I knew it was inevitable -- deployment would happen again in my spouse’s career. I also knew it would happen as our family grew. Even though we know it’s inevitable, for me it didn’t really sink in until I was eating, sleeping, and breathing time as a solo parent on the home front.
Let me get this out of the way -- it’s extremely hard. No matter how you shake it out, deployment is rough. When he leaves I don’t jump for joy or prance around the house singing fun-filled songs. I’m human. I get sad, frustrated and more, but rest assured, deployment is survivable. Here are my tips for survival.
How to Survive Deployment With a ToddlerAllow one day to just be. Give yourself one day a month to be angry, sad, etc. I mean it. This should be the day you consume an entire chocolate bar with no regret. This is the day you better have depuff eye gel waiting for you the following morning. Give yourself one day of feeling every human emotion known to mankind, but that’s it. One day a month -- and no more. If you keep living in sorrow, you’ll miss out on all the beauty.
Create understandable mile markers for your child. I’m not a fan of counting down dates. My 4-year-old is very inquisitive, though, and gets confused when Daddy is coming and going. We came up with a solution: every Friday he gets a new movie and note from Daddy while he’s at sea. (And please note: I’m talking movies from the $4 bin at Wally World.)
Stock up before your spouse leaves. Trust me on this one. Budget like a crazy fool and try your best to stock up on the big items you’ll need while they’re away. There’s nothing worse than trying to tote around children while picking up economy size diapers, wipes, etc. Seriously ... I’m trying to save you from looking like the Beverly Hillbillies during solo shopping adventures.
Shop smartly. When you do take your kiddos to the store, ensure 1) They have full bellies. 2) You park near a shopping cart (or “buggy” if you’re living in the south) return. It always stinks when you feel like a rock star getting all your goodies, loading the car, then loading your kiddos, and then realizing you have to walk five blocks to return your cart/buggy. (You’ll be singing “We Are The Champions” as you exit the parking lot if you remember this tip.) Bonus tip: also bring snacks -- for you and the kids.
Create solo traditions. Every month I have a slumber party with my 4-year-old. He gets to stay up late (I’m talking 9 p.m.), eat food in bed, and the dinner menu is his choice. We also plan a Welcome Home theme party every time my husband comes back. My son gets to pick out decorations and everything. (Side note: Don’t start planning and buying things until the week prior to their arrival back home, or you’ll never hear the end of, “When is the party?”)
Make missed holidays double the fun. Your spouse is bound to miss an important holiday at some point (Christmas, birthday, etc.). Spin this into a positive for your children. You could potentially have a mini celebration while Daddy/Mommy is away and also have a big ol’ celebration once they return.
Keep your routines. This one is so tricky. I know it might seem easier to become a little more relaxed when your spouse is gone, but in general, for your sanity I highly recommend you keep your routine. Kids are usually in bed at 7:30 p.m. when my husband is home, and you better believe they’re in bed at the exact same time when he’s away. (Let’s be honest -- 7:30 p.m. begins my recovery and relax time.)
Use help. Asking for and receiving help isn’t bad. If someone wants to bring you dinner, let them serve you. If you have a dentist appointment, ask friends to help so you don’t have to worry about getting your teeth cleaned while trying to sing “Wheels on the Bus” to occupy your children. This is the first time in all his sea tours where I’ve actually lined up help to come in and out over a two-month period. With baby three on the way I’m learning I have limits and I need help.
Don’t over-commit. I’m a “yes” kind of lady. You know the type. Someone just had a baby? Heck yes I’ll cook a full meal and deliver it. Someone was supposed to create a flyer for a recent event and dropped the ball? Sure, I’m your lady, I’ll get it done. When your spouse is away, give yourself permission to politely decline. Sit on your hands in meetings. Don’t respond to emails for 48 hours when volunteers are needed. There will be plenty of future times for you to serve. Take sea time as time for you to maintain balance.
Get connected. Look for mom/dad groups in the area, join a church, find support networks on social media or whatever you have to do to find a group of people to call your own. There are so many people looking for friends and trust me, you’ll need some friends, too.
Set goals with your children. I tend to do things like “While Daddy is away I think we should make up a dance and work on it every night. Then when he gets back we can have a performance night for Daddy.” We use the months preparing for the big show. Yes, it’s super cheesy, but it gives my son something to focus on and work toward to show Dad.
It’s definitely not an easy time for you in your spouse’s career, but the more you stay positive and focused on the goodness you have in your life, the easier it is to survive. And it’s always an added bonus when you see your spouse thriving while he or she is deployed. I know he misses us and I know deployment is hard on him too, but I also know he’s making a world of difference out in our waters and that in itself makes me keep going, smiling from ear to ear holding down the home front.
What are your survival tips? I’d love to learn even more.
Jessica Bertsch is a proud Coastie wife and mom of a 4-year-old son, 1-year-old daughter, and a baby girl arriving in 2016. In her “spare” time she runs Powerhouse Planning, LLC. www.powerhouseplanning.com.