11 Tips to Handle Surprise Deployment Extensions Like a Pro

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Oh, man! That countdown was getting so, so, so close to zero. And then you’re hit with an unexpected deployment extension.

Like you weren’t just barely hanging on to your sanity already. No, you’re getting the military spouse gauntlet: surviving an extra undetermined amount of time before homecoming is even tentatively scheduled.

Cool. Everything’s fine. 

Except we all know it’s NOT fine. Not even a little bit or at all. This sucks, plain and simple.

But there really isn’t a way around or over this. You can only go through it. Buckle up for a wild ride, one which you’ll totally handle like the absolute pro that you are– with helpful tips from the hive mind who’ve been there, done that.

Deployment is not great. But surprise extensions during deployments are the worst. Here's how to weather them like a total boss. #deployment #militaryspouse #deployments #jomygosh #militaryspouses #milspouse #milspouses #milso #milsos #advice #milspo #milspos #army #navy #airforce #marines #coastguard #arng #nationalguard #reserves #ng

1. Acknowledge how far you’ve come 

Start by giving yourself a GIANT pat on the back. You’ve made it so far already, with grace and joy (hopefully). Take a minute to reflect on what’s been working for you and your family so far. Think about:

  • Routines
  • Traditions
  • Delegating of chores
  • Meals
  • Milestone markers

Then draw on those areas of strength to power through the end of this deployment.

2. Allow yourself to wallow

While you’ve been chugging through this deployment beast, it’s also been really hard. And the light was just starting to glimmer at the end of the tunnel. Things were ending soonish and you had pinned all of your hopes on that mythical homecoming.

With that date becoming more fiction than fact right now, it’s 100% okay to give in to grief. Yes, grief: you’ve lost something. So grab a pint of ice cream, your coziest sweats, and curl up on the couch for a binge-watching session. Or maybe you’re more of a “listen to all the sappy love songs” person.  Whatever your grieving process looks like, honor it.

3. Phone a friend

Whether you’re calling your lifelong bestie or your milspouse neighbor, call someone and unload your issues.

Caveat: maybe skip immediately calling your in-unit pals though because they’re also equally upset right now.

You’re looking for someone who is outside the situation, who can offer you unbiased advice and love. Ideally, they’ll listen, let you wallow, and then give you a “get back on your feet” pep-talk that will power you through step 4.

4. Treat yo’self

We’ve wallowed hard, but now it’s time to get back on the proverbial horse. And if you have to do this nonsense, do it looking and/or feeling good.

Treat yourself to something indulgent. Personally, I’m a full-spa-day-with-cupcakes lady. I’m talking the whole 9: mani, pedi, massage and a new haircut. Oh, and 100% I will be stopping for a cupcake and coffee somewhere during the day.

Work within your budget. This isn’t the moment to blow your deployment net egg on diamonds or shoes. Find something that feels awesome and indulge. Because you deserve it.

5. Mark each week with something nice

During our last year-long deployment, I treated myself to flowers every single week. Okay, sometimes twice a week. 

Flowers make me so incredibly happy. They’re a gorgeous splash of color in my house and something pretty to look at while I ate dinner solo night after night. You could follow my lead and grab a small bouquet every Friday or do something else. Maybe you want to treat yourself to an extra-large coffee on Saturday mornings or watch a movie your spouse would absolutely hate.  Whatever you pick, make it 100% about you and what brings you joy.

6. Release control

Fact: you have zero control over what’s happening with this deployment. 

Whenever this ends is out of your hands entirely. You have no say. Now, release your control over the end date(s). 

Many factors are going into this deployment extension: world events, national events, weather, pandemics, possible global hot spots, someone whim. Who knows? You don’t and neither do I.

7. Do not mark down any possible future homecoming dates

You’ll hear some scuttlebutt about possible return dates. Ignore those people and those dates.

We’ve been here before only to have homecoming snatched away when it was almost within our grasp.

Don’t give in to the planning urge again. Instead, wait until you have a firm date that’s within 48-72 hours. I say within that time range because travel wheels have already started moving, making it less likely for another extension to be handed down.

8. Play homecoming low key

It’s so tempting to go whole hog on the homecoming. Resist. 

Make it special, by all means. Throw on a cute outfit, dress up the kids, make fun signs, or get a photographer. Do it. Celebrate.

But also keep it super casual. Let things just happen after the glorious return. No reservations, no gatherings, nothing. Grab takeout or show down on a yummy slow cooker meal. Lounge in sweats and watch tv. Just be together.

9. Plan something special after homecoming

And by “after,” I mean way after, as in don’t book anything until your loved one is physically back in your arms.

Remember that year-long deployment? After he got back, we booked a belated honeymoon to Jamaica –all inclusive everything. But I didn’t hit “pay” until he was safely back on US soil. Just in case something, you know, unexpected happened.

Again, keep within your budget. But also do something cool and special whether that means a sweet staycation or a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

10. Keep routines similar for kids

Whether you had started to hype up your kids or they were in the dark, they’ll know something is up by your behavior. If you feel like it will help or your kids are older, you could sit them down and explain the situation. If your kids weren’t in the know or are really little, maybe keeping them in the dark about homecoming and deployment changes is better. Honestly, your call.

Whatever you decided, do keep the rhythm of your deployment household the same. Stick to the same schedule, the same routines, the same everything. Keeping things humming along with the deployment “normal” routine will help kids to feel secure and safe. Routine is everything to kids.

11. Treat your kids to something fun

Deployments suck for kids, too. Treat them to a day of fun! Big or small, it’ll be the little things that make your time together special: Grab ice cream for dinner or rent the latest movies at home. Visit the zoo or ride all the rides at a theme park. Whatever you do, tailor it to your kids’ interests and ages.

Honestly, whatever you do to ride out this tough time is fine. Period. The end.

You might be in for a longer ride than you expected, but this too shall pass. And you’ll come out the other side stronger. For now, do what you have to do to make this unexpected deployment extension survivable for your family.

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Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!

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