In the past 7 years, my spouse has gone on two military deployments. Each deployment lasted about a year and it was hard to survive without my other half. During the first deployment, my daughter turned two. During the second deployment, my daughter turned six and my son turned two. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about surviving what I call my patriotic duty as a military spouse, while living in the DC area without family nearby.
1. Identify your SOS group
For each deployment, I had what I call my SOS group – one to three local friends that I knew I could count on no matter what: a friend to come chat and chill after the kids were asleep in the evening; a neighbor to bring over baby Advil for late night fever; and, friends who are comfortable going out to eat last minute with you and the kids. I had a backup plan for everything and I informed people they were a part of my backup plan!
2. Have a strict routine
During the second deployment, I learned the importance of having a strict routine. With the first deployment, I did not have any kind of daily routine and found myself exhausted at the end of each day. But, for the second deployment, I created and stuck to a daily routine for me and the kids. We were home every night by 7 pm from running errands, etc. Bedtime was a strict 8:15 pm as I realized I needed some time to decompress. I would grocery shop while my 5-year-old was at The Little Gym on Wednesday nights. I made sure to get out of the house every weekend and check something off the DC bucket list, such as the Udvar Hazy Air & Space Museum. A routine also helps the time pass quickly!
3. Say yes to help
Be prepared with specific requests when folks offer to help. Trust me, people will offer to help, but I’m going to be completely blunt – many will not follow through, which is why establishing that SOS group is so important. But, there will be others that offer and sincerely want to help – for those, have a ready-made list of things you can use help with! I always had a few responses in my back pocket like:
“Actually, I need help changing lightbulbs. Could you help me with that?”
“Why thank you! I’m actually dying for a pedicure. Could you take the kids to get ice cream while I get a pedicure?”
“Do you have any extra boxes I could use to send care packages?”
4. Have plans for every holiday
One of the first things I did when a deployment started was to look at the calendar and mark every big holiday. I then started making plans. We drove to Ohio to visit family one Memorial Day. I invited people to come visit for Veterans Day. We went to Florida over Spring Break and Easter. This gave me and the kids something to look forward to and gave me something to plan. I would also engage the kids and we would decorate the house for every holiday. This helped break-up the long block of time. And, a missing spouse’s absence is acutely felt on holidays; therefore, it was important for me to proactively fill those days with happy memories for me and kids!
5. Remember it’s temporary
Last, but not least, I had to remember my spouse’s deployments are temporary. Admittedly, sometimes I would lose sight of this and become so discouraged, especially halfway through. My husband would tell me on Facetime, “You won’t be doing bedtime alone for forever.”
As annoying and lonely deployments can be, there are a few ways to make lemonade out of lemons. I hope these tips help any military spouse or someone whose spouse travels a lot for work.