Being a wife and mother is challenging enough, but throw in having a spouse in the military and you get thrown a curveball every now and again. Just when you think you have a pretty good grip on things, the military will remind you that it is best to stay flexible. Semper Gumby, as they say. And in my decade-plus experience as a military spouse, there is no more humbling experience to go through than a deployment. I’ve been through 3 with my husband. Once with no kids, once with a newborn, and most recently with a 2nd grader and preschooler. Each deployment came with its own set of challenges, but having to navigate those challenges while making sure you are helping guide your children through all the emotions of a deployment is a daunting task to take on. Here I’ll share my 10 tips on surviving (and hopefully thriving!) a deployment with kids.
Plus there’s a bonus! Read below for an awesome discount for one of our families favorite deployment survival tools!
Set up a weekly countdown
Looking at a 7-12 month deployment on the calendar can be overwhelming. Not just for you, but for kids too. Breaking that time down into smaller, more manageable increments is what works best for our family. We made a poster board with 32 squares on it (7 months x’s 4 weeks per month, plus a couple buffer weeks) and numbered them 1-32. Each square represented one week. We made a note on each week that had a holiday during that week, and every week the kids took turns putting a big, fat, X over the squares as we finished another week. They loved being able to see how far we had come and it helped countdown to the holidays and trips we had planned while Daddy was away.
Celebrate the monthly countdown, too!
On top of our weekend countdown, we would also celebrate every month. The kids and I would go to dinner, our for ice cream, have a movie night in Mom’s bed (this one was a favorite-we called them Family Sleepovers and my kids still ask for them!) It doesn’t matter what you do to celebrate, just a little something to help the kids and yourself mark off a big milestone and cheer each other on that you are doing it!
Make care packages a family event
My husband will be the first to tell us that he doesn’t actually need us to mail him anything in a care package. My husband was always lucky enough to be sent to an already established base for most of his deployment times, and anything he needed he could just buy for himself at the base. The truth is, care packages were something the kids and I did mostly for us. Being able to pour love into a box to mail to my husband was my way of showing him how much we care and miss him. And my kids loved being able to make pictures or fill goodie bags to fill those boxes. The pride they took in hearing their Dad thank them for the things they made and sent to him made them feel closer to him, and that is so very important.
This one is for your deployed spouse. My husband was lucky enough to have a small library on his base, and they had a small stock of children’s books! My husband would take a video of himself reading one of the books and then text it to me. The kids and I would watch the videos at night during our story time and it was always such a special treat. Also, the USO offers the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program, which is a great program that helps deployment service members record themselves reading books to send to their children. My kids each received a video of their Dad reading a book, and a copy of the book for them to be able to keep and read along!
Communicate with the school
Chances are, if your spouse is in the military you live on a base or in a military town. This is good because your child’s teachers probably already have dealt with kids going through deployments before and understand that this is a challenging time for them. Having that line of communication open between you and the school will only help your child have more advocates in their corner to help them through those tough days.
Let them cry (you too!)
Every now and then, you are going to have one of those days where you are struggling to see the light at the end of this deployment tunnel. Emotions are high and so is your stress level. And just when you think you’ve made it to bedtime and you can mark another hard day off the calendar, you have a kid crying because they want Daddy to tuck them in and he is still gone. They cry, those big hard tears, and you feel that lump building in your throat as you try to hold your own tears back. Let.them.out. Cry, and let them know it is ok. It’s ok to be sad and angry and worried, and your kids feel those emotions just as strongly as you do. Show them that it is ok to feel this way, and that tomorrow is a new day. You guys can get through this together.
Make them feel special
Do something special for just them, for no reason other than to make them feel special. My kids LOVED ‘spa days’. I would pull out my nice lotion, nail kit, and a bucket of warm water and would pamper them. They would take turns soaking their feet and then I would trim their nails (I mean, I had to do it anyway, this just minimized any argument over it) and then rub their feet and legs with some lotion. They would always say how special it made them feel, and it was a nice treat. Now, I’m not saying to cater to your children every day of deployment-you WILL go insane. But a nice treat every now and then is just as good for their mental health as it is yours. Now go get yourself a nice pedicure as YOUR special treat!
Keep traditions (but give yourself grace)
Not having a key member of your family home for the holidays is hard. Try to keep them as joyous as possible by sticking with your families beloved traditions. I’m not saying you need to go all out and make every holiday a major event, but pick the ones you look forward to the most and stick with them. Now, not every tradition was kept exactly as before, and I had to give myself grace when things didn’t go as I would have normally done them, as you will see below. Our Elf wasn’t as creative, but at least he showed up. I made a full Thanksgiving meal, but the dog pulled the turkey off the counter. I made my kids their homemade birthday cakes, but forgot to buy candles. You know what? They still loved them all!
We have been blessed to make some of our best friends during our time with the military. Living on base or near a base creates a tight knit community that most civilians don’t get to experience. Be involved in the unit, go to base events, join a spouse sports team or club. These are the people who become your family while your spouse is away, and I have leaned on them more times than I can count. So go to the unit events, be involved with the other spouses, introduce your kids to other kids who are going through the same deployment or have been there before. The point is, find your tribe and hold on to them. You are all in this together and I promise you it is worth it to find those people.
And finally, the Daddy Doll!
You can’t go to a park on or near a base and not see at least one kid totting around their Daddy Doll. These things are cherished among military kids everywhere, and they offer so much comfort during those times when Daddy can’t physically be with them. Our Daddy was able to go to dentist appointments, haircuts, grocery trips, vacations, and even a show-and-tell or two. Daddy Dolls Inc is a fantastic company that makes these custom dolls and so much more, and for being a part of this blog they are offering you a 15% off discount! Just see the flyer below for details!
Remember, deployments are hard but they are temporary. Find what works for your family, and you will all make it out the other side of this relatively unscathed. So give yourself grace and a pat on the back, because cereal for dinner is still dinner, and that’s a win.