A Parenting Burnout Club Few Understand: Deployment
“Hey honey. I got orders today.”
“Okay...ugh when are you leaving?”
*You begin to do the math of how much time is left, everything they’re going to miss, and things you’ll need to rearrange so that they can still be a part of some big things in the kids’ lives. Heck there are 4 things that need to be fixed around the house. Will there be time? I guess it’s time to YouTube “how to change oil in a car” or “My faucet won’t stop leaking”*
“For how long?”
“Alright. Well we got this *gulp*! See you when you get home. We can tell the kids together. I love you.”
The phone hangs up. This isn’t your first rodeo of solo parenting, and yet still... the panic sinks in.
“It’ll be fine” you tell yourself. But deep down you’re already trying to imagine how you’re going to spread yourself so thin to cover all of the responsibilities and areas in your life that need you. You look at your kids’ faces and know how much their lives are about to get turned upside down. Because no matter how many times they say goodbye, the big emotions, tantrums, anger, confusion and fear come out in ways that are all usually pointed at you.
So then, you begin sharing the news with your friends and family, and maybe even your employer, your church support, and maybe teachers if your kids are old enough.
Then come the questions and the comments...
“Oh my goodness for how long?”
“Are you going to be okay? Do you need anything?”
“Well where is he/she going? Will they be in danger?”
“Wow! I don’t know how you do it. That’s going to be so hard” (yeah no sh*% Sherlock. Don’t remind me).
“Well this is what you signed up for! So don’t complain.”
But here comes the real truth when it comes to deployments...
YOU FIND OUT WHO YOUR VILLAGE REALLY IS!
You see in the beginning, when your spouse leaves, everyone wants to help. They want to know how you’re doing. They offer a meal, or a coffee, or simply an ear to listen.
But then...as the weeks go on, they forget. I mean I can’t blame them fully. We all have our own lives we’re dealing with. And if asking for help isn’t your strong suit, how are they supposed to know.
So they stop checking in on you. From the outside, you’re handling it all so great. “I could never do that!” they say.
*And in your head you’re thinking. I’M NOT. IM NOT DOING IT. I’M FREAKING STRUGGLING AND I CRY A LOT AND I YELL AT MY KIDS A LOT, AND MY HOUSE IS TRASHED AND MY PERSONAL CUP IS SO BEYOND EMPTY, A DESERT PROBABLY HAS MORE WATER*
But because it’s so hard to ask for help, and because people innocently forget...no more quick texts of encouragement. You can forget the willingness to listen before the annoyance in their voice that you’re “complaining again” becomes quite apparent. But it’s the unmet promises of “I’ll bring you dinner next week” or “anytime you need a break from the kids, let me know” that really begin to just suck.
[If you’re anything like me...asking for help is physically cringe worthy. I grew up an only child, with a long term single mother who worked night shifts as a Police Officer in Milwaukee, WI. I just had to learn how to be on my own.
Then...I enlisted into the Army myself at 17 years old and that self sufficiency got cranked up a notch.
But regardless, I think asking for help is so hard for so many parents because of the society-induced expectation that we all need to live up to “Supermom” that can do it all.
Here’s the thing...I fully believe moms can do anything...but we can’t do everything.]
So when we finally cave and admit that we need help and ask for a break, and the people once full of so much promise to support and help you don’t respond, aren’t available, or decide it’s too inconvenient now...the defeat begins to feel tangible. It’s like you’re drowning and finally reach out a hand to pull you up for air- and they let go. In fact, sometimes it feels like as they let go, they add a 5lb weight to your ankle at the same time.
Now hear me loud and clear! PEOPLE DON’T DROP THE BALL TO BE THE DEVIL. It’s partly our fault. Don’t lie. How many times has someone offered and you thought to yourself “I don’t want to burden them.” Or “It’s not their job to raise my kids. I should be able to juggle it all.”...right? And then the very practical reality that your kids’ lives just got turned upside down (especially toddlers) and they aren’t always willing to be cared for by others without fear that you’re leaving too! *Cue the mom guilt when you actually leave and have some you time*
They just don’t understand. Just like we don’t understand what it’s like to have family around constantly. We hear our non mil friends talk about how much they can’t stand the days they have to have play dates with the in-laws. And here we are wishing we had some form of free childcare who loved our children endlessly to take breaks, get our hair done, run kid-free errands even for a month! The grass is always greener am I right? What some would give to be a thousand miles away from their family.
A lot of people compare solo parenting, to single parenting, but some differences should be pointed out (not that they aren’t both incredibly not worthy and amazingly difficult). As a solo parent, your family has been used to a routine that involves two parents.
Household and parenting roles that are divided among two parents get absorbed into one parent’s role overnight. But then, those roles get abruptly disrupted again just months later as the deployed parent returns. Nothing can be permanent which makes coping difficult.
Solo parents during deployment often have no family nearby to bridge some gaps left behind by the deployed parent. Solo parents then have the added fear and concern of the deployed parents safety and health overseas.
In 2020, and current times, every doctor appointment, meeting, or boring obligation that we have becomes a game of Tetris for finding a babysitter because guess what?!
If deployment wasn’t hard enough, now we can’t even bring our kids with us! AND we have to pay childcare just to get our vaginas or incisions checked 6 weeks post birth because we can’t bring our babies. Both single and solo parents can 100% understand this.
And...let’s talk about the “Deployment Curse” or “Murphy’s Law: Deployment Edition” as I call it. What the f@?! is up with everything in the house breaking during a deployment.
The faucet leaks now, the toilet makes a terrifying sound after it flushes, your car battery dies, the kids break their first bone, you damage one of your spouse’s prized possessions on accident while scrambling to feed everyone and tend to every whine all at once.
Your credit card gets locked because of an overseas transaction even though you ALREADY CALLED TO LET THE BANK KNOW! And we all know that if you’re not the primary account holder, you’re SOL.
And there it comes...that tangible defeat again. Separation pay and tax free income aren’t enough to cover your broken TV. It’s not enough to cover the heartbreaking cries for mommy/daddy every night. It’s not enough to cover the loneliness that comes at dinner when you don’t know what to talk about; or after the kids are in bed when it feels like your only purpose in life is a homework-checking, dish-washing, bed-making, toy-cleaning, home-repairing maniac.
*You look at the calendar and count down the days again. You look at the clock and calculate the time difference just to see if you’d be able to call your spouse at this time of day to just vent* But then...should you vent? Can you vent? I mean it’s not their fault they left. Will venting only make them feel worse? Will it distract them too much for their mission?
F#^! Who the heck can you call. It’s 11:30 pm and you have no one to call...or do you?
Here’s the thing MILSPO tribe (Military Spouse)... we all know the jokes out there about military spouses and dependents complaining about deployment. We should be happy we are the ones that get to be with the kids. We should NEVER insinuate that we “serve”, too. But you know what...yes the hell we do.
But I’ll tell you what, I’m willing to bet that the defeat that is so valid, and very real is clouding your eyes. I’m willing to bet that behind a string of 10 phone digits (it’s never just 7 because all of our friends have different area codes- duh) is an entire tribe of people who are willing to help you.
So the first person who said they would help changed their mind. Or more likely- they legitimately just have their own life crap to sort out and yes...it sucks. But it’s true. And I know it feels like your issues and problems are the biggest ones in the world right now. And I know that you have every reason to feel defeated- but don’t let that win.
So change gears. Call a second person. A third person. Heck I’ve never been above a desperate Facebook post of “Hey tribe! If you’re able to help me out this weekend, would you shoot me a message!” Sometimes desperation wins.
What I think you’ll find is that your village is so much bigger and more willing than you think. They are! They just don’t understand. So help them understand. Let them in.
And if you’re not a military spouse and you’re reading this, I promise you that going one step further than “let me know if you need anything” to “hey on this day, I’d love to help you with the kids or with anything else you may need” will probably make your friend ugly cry so hard it puts the Kim Kardashian crying meme to shame. No really, that’s all it takes and BOOM they feel seen. Like really seen.
And to all of our amazing spouses who deploy...we know that your job is so hard. Being alone with this kids is hard. But being AWAY from your kids must feel so incredibly heartbreaking. Every missed milestone. Every small injury that you could kiss away in seconds, but can’t. You are freaking amazing and we are so glad for the sacrifice you make for your family, and for the country.
So moral of the story? Being the stateside spouse during deployment blows. It’s just does. But guess what else, we have the opportunity to use these experiences to shape how we view gratitude, parenting, grace, God help, and a tribe. SO much is out of our control. But our perspective can be helped.
Reach out to your free and professional support on base. Reach out to other milspos who just get it. Call up your Pastor and stop letting the lie that you’re a burden become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
And to our tribe that doesn’t get it but wants to, thank you. Thank you for sticking through us on our crabby days. Thank you for not judging our messy houses. Thank you for just sitting with us. Thank you for the surprise coffee drop offs. You mean the world to us. And we see you!
[For more information about how our pregnancy, birth, and postpartum support services can help you when your spouse is here, or gone, click here!