Deployment. It's the word families of service members dread. Don't get us wrong; we're proud of the sacrifice our loved ones make to keep this country safe, but we know there will be sacrifices on our parts, too. A separation that lasts six, nine, or twelve months is hard on any relationship, but it's especially difficult when you have children. It's important to remember that you're not alone, because there are common struggles every mom faces when her partner deploys.
When I met my now-husband, he had recently returned from deployment. I didn't know where things would go, and he'd just gotten back, so I didn't worry about what it may or may not be like to go through a deployment in the future. Little did I know that within the next three years, we'd be married, twice-moved, and have a baby. After our permanent change of station to our current post, we knew deployment was inevitable. Within a few months of our big move, my partner headed abroad for a full year. He's currently on that very deployment, and we miss him like crazy. In fact, to be honest, it's pretty much the worst.
Fortunately, there is help available for families of deployed service members. My family attended a deployment fair to learn all about them, so make sure you check out your post's child and youth services (CYS). You may qualify for free hourly care and a stipend toward activities. You should also make sure you connect with your family resource group (FRG). While I'm most familiar with the services provided for Army families, each branch has their own versions and resources. My local mom group is mostly military spouses, and they've been a lifesaver, too. There's no getting around the fact that deployment sucks, but it's nice to know you're not the only one who knows what it's like.
You Have To Actually Say Goodbye
Saying goodbye to a deploying partner is emotionally exhausting, especially if you're trying to hold it together for your little ones. When it's the last hug or kiss for a long time, you don't want to let go. It's hard to say everything you want to say. My husband, bless him, sent me a wonderful email after the fact, and I read it any time I get sad.
Compounding the difficulty is the fact that you may have to bid adieu more than once. As with anything involving military life, there will inevitably be delays. My husband's departure date was pushed back four times in three days, including one middle of the night text that almost resulted in a smashed iPhone courtesy of yours truly. At least my kiddo is too little to understand; I know a lot of soldiers in our unit had some upset children who were confused when dad was still home in the morning.
This is terrible, but you get to a certain point where you just want them to leave. It's not that you aren't grateful for more time with your partner; it's that delays tax you because you have to keep preparing yourself over and over and over again. My hubby had at least three specially-prepared goodbye meals, but I was so tired by his actual leave date that he ended up with a frozen pizza.
You Have To Deal With All The Paperwork
I had no idea how much paperwork was involved pre-deployment. As the remaining partner, you want to make sure you have all your soldier's passwords and access to any of his or her accounts. You'll need to update your budget. Most important, you must see a lawyer to get power of attorney (POA).
Even with all that preparation, you will probably forget something or your POA won't be specific enough. I tried to get my daughter on our dental insurance and was told the company needed my husband's verbal permission (because apparently this is 1950). Getting her passport was hell, too. You need a notarized form from the absent partner. I understand that precautions are in place to prevent international kidnapping, but they really can't accept a copy of the form? Nope, please have your husband mail it from the other side of the world.
You Have To Handle Literally Everything
I was raised by a single mom, so I already had mad respect for single parents. Now that I'm in the midst of a deployment, that respect has increased exponentially. When you're used to sharing household, financial, and childcare duties, suddenly having to do it all yourself is a real kick in the teeth. I realized just how much I took for granted; like my husband unloading the dishwasher, sanitizing bottles, and feeding the pets before I woke up.
If you're a stay-at-home parent, you get used to handling your sh*t all day because relief is coming in the form of the Five O'Clock Cavalry. Now that my cavalry is half-way across the world, I miss our battle rhythm. Upon his arrival, my partner would scoop up our squealing-in-delight baby and take her into the bedroom to play so I was free to make dinner. After we ate, I plunked her in the bath while he did the dishes. Now I have to do everything.
You Know Your Partner Is Missing Out
If you have very small children, a deployment means that your partner can miss out on first solid foods, first steps, first words, and more.
Our little girl went from crawling to walking in the first week her dad was in the field. When the kids are school age, deployed parents miss conferences, recitals, and birthday parties. When I discovered that this deployment would be a year, I realized that my better half would miss one of everything: one Halloween, one Thanksgiving, one Christmas, one Easter. That made me cry.
Ugh. There's no lonely like deployment lonely. I still sleep on my side of the bed, spooning a pillow dressed in my husband's worn t-shirt. (Hey, don't knock it.)
I'm so grateful that I have my daughter and pets for company, but it's not the same. My partner is the optimist in our marriage, and I miss his ability to find the humor in any situation. For many couples, opposites really do attract, and your partner provides you with some much needed balance. When that person is gone, it can leave you feeling not just alone, but utterly untethered.
You Struggle To Meet Your Child's Needs And Your Needs, Simultaneously
Bathing, diaper changing, brushing, dressing, feeding, entertaining, shuttling, supervising; these all fall under your watch, all the time. It can be done, but it's often at the price of your own self-care. It's hard to meet your own needs when you're busy meeting those of your little one(s). (Do try to take care of yourself and remember that what's good for mama is good for the kids. Except wine. No wine for the babies.)
If your kid is anything like mine, you're also facing meeting the needs of a child with new behavioral challenges. Very small babies may not know the difference when a parent leaves, but toddlers and older children sure do. They miss their mom or dad and, if they're preverbal, have no way to express their displeasure except through crying. Suddenly, they're down to one source of attention and that source is often busy trying to, I don't know, fold some freaking laundry. And that, my friends, is why I have a toddler attached to my hip every hour of every day.
You Experience Those Dreaded Communication Glitches
I'm a smart person, but I am the absolute worst at time zones. Seriously, can someone explain to me how another place can be however many and a half hours ahead. What's that all about? Deployment will definitely have you consulting a world map and asking a questions like, "Is it tomorrow there?" (Good luck getting your kid's sleep schedule and your soldier's down time to align, too.)
Once you do get through, the connection can be spotty. We were paying $50 a month for crappy wi-fi, but gave it up once we realized staticky FaceTime was frustrating for everyone. The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) Center has Skype cameras, but it's not always available. It even closed for three weeks due to a security concern. Try explaining that to an 18-month-old kiddo clamoring for your cell phone and sobbing, "Dada!"
You Have A Difficult Time Going Anywhere For Anything
Leaving the house to do anything is always a production with kids, but it's the absolute worst when you're a single parent by default. When my spouse was home, he used to watch the baby while I went grocery shopping every Sunday. Wine sample? Don't mind if I do! Now, I madly stuff crackers in my kid's craw to keep her from losing her mind in the cart. The child has managed to ruin Target for me, which I didn't even know was possible.
If you're truly insane (guilty as charged), you'll take a trip. In an airplane. Did you know that it's virtually impossible to get from long-term parking to the gate with a suitcase, diaper bag, car seat, stroller, pack and play, and a baby? Some people will actually sit there and watch you struggle, silently hoping you're not on their flight. Honestly, if it wasn't for the kindness of some veteran mama strangers, we'd probably still be at the airport.
You Spend All Your Time Worrying About Your Partner's Well-Being
This is quite possibly the worst aspect, made all the more hellish by the fact that you have to put it aside in order to function on a daily basis. You can go along just fine for awhile, forgetting about the danger your loved one is in, and then something rears its ugly head.
Most partners of deployed soldiers avoid watching the news. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than hearing about an attack where your partner is stationed. It's the not knowing that gets you. You have to deal with your own feelings as well as decide whether and how much to tell the children.
You Have A Hard Time With Reintegration
To be fair, I haven't experienced reintegration yet. I have this idyllic image of our family reuniting that plays like a movie in my head. But once we get home, it might very well be a different story. After a year of doing things my way, my partner is going to come back and have, you know, opinions about stuff. When all you want to do is talk to them, what your partner might need most is to "detox" and relax in front of the TV. Of course, some families will be dealing with a partner's post-traumatic stress disorder, too.
Unfortunately, your struggles won't end just because deployment does. Slowly but surely, however, everyone will become accustomed to the new normal. Remember to be grateful to have your partner back safe and sound and that your children's beloved parent has been returned to them. And deployment? Well, there's no doubt it's made you strong as hell.