Of the many challenges that face military families, there is perhaps none greater than deployment. Or rather, deployments. After thirteen years of war there are only a few lucky families that have had to weather just one.
Deployment can strain marriages, families, budgets, and the spouse’s very sanity. One half of the marriage partnership is in a warzone, which would be stressful enough on its own. But on top of that, life goes on, and often in maddening ways. A spouse gone means twice the work for the spouse at home. It means the dryer will bust, the lawn will become unruly, and the kids, whatever their ages, will have episodes of reversion to threenagers. It’s inevitable; it’s Murphy’s Law of Deployment.
The silver lining amid the chaos? We know it’s coming. That means we can plan for it, at least to a certain degree. One of my personal favorite stories about deployment is by a milspouse named Sherry Mondragon, who wrote A Tale of Two Deployments. In it, she writes:
“Soldiers don’t serve or fight alone; they are part of a unit and have battle buddies for help and accountability. Those of us serving on the home front need battle buddies, too.”
What does that mean for us? It means activating your village! We all know it takes one, and yet we can be extremely stubborn about building one. Maybe it’s pride or trying to “be strong.” But the simple fact is that even if we can do it alone, we shouldn’t. Help is out there, and our families will weather deployments better if we reach out for it.
So what does activating your village look like?
A village starts with planning. Some of us know before deployment takes place that there are particular things we may need help with (the lawn, the kids, the plumbing, making sense of the taxes). Pre-planning a list of people to call on for help can take some of the stress out of stressful situations. When you let people know they’re in your village, you will be pleasantly surprised at their response.
Use Your Village
A list of friends at the ready to help is really only good if you use it. Which means being deliberate about asking. Military spouses are an independent, self-sufficient bunch, which is amazing! But sometimes trying to live that reputation results in needless strain. Deployment is hard enough without trying to go it alone. So ask! Ask early, ask often.
Give Them a Hint
Sometimes our challenges seem so obvious to us that we can get frustrated when other people don’t see them. But here’s the truth: everyone is living their own challenges, which means they are certain to miss some of yours – unless you speak up! Talk about deployment. Talk about the things you are struggling with. Sometimes, your village will identify and help you with needs you didn’t even know how to articulate, but only if you communicate with them.
But you can’t anticipate every possible need before a deployment. So don’t be afraid to cast a wider net as unforeseen issues pop up. People want to help. Seriously. Expand your village to address whatever your family needs.
It’s We, and Me
Your village will help take care of your families in ways that will bring tremendous peace of mind. But don’t forget, military spouse, that you are part of this family too. Having help with the yard, house, kids, or mysteriously-broken-car-that-was-fine-a-week-ago is wonderful. But a thriving wife/husband and mom/dad is critical to a family that weathers a deployment well. So be intentional in activating your village for yourself, too. Even if it’s something as small as inviting a friend over for a glass of wine/beer and an episode of Scandal/a football game, ask for what you need, too!
Sometimes we think that being in control means taking care of everything ourselves. But I think that being in control means taking control of the situation and using all the tools at our disposal-friends, neighbors, family-to kick the situation’s tail! Community, that’s our secret weapon.
If you’re weathering a deployment, be sure to activate your village. If you’re in someone’s village, be proactive. In a deployment, we don’t always know (or ask for) what we need. Our servicemembers will weather the warzone as a team, and that is precisely how we need to weather the home front!