Few images can quite invoke the national fever quite like those of the British army. If you throw in the pictures of servicemen and women returning from deployment, reunited with family members upon their return, well, that’s just a good day all around.
Still, it can be very hard for family members at home to “act like normal”. When tasks and activities that would be shared responsibilities in any other home become the responsibility of the parent and partner left behind, this can be something of a challenge that can cause more significant levels of stress and hardship.
So in the spirit of togetherness and “soldiering on”, we’ve created this cheat sheet to help you get through the weeks and months when your +1 is away from home for the first time.
Remember, you’re part of a broader family, so you never have to “go it alone”. Reach out when and if you need it.
ROUTINE, GET INTO ONE
Our #1 tip for making it through your first deployment is to get into a routine and quick. Figure out what you need to do to get through your day from an “operational” perspective, and then schedule the heck out of it. Involve your kids if you have them, and remember to include regular visits and check-ins with the inlaws and your parents. A quick online search, and you’ll find other spouses in your community that are in the same position that you’re in, so reach out and form some new friendships with people who know exactly what you’re going through.
KEEPING YOUR CHILDREN INVOLVED BUT DISTRACTED
Is your partner planning on making a career out of the military?
If so, then you’re going to want to establish their absence as usual from the get-go so that your kids feel part of what’s happening around them.
This is especially important when it comes to decisions that have a direct impact on them. Think about visiting their grandparents, holidays and when to send letters or emails to their deployed parents. It will be more challenging for them around special holidays or celebrations, so keep them in the loop and let them lead with how they’re feeling.
We’re saying this even though we know you’re probably not going to heed it (don’t worry, most of us don’t), but never, ever watch the news. This is 100% more poignant during times of conflict where your partner may well be deployed in an area that is receiving a lot of news coverage, but remember that your children won’t always know the difference between the British army or a foreign army waging a completely unrelated war in a country far away from where your spouse might be. This can cause hidden trauma that they may be less inclined to share with you.
Don’t lie to your children, but offer age-appropriate advice and guidance where it’s relevant and seek some help from other military parents who’ll be able to guide you along.
WORK ON YOUR CAREER OR EDUCATION
It’s is an ideal time to work on you, so take the opportunity to work on your career or pursue a new skill if you’re a stay at home mum. There are tons of courses that you can follow without having to leave your home, and if money is a concern, you can chase many free courses with online providers like Edx. This has the added bonus of being a perfect distraction.
GET UP, GET DRESSED AND PUT YOUR TRAINERS ON AND TAKE THE KIDS
Look, we know it’s not easy, and we can’t say that it gets easier over time because, frankly, one just learns how to manage it better. But there are some advantages to these periods where you’re at home alone with the kids.
The key to passing this time constructively and with as minor trauma and stress as possible is to forge strong and healthy bonds, too, because you always want your children to feel that they can talk to you about what they’re feeling. Activities that focus on healthy pursuits and constructive consumption of time can go some way to aiding that.
MATTERS OF THE SPIRIT
Spirituality is personal and unique to every family. Still, whether you’re a faith-based family or not, it’s always a good idea to give faith a fighting chance because in those moments when you’re alone and feeling it, being able to indulge in some type of existentialism of those emotions is an incredibly cathartic and liberating thing to do.
The old saying of “the family that prays together, stays together” is not wrong, and you can define that in any way that works for you and your family.
Keeping communication open and free-flowing is key to making it through the months of deployment. Now, the military makes it relatively easy to do so, so allow your children time to connect with their deployed parent as much as possible, and obviously, that includes you. But it is equally important that you keep those lines of communication open between you and your children.
Your kids will take the lead from you, and if you show them that it’s OK to feel down sometimes or afraid or sad, then they’ll open up to you about how they’re feeling too.
KEEP YOUR HOME MAINTAINED (MOSTLY)
With your partner away, it falls to you to ensure that your light bulbs get changed and that your TV is working, yes. Still, you’re also going to have to upskill on things like servicing your hot water boiler, and you may even need to replace damaged parts so that you may need a Kelvinator spare part supplier or the like. Mind you, don’t get too proactive; your partner will need something to do when they get back.
Look, this will be a difficult time for you and your family, and your kids (if you have them) will need some additional support. But you can’t be all things to all people, so you need to take care of yourself too.