Seven Survival Tips for Deployment

It has been almost two years since I’ve published on this blog. Wherever that quote originated from – “you wouldn’t believe it if I told you!” – it’s true. I couldn’t make up all that happened in those two years, including my reasons for remaining away. No excuses – just life. I may share some of those over time.

For now, in the last four weeks – and drawing on my experience as a military wife – I’ve jotted down a quick list of Seven Survival Tips for Deployment. They’re the broad strokes, but they are extremely important. Who can sweat the details at a time like this? We are one month in with at least nine to go. If your spouse is deploying, or you spend extended amounts of time apart for work or other reasons, read on. There’s truth here!

1. Don’t panic.

The moment your spouse walks out the door or you see them off at one of those heart-wrenching drop-offs, Murphy moves in. If you don’t know who Murphy is, you’re obviously new to this separation stuff. In the first two weeks of my husband’s deployment, our checking account was hacked, Netflix was hacked, TV broke, kids’ cell phone broke, and truck door broke. There I was holding my truck door shut, driving down the icy road. Here’s the tip: don’t panic. While Murphy will definitely make himself comfortable during your spouse’s stay elsewhere, he won’t be hanging out every day, so there’s no reason to panic. If it isn’t an emergency, then start making a list of things to figure out later, put your big-girl gloves on, yank that door shut if you can, and drive to work! A lot will happen in the coming year, and there’s no use worrying about it all at once. So, don’t panic. You are perfectly capable of getting through this, and and you are much stronger than you think.

2. Keep routines (while establishing new ones).

This is my husband’s third overseas deployment since we’ve been married. Beyond that, we’ve got another tour as a private contractor behind us, as well as several other months apart. Routine is not only critical for our children’s lives, but important for my own survival, as well. If organization does not come naturally to you, this will be harder to get used to. Routine is critical. Keep what is necessary to your schedule while your spouse is deployed, and ask for help when necessary. Loosen up your routine where you need extra time alone or to make space for something new. But particularly in the beginning of a deployment, keep your routine until you are able to fine-tune adjustments, especially if you are responsible for others and working, as well. You have been thrust into a time of adjustment and grief; don’t make big changes for now in your routine.

3. Find your space.

During my husband’s last deployment, I bought our home (don’t ask!). In the last decade, however, we’ve grown quite comfortable here and – more than that – we have outgrown what we’ve got! Kids, clutter, time, and dust bunnies build until next thing you know, your space is not your own, and you can’t remember the last time you had it. One of the better parts of deployment is finding your space. The car is your own, the bedroom is your own, and for once, you might even have your own bathroom! While any of us would rather have our spouses home, there is a tiny silver lining in spreading out just a little bit more than normal. Your physical space does not have to remain the same during this deployment, and you don’t need to feel bad about it. Your spouse will be gone for at least a few months, so make yourself comfortable and spread out a bit. Put a desk in your bedroom where you struggled to find a place to use your laptop. Rearrange the living room furniture. Sleep on the opposite side of the bed. Whatever you do, do it to find your own space where you feel more comfort and peace than you did otherwise. You’ll adjust to your spouse coming home later on. Find your space, and take time doing it. Your spouse will grow as he or she is away from home, and so will you. Adjustments come later; during this time apart it is okay to allow yourself to grow.

4. Plan things to look forward to.

When our oldest daughter was very young, my husband deployed for the first and second time. She was my little shadow; we went everywhere together. I also found it difficult to be a single mom to an infant and then toddler! It helped to explore new places and new things with her, and it was an easy way to reward my little toddler for good behavior. We went everywhere together and did something special together at least once a month. Trips to the zoo, the beach, even adventures farther away help pass the time and give every person in your family something to aim at and look forward to. Younger children love marking the time Dad or Mom is away with candies in a jar or a paper chain or other Pinterest project to count down the time apart. Count by weeks, not days, and reward yourselves for getting through another month with a special activity together that can be shared with Dad or Mom through pictures and phone calls. My kids are older now, but we are still proactively planning our year apart from Dad and how to spend it.

5. Throw yourself into a hobby.

While during my husband’s last deployment I managed a household of three children, I did not work full-time. I spent time off at that time and then was back at work only part-time. Someday we’ll laugh that these days are different! While I work full-time as a pastor, I also drive Uber without the sticker or pay for my three children. Almost every evening is a sport or activity a child or two needs to be shuttled to. What remains a must for me at this time? Eating well, even in the chaos (please refer to number two!). Cooking is a hobby I enjoy, and without my husband here, I was thrust back into it. In the last four weeks I have spent more time cooking than in the last four months. While we miss my husband’s awesome cooking, I don’t mind it because standing over the stove slows down my life. I appreciate good food, fresh ingredients, healthy choices, and new recipes. Deployment might surprise you by creating just a little bit of extra time. Even while managing my household and working full-time, I have a little space as the only adult in the house. Rather than watching Youtubers with my kids, this hobby of mine is a benefit to all of us. We are eating well, slowing down our evenings, and passing the time apart. If you don’t have a hobby, deployment is a time to find one and a way to also develop a support system and meet new people.

6. Take care of yourself.

If there is anything I need to work at during this season of my life, to no one’s surprise, it is this one. The last few years have taken a toll on my body and mind, providing plenty of material for other posts! But taking care of yourself during this time is absolutely critical, if only because you are the sole responsible adult for other members of your family while your spouse is away. Deployment may seem like the time this would be least possible. You may work a job or two, have a kid or two, and participate in your world in other ways – when will you have time? You must schedule time. Schedule time to take care of yourself. This means physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If your life is very full, you may have to let something else go to prioritize this, but in between driving Uber for your kids and going to work, it is crucial you figure it out. What I call “forced Sabbaths” aren’t the best way to go, especially as we grow older. Our bodies, minds, and families deserve better than going-going-going until we are sick. Schedule time. I am actively working on this every week, which brings me to my last tip.

7. Go easy on yourself.

Number seven sounds a lot like number six, but they are slightly different. One of my family’s “rules” growing up was, “Most things don’t matter that much anyway.” This is so true. So what if the Netflix account was hacked? I guess I’ll look at it tonight when I have time. So what if Murphy moved into the kitchen and broke the handle on the cabinet? You’ll figure it out sometime later or ask someone who knows more about it than you do. So what if the office has called again and needs you to call back? You will, but you can take some time first. Most of these things are not that important (so don’t panic! See number one!). There is grace for this transition, there is grace in this season of deployment, and most of all, there is grace for you. It is okay to have a hard day; sit in bed, watch movies, and turn your phone off. It is okay to pick up fast food on the way home and to let the kids sleep in their school clothes. It is okay to reschedule yet another round of appointments your family is supposed to get to. Go easy on yourself and have grace – for your family and for yourself. Grace upon grace. One step at a time.