Our first deployment, the kids were young.
Our kids were 9, 4 1/2, 3 1/2, and 9 1/2 months.
He left for Kandahar, Afghanistan, in mid-January. I was all alone in Utah – far from family, and friends were almost non-existent.
I’m pretty self-sufficient.
Sure, I had some bad days.
We had a blizzard. I burned the garlic toast one night at dinner. We had a basement flood on Memorial Day.
Overall, we did well, considering.
Our second deployment, the kids are older.
They’re 18, 12, 11, and 8.
It’s so different, but not necessarily easier.
As a homeschooling mom of 4, deployment can be lonely and difficult at times. We have no help – no family nearby, no support system. We are self-reliant. I am an introvert.
I simplify for sanity some days, or even weeks. Sometimes, I buy storebought baked goods, rotisserie chickens for dinner, canned biscuits, and these new natural Lunchables. My time is valued and these shortcuts help us a lot when life gets hectic. We’ve even gone out to eat a few times!
Cutting corners is fine. I have to give myself a break.
I don’t want to drive 4 kids all over town every day or all weekend. I limit errands and activities to save time and money and yes, it’s hard to say no sometimes. I have to judge what’s the best use of our time and money. I can’t be in two places at once. We participate in activities together as much as possible – art lessons, classes at our local craft stores, rec sports at the same park.
Bedtime is earlier. After dinner, I’m just spent. I want to take a bubble bath and lie in bed watching Netflix with my cats.
My kids are older now and they can help a lot more around the house. The kids understand. I use Facebook Messenger Kids to remind them to load the dishwasher.
Holidays can be different. We don’t have to eat turkey at Thanksgiving. We can celebrate Christmas on a different, more convenient, day. We can eat a picnic in the living room with the TV on.
We maintain routines as much as possible for our comfort and my sanity.
We pray and read and cook and eat. We get outside and exercise almost every day, no matter the weather. We snuggle and love the cats.
We allow the tears and sadness because it’s healthy to express all emotions.
How Does Deployment Affect Kids?
Most people think deployment must just be really hard and negative for families. While there are certainly sad times, I think deployment can help families grow stronger.
My son didn’t much seem to notice anything different. I was his primary caretaker and that didn’t change. If he noticed or wondered why Dad wasn’t home evenings or weekends all of a sudden, he couldn’t communicate that question.
My son was mostly oblivious to everything during the first deployment. It was just regular life for him. Of course, he picked up on my emotions and stress. It seemed like Dad missed so much – his first steps and his first birthday. So much growth.
It was a little awkward with the homecoming and he sorta remembered Dad, but it took a little while for them to get comfortable with each other again.
Kids in this age group are not known for flexibility or handling change well. I think it’s hard to explain something complex like deployment to small children.
They wonder if he’s coming back, if he’ll be safe or get hurt. They develop abandonment issues. They become very clingy. It’s hard for them to express emotions and handle stress.
My youngest daughter was and is pretty independent and I don’t think she was too concerned about Dad being gone, but she wasn’t really able to process or express anything about it.
I kept the kids on a routine to help us all adjust more easily.
It was so super hard on my middle daughter during the first deployment. She pretty much slept in my bed the entire time Dad was gone. She struggled with abandonment feelings. She struggled with middle child issues. She couldn’t process her emotions nor express her fears. She’s always been our sensitive one.
It helped her to grow. She’s strong now as a 12 year old and amazes me every day as my helper in all things.
My eldest daughter has always had to be strong for her siblings, and sometimes even for me. She’s had to be responsible from a very young age. She was a huge help during the first deployment.
My 8 year old son is feeling it hardest for this second deployment. He’s gotten better into a routine now that we’re about halfway through. There are lonely times for him as the only boy in a houseful of girls. I help him use his time serving, helping, and learning.
He misses his Dad.
My middle girls at age 11 and 12 are pretty indifferent about this second deployment. They chat and FaceTime with Dad frequently and they don’t really feel (or don’t express) the distance. They send him photos on email and chat and create drawings for the care packages we send. Maybe they’re just well adjusted and accepting.
My eldest is now eighteen, and fairly independent. She still relies on me for advice and help, especially during crises. She hasn’t taken her driving test yet for her license yet.
But sometimes, she thinks she knows everything. She’s not very affected by the deployment. She helps at home and works with me on schedules so I can do everything we need to do. I know she’s angry and wishes her life had been different.
Don’t we all have regrets? Military life has its ups and downs but we’ve had amazing opportunities. She realizes this, but sometimes feels disappointment at our lack of roots.
She’s learning valuable lessons about fidelity, duty, love, and relationships.
It’s different at every stage. Babies and toddlers feel uncomfortable. Young kids are often confused and scared. Tweens and teens feel diffident and abandoned.
Military life builds resilience, flexibility, independence, value, and perspective.
I’m making memories with these kids – who are living for 8ish months without a father, except on FaceTime, messenger, and email. I have to make it as special and good as possible. I do try to hide my negative emotions and I try never, ever, to lash out at them when I’m stressed. I don’t want Dad to only hear about problems. He needs to be part of the joy and celebration too, so he doesn’t feel he’s missing so much.
After close to a year apart, we have to learn each other again.
Yes, it’s hard sometimes.
They know we’re in this together.
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