Going through a deployment is a unique challenge. Not unlike having a baby, you can’t fully understand what it’s like unless you have personally gone through it yourself. Then there’s the fact that each deployment and family is different and from one year to the next many things change. Nothing is predicable or consistent except in the fact that everything is consistently unpredictable.
It can be a little overwhelming- to the service member, their family, and even the friends of the family, but I often feel the friends desperately want to help but aren’t really sure how. On top of that, it’s easy as the spouse left at home to give a cookie cutter safe answer of, “Thank you so much but we’re fine. I can’t think of anything we need.” Which can be true, but sometimes it isn’t, or at least not completely.
I honestly believe that it can hard to be friends with military families when you aren’t one yourself, but I promise we’re worth it. We love the support and to be loved on by people who don’t really understand but are there for us and willing to give a little of themselves to help us through a challenging time in our lives. If you know and love a military family, thank you, and this is for you because we love you too.
In an effort to help out my fellow military spouses, and their friends, I’ve attempted to compile a list of seven practical suggestions for ways to really help in an actually helpful way.
- Don’t offer help, just give it. Sometimes we say no to help just because we’re given the chance to and later regret it. Rather than saying, “Let me know if you need anything.”, which we inevitably will, make an offer like, “I want to bring you dinner, does Tuesday or Wednesday work better for you?” Because not having to cook a meal for one adult and two kids that wont eat it anyways is seriously the best, and no one will say no to something you’ve already planned and obviously want to do. Other options include things like, “Do you have someone to cut your grass?”, “What day can I help you come clean your house?”, or “When can I babysit your kids?” All music to our ears.
2. Know that we don’t know. At the beginning of deployment, we don’t know when they’re coming home. At the end of deployment, we don’t know when they’re coming home. Things literally change on an hourly basis, we have no idea what’s going on 90% of the time and getting asked over and over isn’t super helpful. We will never know anything very far in advance and we’ve come to terms with it, we promise it’s ok.
3. We aren’t single parents (shout out to all the rock-star moms and dads who are, you’re amazing!). Yes, we parent by ourselves for months at a time, but we also have the emotional, practical, and financial support of the spouse that’s gone. It’s different- like, a lot. I honestly feel like actual single parents are cheated when I get told this because I don’t deserve the credit they do for doing majorly hard things alone. There are so many things that come with being a single parent that we as military spouses don’t have to think about or deal with and while deployments present their own unique challenges, it definitely isn’t the same.
4. Encouragement goes a really, really long way. When someone says, “Wow, that must be hard but what a great chance to support and love your spouse in such a unique way!” Or even asking how you can pray for our marriage, kids, travel, spiritual walk, or practical needs goes a long way. We all have our challenges in life so rather than putting us in the “extra hard” category with all the “I don’t know how you do it!” comments, just encourage and pray for us like everyone else!
5. Trying to relate isn’t what we need. We understand it’s coming from a loving place but it’s kind of hurtful when people compare their spouses two week work trip to a 6-9 month deployment. Kind of the flip side of the single parent comment which is giving too much credit, this one doesn’t give enough. Especially when some of our spouses are in danger, we can’t talk to them for weeks or months at a time, and the stresses both at home and wherever they are can just be never ending. It just isn’t the same and it’s hard to hear you say you think it is at times.
6. Invite us. Sometimes when you move to a new place and know no one, or almost no one, it can be really hard to find your place. You’d think we’d get better at it after a while, but the beginning is just always awkward and hard, especially when we’re missing all the friends we just left. We don’t care if it’s to the birthday party of your child that we’ve never met or just to walk around Target, being welcomed into your life makes ours so much easier.
7. Know that we miss our spouse but also love our job. We are insanely proud of our service members- like you can’t even know, and we take a lot of pride in being able to hold down the fort and help in every way we can while we’re back here at home. We don’t need pity or condolences, just lots of help and love. Yes, it’s insanely hard, but so very worth it.
I hope this all comes across as loving and gracious, and not at all ungrateful or coarse- it isn’t intended that way at all. What I do want is just to simply communicate a message that both shows and facilitates love and relationships between everyone, whether you’re a military family or not. I am so thankful for my family, my military friends who have become family, my church family, and literally every single person who has shown support to us through all sorts of situations in the past few years. We have a long journey ahead of us and none of us know what the future holds, but right here and today, let’s love one another in the best ways we can.