Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, working parent, or something in-between, taking care of little ones when your spouse is deployed is a tall order. It’s exhausting. It’s a 24/7 job and often by the end of the day, patience and sanity is lacking, and frustration abounds.
My husband has been deployed overseas for the last few months, so I have been holding down the home front, and “single” parenting our two daughters, ages 5-months and 2-and-a-half years. There are many days when I think there is no way I can possibly read one more story, change one more diaper, or say “stop touching your sister!” one more time. I just want to throw in the towel and demand my husband back.
But the reality is, we cannot quit a deployment. We can, however, give ourselves a break.
This is easier said than done. I think military moms (and dads!) struggle with “mom guilt” more than the average parent. We feel like we are doing a disservice to our already parent-deprived children if we don’t give them our all, all the time. So spending time away from your child(ren) feels like the exact opposite of what you should be doing.
When we were stationed in North Carolina my good friend’s husband was deployed for a year. However, she never once left her child with a sitter or in daycare. She said she felt that being a good mom meant not taking time away from her son to take care of herself.
While I understand the emotions, I disagree with this line of thinking. I believe that taking breaks from my kids makes me a better mother. Having time to myself refreshes and re-energizes me so that I can be the mom that they deserve when I am with them, rather than the cranky over-tired mom they would otherwise get. Sometimes I drop one off and spend quality one-on-one time with the other one. Normally I am stretched thin trying to give my attention to both of them. So, this gives me an opportunity to bond individually with each of my daughters.
There doesn’t always have to be a special reason to take a break. And, for the record, putting your child in daycare or with a sitter to go to the dentist doesn’t count! Another friend of mine just put her toddler in daycare for the first time this week and she mentioned she was thinking of putting him in care again next week if she had something she wanted or needed to do. I replied that I sometimes put my kids in daycare, even when I have nothing I need to do.
That’s right, sometimes I put my kids in daycare so I can do nothing but watch trashy TV, read a book, or eat a meal from start to finish without interruption.
I am particularly lucky because my mom lives close by, so many weekends she watches one or both of the girls so I can get some time to myself, or spend one-on-one time with one of them. However, I also take advantage of the daycare services provided by Child Youth Services (CYS) at our post. One of the perks (ha!) of a deployment is the free and reduced-cost childcare offered to Army spouses when our servicemember is gone.
The Department of Defense has figured out the importance of spouses maintaining their sanity while their service member is deployed. So, the DoD offers sixteen free hours of childcare per child (plus a reduced rate for any hours thereafter) starting 60 days before a deployment, long-term TDY, or unaccompanied PCS. If you aren’t comfortable placing your child in a Child Development Center, you can also use these free hours at any Family Childcare Center (FCC) provider. Also, you can also get a reduced rate (based on income) at civilian providers through a program called Operation: Military Child Care (OMCC).
It doesn’t matter if your “me” time consists of getting a pedicure, reading a good book, grocery shopping in peace, or just sitting and enjoying the silence. Take advantage of the benefits provided and give yourself permission to take a break!
Erin is an Army wife of seven years and a mother of two little girls. She blogs at The Unexpected Army Life.