If your service member is experiencing another deployment, you probably have a good idea of what to expect this time around. You know that the two of you will have practical arrangements to work out, such as family finances and vehicle maintenance. Along with the chores and checklists, the pre-deployment period may bring back familiar feelings of worry and anxiety and yet renewed confidence. It can be helpful to have family discussions about expectations for this deployment. Keep in mind that there is support available to help you, your service member, and your family.
During previous deployments, you probably came to rely on some of the support services available through the military, such as your Family Readiness Group (FRG) or the installation's Military and Family Support Center or Joint Forces Headquarters State Family Programs. If these resources were helpful, go back and reconnect with them!
- Check with your Family Support Programs for new programs and deployment support resources. You can call or visit any installation Army Community Service Center, Marine Corps Community Services, Fleet and Family Support Center, or Airman and Family Readiness Center regardless of your branch affiliation. If you aren't near an installation, National Guard Family Assistance Centers are available in every state as well as Reserve Family Programs such as Army Reserves Fort Family Support and Outreach Center.
- Reconnect with your unit's FRG or a virtual FRG online. Even if you don't have a local group, you can access deployment guidelines and other benefits online.
- Check out Military OneSource services and resources. On the Military OneSource website, you can find hundreds of articles on subjects of importance to military families, as well as videos, podcasts, and publications that you can download. The site is continuously updated with new information and resources. Military OneSource also provides free face-to-face counseling with a professional in your community (or their equivalent by phone or online) for military spouses as well as service members.
- Consider joining a spouses' club, if one is available. Military spouses' clubs offer good opportunities to socialize and network. Some clubs volunteer in the local community or raise money for worthy causes.
- Reach out to or reconnect with your faith community. Many people find comfort and solace from their faith communities during difficult times.
Supporting your service member
Research shows that service members experiencing multiple deployments are at higher risk for stress and anxiety. Not surprisingly, family separation is a major source of deployment stress. It's important to make efforts to include your spouse in your family's life, even though he or she may be miles away. Here are some ways to do that:
- Stay in frequent contact. Email and phone calls are great, but try adding variety with care packages, blogs, and video recordings. Involve children in writing letters or emails or making things to send to their deployed parent. Be sure to encourage your deployed spouse to send individual messages or letters to each child as well.
- Make a scrapbook or an online blog of events. By recording birthdays, graduations, and other milestones through photos, videos, or scrapbooks, you can give your service member the chance to experience a little of what he or she missed. The activity will make you feel better too.
- Consider keeping a journal during the deployment. You can share the journal when your service member returns home or use it simply to help work through the deployment and see your own growth.
- Make plans for your reunion. Share plans about the reunion with your service member. It will give you something positive on which to focus.
Talking with your children about deployment
When talking to your children about the deployment, it's important to consider the following:
- Help your children understand that they haven't done anything wrong. Young children may think a parent is leaving because of something the child has done. Try to explain that serving in the military is the parent's job, just as going to the office every day is what other parents do for work.
- Talk about some of the daily activities that your service member will be doing. Post a map where your children can see it. For older children, viewing close-up satellite images of the area may also be interesting and helpful. Getting to know the deployed parent's daily routines can help your children cope with the separation.
- Be honest and give as much approriate information as possible. Your children may have many questions about the military such as why their mom or dad has to leave or whether they'll be safe.
- Encourage your children to talk about their feelings. Let your children know that it's OK to admit that ey miss their parent or feel lonely.
- Talk about your deployed service member often. Tell stories or jokes or say things like, "This is the sweater Daddy gave me for my birthday," or "Mom loves spaghetti; let's have that for dinner tonight."
- Tell your children how much the missing parent loves and misses them. Sometimes children need to hear reassuring things over and over again.
Children thrive on routines and consistency, especially during a difficult time. Try to stick with your usual routines during the deployment. Here are some ways to do that:
- Be consistent with discipline. It's important for children to understand that even though things have changed, they can still expect the existing rules to stay the same.
- Try to give your children a sense of stability. Try to maintain the same daily and weekly routines, including mealtimes, wake-up times, and bedtimes.
- Find a way to count down the time until the deployed parent returns. Some families make calendars, while others fill a big jar with a sticker or candy for each day until the family member returns. There may be some situations where you may not have an exact date of return or the deployment is extended. If that's the case, make a paper chain and add a link for each day the parent is gone; then use it as a decoration.
- Plan special outings or activities. A trip to the movies, a visit to the grandparents, or even a bike ride together may help children feel better. You may also want to plan events with children from other families who have a deployed parent.
- Limit television watching, especially of military action. Watching media coverage of conflicts or wars - even ones that your spouse isn't involved in - can be emotionally draining.
- Make sure your children's teachers are aware of the deployment. Teachers will better understand your children's behavior if he or she knows what's happening in your family's life right now.
Looking ahead to homecoming
Return and reunion after a military deployment can be a time of tremendous happiness and relief. But the transition back to family life can also bring its share of challenges. Fortunately there are steps that both you and your returning service member can take as a couple to help ease the reintegration process:
- Don't force talk about the experience of war, but be open to it when the time is right. If your service member is not ready to talk about his or her experiences during deployment, don't push it.
- Keep talking. Talking can help you get back together as a couple and as a family. Talk through your differences about expectations, household responsibilities, and decision-making.
- Continue to watch your spending. Make sure you don't spend more than you're earning.
- Be patient with each other and with your children. It takes time to regroup as a family and trying to rush the process isn't helpful. Don't expect your returning spouse to immediately resume his or her role as an engaged parent.