Friday, August 28, 2009

Superwoman on her own

I "joined " the military just over ten years ago when I married an active duty serviceman. Prior to that I knew almost nothing about the military. One thing I was certain of; I would spend at least some of my marriage without my husband.

This did not bother me too much. I accepted it as a way of life. While my mother was singing the "you poor thing" song, I took a more rational approach. I had already been exposed to couples who spent at least some time apart. I knew a woman whose husband was a bank examiner and had to travel for a few days a month. I had worked for a doctor's wife and saw the inconsistency of their life as he did on-call work and hospital rotations. As my friends got married, many of them were apart from their husbands for grad-school, internships, and job searches. As time passed, some of them had to deal with their husbands' long work hours, inconsistent schedules, or business trips. A few have moved more times than we have!

During the first few deployments, I tried to make things "special". I tried a lot of the tips I was given about keeping lots of extra pictures, doing fun things, going on trips, etc. It seemed like the deployment was supposed to be a months-long party.

None of it worked. My kids would see a new movie or chicken nuggets for dinner and KNOW something was up. To them it wasn't a treat; it was a reminder that Daddy was gone. They usually reacted badly to these efforts.

After ten years of experience, I learned that a few tips are actually helpful. Here is my list of what has worked for me. (These tips can apply to everyone who faces this kind of situation, military or not.)

1. Stick to your routine. When my husband is home, we eat healthy, hot meals at the table. Eating sandwiches in front of the TV was not a treat when the kids needed stability. So, when he is gone, I still cook and we still eat at the table... most of the time. It makes a huge difference for the kids and for me. I need the extra energy of a healthy meal when I am dealing with more demands.

2. Don't put off the fun. There is a tendency to say "We will wait until Daddy is home to do that." While you might want to make a few small exceptions to this, it is best to go on with the birthdays and Halloween and Christmas. It says that even though Daddy is gone, we can still have a good time. We don't have to miss out on the things we enjoy or the events that are specail to us.

3. Don't make excuses. When the weight of being the only caregiver starts bringing you down, it can be easy to say no to all the extras. Ask yourself this question :"What else have I got to do?" If the answer is watch 5 hours of TV, or spend the evening taking Facebook quizzes, then go to the game or FRG meeting or whatever else it might be. That doesn't mean say yes to everything either. You do need a break once in a while. Just don't deprive yourself (or your kids) of opportunities because you are feeling lonely.

4. Don't focus on the negative. A few years ago, a fellow spouse told me that she was having a hard time with her four year old. "He cries himself to sleep every night. " She said sadly. When I asked why she replied, "Well I told him his daddy was probably going to be killed in Iraq so he better get used to the idea." I was stunned. She explained that she felt it was important to be honest with children and she didn't want to say her husband would be coming home and then be thought a liar by her son if her didn't. didn't that make her a liar when her husband came home alive and well?
To me, this caused months of unnecessary pain and frustration for this family. Yes, there is the possibility that a soldier will not return from his deployment. Then again, he might be killed in a car accident on his way home from work. There are a lot of uncertainties in life and focusing on them does not make them go away. Being positive will help you and your family through the tough times, any tough times.
5. Give and receive help. I could not have made it through some of the separations without the help of friends and family. I especially benefited from the give-and-take relationships I had with other women in the same boat. We each knew what the other was going through and could offer support with just a smile or a phone call. Doing it all yourself doesn't prove anything to anyone. It just makes you REALLY tired and probably just a tad irritable.
6. Keep your perspective, AKA count your blessings. The first time my husband deployed I was living in an unfamiliar city with a brand new baby. I was not very upset, more in shock than anything else. Shortly after he left, his grandmother called me. Her husband had been in the Navy during WWII. Although I don't remember complaining, she seemed to chastise me a little and said bluntly, "My first child was two years old before his father even laid eyes on him. This is nothing." Her words were like a slap in the face. I never forgot them either. In recent years I have sat in my home having live video chats with my husband while he was half a world away. I have spoken to him on the phone, emailed, sent him packages that only took a days instead of months to arrive (usually). It may not be my first choice but it could be a whole lot worse!
There is a lot of advice out there and while it might not all work fro you, it is given with good intention. Dealing with separation is a learning process. Each time is different. But the most important lesson I have learned is that they always come to an end!

1 comment:

Cornelia Gogan said...

I love your blog Amy. I like how you give advice and encourage people.
I like it and hope to read more of your columns.
Have you ever thought of writing for Stars and Stripes? Maybe they could even open a column for you
I used to be called Superwoman and I hated that staetment or that title. After having 10 children nobody even asks me anything, I guess I am to far out in the sky for them LOL
I think the title fits you well.
Keep writing, I love it!