Motherhood: It’s exhausting, it’s rewarding, it’s messy, it’s fun. It’s embracing all of that and so much more. However, knowing how to navigate motherhood when your spouse is deployed? It brings up a whole new set of challenges that can push you to the limit. The last time my husband was TDY, or on a temporary deployment, we were living in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was dark, roads were icy, and temperatures were in the negatives. At the time he left for warm and sunny Las Vegas, I was working full-time 45 minutes away, with a 4-month-old who was breastfeeding and an
hyperactive energetic 3-year-old.
I could have very easily lost my mind.
However, I reminded myself that although this was new territory going it alone with two littles rather than one, deployments were not unfamiliar. I had done it before and I would get through it again, and I’m here to tell you that we made it to the other side once again.
Still, I remember being a young, open-minded, but naive spouse who was green to deployments and babies and all of the challenges they bring. So, for those who may be new to this or to my fellow seasoned mamas who just need a little pick-me-up, I’ve compiled my best tips on how to navigate motherhood when your spouse is deployed.
1. Find your tribe
After two overseas moves and six different bases, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is to find your tribe. Find them as soon as you can after you move to a new base. These people will become your family. They will be the ones coming over during the holidays when you aren’t able to go home, can help you find your way around your new home, and understand the military jargon and life that sometimes civilian spouses just don’t get.
Find these people, and when your spouse is deployed, use them. Do the same for them when it’s their time. During this last deployment, one of my good friends offered to take my daughter on a play date in their home every Sunday afternoon for a few hours. It was the only chance I had to relax, re-energize, and catch up on sleep (if my son allowed).
Side note: A Tinder-like app for meeting new mom friends. Is that a thing? Because it should be a thing.
2. Stay busy
One of the worst habits I see in spouses going through a deployment is the lack of doing much of anything. When their spouse leaves, it’s as if they shut down. They may stay in bed or in the house, glued to their phone, waiting for that call or Skype session. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with staying in contact with your spouse throughout a deployment. However, your world should not stop because they are gone. It’s not healthy, and it only seems to make the time pass by slower.
For those like myself in the throes of infancy and the toddler-stages of motherhood, this is not even an option. We are always busy whether we want to be at that moment or not. Add on working full-time and blogging part-time to motherhood, and this last deployment, albiet a short one, seemed to fly by.
3. Try new things
Speaking of the importance of staying busy, deployments are the perfect time to try new things. Get out there and do the thing you’ve been wanting to but didn’t have the chance. Or grab a friend and your kids and check out that restaurant your spouse didn’t think sounded so great. Staying busy and trying new things are coping skills that can help get you through the deployment as well as work on self-improvement and give you something new and exciting to bring into your relationship while your spouse is gone.
This one goes for the kids as well. We are their biggest role-models in the early years and they look to us to learn healthy ways to cope. Additionally, staying busy and having fun exploring new places and activities promotes positive growth and brain development. And if I can find things to do in -30 degree weather then there are no excuses!
4. Accept the help
For whatever reason, asking for help seems to be difficult for many people. However, there is nothing wrong with this and especially not during a deployment. There are so many resources available out there for military spouses and their families created solely for these times. For instance, many of the bases we have been stationed at offered the Give Parents a Break program through the Child Development Center (CDC). For one night each month, children could be dropped off to play for a few hours, allowing parents a night “off” to relax, enjoy a date night, get things done, or provide some respite for spouses going it alone. This would be a perfect example of an opportunity to accept that help where it is available.
For breastfeeding mommies like me, there are also programs available to make it all easier. For example, 1 Natural Way, the premiere resource for obtaining the highest quality breast pumps from Medela and Spectra to TRICARE members, makes it so simple and stress-free for military spouses who want to breastfeed. It takes less than three minutes to fill out their online application and on average one week from that time to receive your free breast-pump in the mail. Let me tell you, when I was working full-time and breastfeeding my son, I could not live without my pump. 1 Natural Way takes all of the hassle of ordering and receiving your breast-pump while offering breastfeeding education and service to breastfeeding mamas.
5. Involve the kids
Deployments are hard on us as spouses and mothers, but it can be even more so for kids. They don’t always understand or may not yet possess adequate ways of coping without their parent. That is why it is so important to involve them throughout the deployment. There are many ways to do this.
Some opt to use a Daddy Doll or add a special recording into a stuffed animal for younger kids. Older children may like candy to count down the time that has passed and see how many days are left. Creating care packages can be fun at any age, especially for those longer deployments.
6. Be prepared
If you’re a military spouse then you should always be prepared that a deployment may happen. Sometimes you get advanced notice, sometimes it’s not enough. Use whatever time you have before your spouse deploys to have everything in place to support you and your littles. Make phone lists for emergencies, schedule babysitters, get that power of attorney taken care of. Do whatever you need to do to make your life easier and less stressful during the deployment. Do these things while you have your spouse there to help.
7. Practice Self-Care
Have you heard the saying: You can’t pour from an empty cup? It’s true for any mother at any time but especially during deployments, where stress and fatigue levels may run high.
Repeat after me: You cannot help others until you’ve taken care of yourself.
This includes your babies!
So whether it’s having a glass of wine and gossiping about the latest drama on the base’s spouse Facebook group, taking a hot bubble bath, starting a new hobby, or even making an awesome coping skills box, the practice of self-care should be a priority.
There you have it. My best tips for military spouses, new and seasoned, doing their best to navigate motherhood. Did I miss anything? Help out your fellow spouses and give them your best tips in the comments below!