the following:
- Lined up a babysitter for extra help.
- Prepped the kids for the separation.
- Made sure you know what bills to pay.
- Toured the base to learn the location of useful services.
- Established an emergency contact and know how to reach your spouse.
A little extra prep will help you balance your day-to-day life.
If You Have Kids, Slow Down
Balancing your work-life when you have children to care for is overwhelming. Plus, you’re dealing with your kids’ emotions as well as your own. How do you maintain sanity, let alone balance?
Plan activities as a family, such as the following:
Family countdown. Much like an advent calendar, a weekly countdown to your spouse’s return will help your kids feel more connected. Make sure they understand that the return date isn’t firm. Regardless, it will feel good to watch the numbers drop.
Care package crafts. Have the kids decorate a care package box—or the paper you use to wrap the box. They can also make things to add to the package.
Keep a family journal. Almost like a guestbook, leave a journal for everyone to fill in or to fill in together at the end of the day. Ask your kids what they’d like to say about the day. You can all reread it together when your spouse comes home.
Stay Busy If You Don’t Have Kids
Even without kids, maintaining any sort of balance can be tricky. You either have too much time to think or not enough. If you’re struggling to stay busy, try a few of the following:
Stay busy. Every time my uncle went on deployment, my aunt would take another semester or two of classes. In the end, it really paid off. She can work wherever the military takes them. She’s living proof that a portable career as a military spouse will only make your life easier.
Plan fun. Pick one day a month to do something exciting. Try a new restaurant, go to an amusement park or have a girls’ day out.
Volunteer. If you have time to stress, you have time to spare. Volunteer on base or at an animal shelter. Make sure the added work time doesn’t become a stressor. The nice thing about volunteering is that you have the power to quit with a financial repercussion.
Become a frugality master. Make a game out of saving money and create a new budget. Sure, there’s added deployment pay, so that goes right into savings. But there are a lot of expenses your spouse uses that you might not. For example, you could turn off Xbox Live and put the monthly fee into savings. Don’t forget to put the difference in your grocery bill into savings, too. Consider using deployment time to plan something special for you and your spouse upon their return to the states.
Find Support Networks
Don’t be afraid to lean on loved ones. You might be the rock of your household, but your friends and family are there to support you. I developed a really close relationship with my family—even though it was long distance—during their deployments. If they’d never picked up the phone, I wouldn’t have the type of relationship I do with them.
Other military spouses will understand what you’re going through a lot more than your friends from back home. The stress level and loneliness of a military spouse are different from any other career.
Join a Family Readiness Program
The military doesn’t leave you stranded. You’re one big family, so don’t be afraid to reach out to base support groups. The families involved will always have your back. Consider the following groups:
- Army FRG
- Fleet and Family Support Program (USN)
- Key Spouse Program (USAF)
- Marine Corps Family Team Building
Ask around base for more information and to see what programs are best for the other military spouses in your situation.
Realize That 24-Hour News Can Be Wrong
My first experience with deployment was in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq following 9/11. I was just a kid and on the opposite side of the country from my family, glued to a TV for updates on where my family might be.
Biggest lesson of the deployment? What they said on the news didn’t matter.
You get much better and more accurate updates through our Key Volunteer Network than through the media. Turn off the news and dial down the stress.
The Grass Isn’t Greener
Don’t compare notes on who wrote home last or how many phone calls you received in comparison to your friend. Trust that your spouse will call you when the time is right.
It’s normal to be sad, but don’t let deployment separation get you down. This is your time to grow as a person and live an adventure you can write to your spouse about, so make the best of it.
Write long letters full of love and plan for the future together. Don’t let your life stop moving simply because of distance.
How do you keep your balance during a deployment?
Sarah Landrum is a writer and founder of Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to helping readers navigate the work world. Growing up with military family, she is passionate about supporting those who serve our country. Follow @SarahLandrum on Twitter for more great tips.