I’ve been doing this Air Force thing officially for 5.5 years now (unofficially for almost a decade). First I was a girlfriend, then we got engaged, and then I donned the title of an Air Force wife; my husband has been away for at least a quarter of our entire relationship. During those years we’ve endured a ridiculous amount of deployments, and countless TDY’s (basically business trips for military folk), and one thing always remains the same every time he leaves: My goal is to just survive. Over the years I’ve heard people tell me, “I don’t know how you do it,” so many times, I figured I should finally explain how it is that I actually do it and survive a deployment or TDY.
Let me make myself clear: before I met my husband I was a pretty independent woman. I had a career, I traveled solo, and I lived in an area where I always had some sort of social engagement happening. I don’t want you to think that I’m some clingy, totally-dependent-on-her-husband housewife now. The thing is, being someone’s other half makes you part of a team. And when you’ve been a team player for that long, it takes some readjustment to figure out how to do things alone. When it’s just the two of you (or more if you have a family), you get into a rhythm, and daily routines become the norm, but when one person is out of the picture, things get shaken up, and you need to make adjustments to that plan.
From being a girlfriend to now being a wife and mom, I’ve discovered several things that help me get by during those days, weeks, and months apart, and I’m going to share those with you.
Seven Different Ways to Survive a Deployment:
1. Make yourself REALLY busy.
I typically lead a fairly busy life. Between work, play dates, book club, MOPS meetings, trips to Target, school, and countless other things that pop up during the day, I’m out of the house often. But once my husband is away, I try to get out of the house even more. I’ve discovered that I miss him more when I’m home to lull around. Boredom sets in, and everyone in my house gets more irritable when we’re not doing something. So I make myself really busy. Like, so busy that come bedtime, I don’t even have the energy for my mind to race and think or worry about things.
I plan extra trips out—instead of doing all of my errands at once, I spread them out throughout the week. I try to get out and see friends more often, and we go to more story times or parks. Staying out of the house more means that we also eat out more often, but I have a trick to this: look for places where kids eat free! Several places around town have different kids-eat-free nights, so we hit those up to make those treat nights a little more affordable. It’s obvious that someone is missing from our table when he’s away (we usually eat at home for almost every meal), so we eat out a little more often when he’s away. Ironically, the house is actually 10 times cleaner when he’s gone, because I spend time picking up at night instead of lounging next to him on the couch.
My rationale behind this is that if we’re busy, we won’t have time to think about how much we miss him being away.
2. Get into a new routine ASAP.
My husband does a fair share of stuff around the house, and I’m incredibly thankful for all he does, but when he’s away it’s blatant what holes need filling. Take bedtime for example: he handles the toddler while I tend to the baby, but if he’s away, I suddenly have sole responsibility. I try to get into a new routine for everything as fast as possible so that we can have a since of a new normal sooner, rather than later.
To be honest, this is the part that makes me fret more than anything else. Bath time for everyone (myself included) always makes my blood pressure rise (because how with a baby and a toddler??!!), so I try to rip off the band-aid and make a new normal quickly.
3. Communicate. A lot. (Or as much as you can)
This is a biggie, and has been since day one of my relationship with my husband. We talk all.the.time. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the room next to me or literally around the world: we keep our lines of communication open, always. Figuring out when we can talk (on the phone, via text, over FaceTime, or even snail mail) is our first priority. I’m that woman who has a cell phone basically attached to her, especially while he’s away, and I’m not sorry about it. If we’re out to dinner it will be on the table next to me. Of course, he keeps all the top-secret-classified mumbo-jumbo under wraps, but I tell him about our day and keep him informed on everything we do. Well, not everything (because ain’t nobody got time for that), but I do my best to let him know what’s going on, even if it’s just in an email at the end of the day or a quick text. He doesn’t get to be around, so I do my best to keep him updated in our lives so he doesn’t ever feel disconnected.
4. Cereal for Dinner (or something just as easy)
I LOVE making dinner for my family. Love it. But when he’s away, I’m a huge slacker. I should probably just leave my credit card with Chick-Fil-A and McDonald’s because we go through the drive-thru a lot. Don’t judge. Cereal and delivery pizza also become an honorary food group, and I’m not afraid to admit that. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still cook and use fresh ingredients, but not nearly as much as before. It’s hard to cook for one person (and a picky toddler), so I choose sanity over having leftovers that would end up in the trash.
I hate that I’m admitting this, but I bribe my child a lot while he’s away. I know this is something I’ll need to stop doing, but gosh darn-it, sometimes I just don’t have the patience for a toddler’s antics, and it’s amazing how quickly she will do something (or eat something) if there’s a cookie or ice cream at the end of the deal for her. I know what you’re thinking: “Gosh, Jess, haven’t you heard of childhood obesity, especially with all of this fast-food-eating and chocolate chip munching you’ve got going on?” And my answer to that is, “You’ve clearly never been a solo parent for more than a day or so.” (And seriously, if you solo parent and are apparently super mom and cook your kids healthy, organic meals for every meal, either write your own post on how to rock at this without damaging your children, or just keep your mouth closed and let all of us figure out our own survival methods.) Bribing, my friends. It works.
6. Go Home.
When I was dating my airman, and even when I was a new wife, I read a lot of different blogs and forums with other spouses shamming and bullying military wives for going back home during a deployment. Basically, they had the point of view that you “signed up for this,” so you should be able to suck it up and do it on your own. Well, I think that’s hogwash. Now, if you have kids in school, I can see how the timing could be tricky, because of school and sports commitments, but if you have young kids and are a stay or work at home parent, then going home can be an excellent way to make the separation fly by.
Luckily, both sides of our family live in the same city, so it makes our trip more convenient; I especially like going back, because it’s time my kids get to spend with their family—cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. Since we’ve had kids we’ve cut down on our trips home (especially over the holidays), so going home while he’s deployed is especially timely.
Everyone says that it takes a village, but who says that community can only be your military family? While I think FaceTime is one of the best inventions out there, letting my kids see their family face-to-actual-face is literally priceless.
7. Ask for Help.
Women have a hard time with this one, because we like to pride ourselves in being able to do it all. Well, ladies, I have some news to break to you: Superwoman is a fictional character, and I have yet to meet someone who has it all together. Asking for help is usually the absolute last thing we ever want to do, but my suggestion is to figure out what it is you need help with before you get to that tipping point.
Make a list of all the different “duties” on your list: childcare, housekeeping, lawn maintenance, cooking, chauffeur, etc. Once you’ve made your list, take a good look at it and find reliable people who can help out with everything just in case you need it. Find a lawn guy, squeeze room in your budget so a house cleaner can tackle that absolute least-favorite cleaning job; ask some other moms if you can start a carpool to eliminate going back and forth a hundred times a week; get some friends together and create some one-pot freezer/crock-pot meals so you can quickly put dinner together instead of agonizing over it (and eventually scrapping it and getting fast food instead).
Ladies, know your weakness and find a way to fill that void by straight-up asking for help. Trust me, it’s sometimes incredibly hard to ask at first, but the benefits completely outweigh that awkward moment.
You can do it!
I’m definitely not an expert, by any means, but I have done this a time or two, so these are some things that help me. I think it’s also important to note that some days you won’t survive a deployment. Some days will suck—a lot. Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law) will most likely pop in during the separation and screw everything up; you’ll have really hard days, and days when you literally count down the minutes until nap/bedtime, and days when you leave the Disney channel on all day long. But you know what? None of that matters. All that matters is that you can do it, and you will do it; you will survive a deployment, because you have to.
Do these tips ring true for you? I’d love to hear what tricks you have up your sleeve for keeping things (somewhat) together while you’re going at it alone.