For many parents, watching their son or daughter ship off to a war or far-off land is a scary thing. It’s even scarier when parents don’t have a context surrounding what military life is like. The idea of coming home for the holidays or just being able to choose where to live next are nearly impossible ones for military families. And the concept of deployment can be just as foreign.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re a military spouse looking for help with navigating your relationship with your in-laws (hi!) or because you’re the in-laws looking to navigate a relationship with your child’s spouse (hey!). It’s important to note that the relationship between a spouse and his or her in-laws can be rocky, non-existent, or fragile. It’s also important to note that many spouses have really close, solid relationships with their in-laws. These are just suggestions– they’re not hard and fast facts. (Well, except for OPSEC and PERSEC. You’ve just gotta abide by those.)
You know your family best. You know your relationships best. When working with love and a hope for understanding, you’ll be okay.
OPSEC is a thing. So is PERSEC.
Information is the lifeblood of every deployment– every small drop matters. It’s vitally important to keep information related to operational security (OPSEC) and personal security (PERSEC) safe as safe can be. If your child’s spouse shares something with you, make sure you know what can’t and can be shared with others. Then, make sure that you respect those requests. Homecomings and troop movements have actually been altered before because too much information was “in the wind.” You don’t want to be the reason your son or daughter can’t come home on time.
Deployment is really stressful.
Parents of deployed service members experience deployment stress too, but it’s different than what a spouse experiences. Everyone worries about safety and there’s the ever-present fear of the unknown, but because in-laws and spouses are at different points in their lives and with different responsibilities, it’s just not the same. It’s okay that it’s different– but don’t assume that your child’s spouse’s experience is less than yours. Treat him or her with care… even if you think they’re being dramatic, even if you think it’s silly.
A kind gesture makes a world of difference.
And talking about treating with care… A gesture is so vitally important to spouses during deployment. If you can send a card, come over to take care of the kids (invited, of course), or send a gift card for a well-needed coffee or wine, do it. Often military spouses spend deployments caring for their children and their spouse (long-distance), that they don’t have time or energy to give themselves a break. The longer the deployment and the easier it is for others to forget about them, too.
Assumptions can kill a fledgling relationship and it’s even more complicated when the emotions of deployment and the structure of the military are in the mix. Don’t assume that you are invited to the deployment send-off or the homecoming. Every couple needs to make those decisions alone, without pressure from their families. Some couples may love the bustle and celebration of everyone being on the pier or at the airport. For others, it might be overwhelming or detrimental to their relationship. Ask what role you can play in the deployment or homecoming and accept what your child and his or her spouse has decided.
Keep communication open.
Just because your child’s away doesn’t mean you can’t grow your relationship with his or her spouse. Many spouses I’ve talked to often feel (unintentionally) ostracized by their in-laws during deployment and would love a phone call or note– some even wish their in-laws would visit during deployment. Other spouses have noted that their in-laws only call when they want to know how the grandkids are doing. Don’t forget to ask your child’s spouse how they are and if there’s anything you can do to make life a little easier.
Think about your role in homecoming.
You’re excited about homecoming. So is your child and his/her family. You want to be there to welcome your child home. But should you? This can be one of the most contentious parts of deployment because there are so many emotions. The best way to make sure you do the “right” thing? Ask your deployed child and their spouse what their wishes are.
Once they tell you their preferences for homecoming, then it’s your turn to heed them or not. (Spoiler alert: Always acquiesce to their preferences for homecoming.) Don’t give a guilt-trip. Don’t do it half-heartedly. Instead, follow their wishes to the letter. Think about what makes life easier for them.
If they invite you to be part of the homecoming day, be part of the team. Don’t make the day about you. See what your child’s spouse needs. Maybe it’s corralling the kids while you wait. Maybe it’s taking pictures. Maybe it’s being a shoulder to lean on. They don’t need you to jockey to be the first one to kiss your child. (Spouses dream for months of that first kiss!) They don’t need you to be self-indulgent and only worried about your wants and needs. Unless they invite you to stay over, book a hotel room. If they ask you to take the kids out for dinner so they can spend time together, do it with a smile.
If they do not invite you to be part of the homecoming day, don’t take it personally. Instead, ask them what they need. What can you do to make homecoming and reintegration easier? Ask when you can visit (and stay in a hotel). It might feel unwelcoming or frustrating that you’re not invited to homecoming, especially if it’s been a long deployment or if you’ve been to others.
But remember this: every deployment is different. There are reasons why your child and their spouse are making a particular choice. No matter what their choice and request, the way you respond can be a gift to them, their relationship with each other, and their relationship with you.
In-laws, remember this:
It’s a tricky thing– navigating deployment and relationships. Even the strongest ones can buckle and bend under the stress and emotion. As an in-law you have a very unique power: the ability to influence the deployment experience. Choose how you do so carefully and with love.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of MSB New Media & Unilever. The opinions and text are all mine.