by Meg Flanagan
I’ve been around the military since way back 2008, right when the big Afghanistan troop surge was getting ready to kick off. Right when a lot of units and individual troops were staring down 9-16 month deployments on a regular basis.
Long deployments suck. Really and truly they are awful.
But you can deal with long deployments by doing a few crucial things in your prep and execution.
Whether you were expecting this one to be longer than normal or it was a “fun surprise” that was just recently announced, it’s time to get into survival mode. Once you’ve got these key details in place, you’ll be set to coast on through to the finish.
Identify your “people”
This might change over the course of the tour, but knowing a few folks that you can 100% rely on right now is essential. You’ll need someone to serve as your point of sanity and support starting yesterday.
Ideally, you’ll have a few great friends nearby, but don’t discount folks who are farther away either. Getting some pep talks via FaceTime has saved my own sanity more than once.
For your battle buddies who are in the area, start talking about the support you’ll need. If they’re going through the deployment with you, make it clear that this is a two-way street–you’ll be there for them, too!
Keep it cool
Yes, you’d like to run around like a weepy chicken right now. But you can’t. It doesn’t help you, your spouse, or your kids process the deployment build-up. Okay, it might help you, but save your weeping moments for a time when you’re alone or when you can fully vent your sadness to your spouse or friends.
All other times, keep it chipper or at least avoid complete meltdowns. You want to show your kids, if you have any, that your family will keep on trucking even when your loved one deploys. “It’s fine, I’ll be here to steer the ship” is the general aura you want to exude.
Find your outlet for stress
During our year-long deployment, I found a lot of ways that I could release pent up stress. Running, classes at the gym, dinners with friends and painting pottery at the craft shop were all ways that I relaxed.
You will need to find healthy ways to relax. Take some time now, while you’re not the one 100% responsible for the safety of pets or small children to seek out your zen zones.
Locate child care
Not everyone will need this. Pet parents: you’ll want to find a reliable pet person to care for your animal(s).
Babysitters should be assigned for deployments or even extended TDYs. Really. There is nothing as stress-relieving for a parent (or owner of a very needy critter) than to know that someone else is handling all the things.
Find your person or people to handle things. Get them on speed dial. Commit to using them regularly, for your sanity. Add this item to your household budget.
Right now is the time to try things and see what works or what doesn’t. Nothing is set in stone as far as routine, so experiment!
That said, sticking as closely as possible to any routines you have already established is important for kids and pets alike. It helps them to feel secure and supported.
Kids love a good routine almost as much as cake.
(Not really, but almost.)
Establish your deployment worksharing system
If you have kids at home who can do chores, assign them some housework. Frankly, every child over age 2 can do chores. Even a toddler can be taught to tidy their shoes and toys. Older kids can, and should, have more responsibility.
Make a chart and give them rewards. Rewards can be as simple as stickers or special snacks. My 6-year-old will do a lot of things for cookies. Older kids can earn money, screen time, or new tech.
The first few weeks will be stressful as everyone gets used to the new system. Once established, this should help to lift some of the adulting burden off your shoulders. Plus, your kids will be learning valuable life skills like emptying pants pockets of pens prior to washing.
Create a new normal
Just like your spiffed up chore chart, your goal is to create a sense of normalcy and routine for everyday life. Having regular rotating menus, like Taco Tuesday, or a strict-ish afternoon schedule helps things to just happen.
Routines take a few weeks to get used to. Until you do, it can help to keep track of your new norm with alarms, calendar alerts, or an old fashioned planner.
After a few weeks to a month, you’ll feel more settled and secure. Routines can help us to skim through the days without thinking about the next to-do item. Instead you’ll think: “Tuesday: dance, swim lessons, dinner, walk.”
Now this is all about personal preference. For me, I marked down months for the first 7 months and then switched to weeks left after that point. Other people like to do a daily countdown while some people just ignore time completely.
Whatever your preference, pick something and stick with it.
I did months at first because the chunks of time were bigger while also having smaller digits. When I switched to the weekly milestones, the number of weeks was under 20. Doing it this way was like a fun mind trick, helping me to ignore time or at least deal with smaller numbers. It was just too much for me to countdown from 365ish.
“Great! One day down, only 364 more to go!” said no one ever.
Even though you’re humming along and thriving in your solid routine, there will be moments and days that are harder. Usually this happens around significant days, holidays, or unit events for the rear detachment.
Special moments game plan
Make a plan to help make the holidays less lonely. Whatever holidays you’ll be marking during deployment, start planning early.
Personally, I stayed home for Christmas and our anniversary happens to be right in the same timeframe. So I made sure to surround myself with friends on both days.
On Christmas, I hosted a major blowout dinner party with a present swap, doggie playdate, and movie marathon. It was so epic we repeated it the next year, even though deployment was done.
For our anniversary, I took myself out for a mani and pedi. Then I grabbed a friend who was also spouse-less for dinner and drinks. I also made sure to start the request for flowers early and repeated it often, ensuring a dozen red roses arrived exactly on time.
So make a plan, share it with friends or family, then follow through. Go home for the holidays, bring family to you, take a vacation or do something else fun. Whatever you’re doing, it will help to keep your mind off the missing member of your family.
Stay connected across the miles
Keeping the romance alive despite distance is tough. Parenting via FaceTime is hard. However, both are essential to keeping your deployed spouse linked into your family.
Use United Through Reading to help your spouse take part in bedtime, no matter where they are currently located. With a new app available, it’s never been easier!
Scheduling, as much as possible, video chats and phone calls helps keep conversations flowing, too.
Make a plan to send letters and care packages. Use a care package service, like Troopster, to take the work off of your plate because you already have enough to do. If creating care packages is your jam, check out some of our favorite Jo, My Gosh care package ideas!
Mostly, surviving a long deployment involves creating a routine, finding ways to detress, and creating opportunities to connect across the miles. Before you know it, your loved one will be back in your arms!
- 9 Proven and Easy Ways to Hack Deployment
- 10 Care Package Hacks for When You’re Totally Burnt Out
- Here’s Why Milspouses Need a Deployment Bucket List
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!