It’s a situation many military families know all too well: deployment with kids. My husband deployed when our first son was just a few months old. He deployed again just 10 days after our second son was born. And there I was, alone with a newborn and an almost three-year-old. Looking back on that six-month deployment, a few things kept me sane: routine, preschool and planned family visitors.
Our routine consisted of me sleep training my newborn earlier than I did with my first. Dealing with middle of the night feedings on top of early morning wake-ups by my toddler put me in zombie status. Once we got sleep figured out, I was able to manage my energy better.
At the time, my oldest was enrolled in an all-day preschool program. This helped me to get errands done, maintain a nap routine for my youngest, catch up on chores and take an afternoon nap when needed. It also gave my oldest socialization and structure, which he greatly enjoyed.
The biggest help for me during this time were planned family visitors who came once a month for at least a week. During my husband’s first deployment, I moved back to my hometown for four out of the six months he was gone. While I enjoyed the help from family, I missed my own space and routine. I decided for this deployment to stay in my home and have family come to me. This worked out well because when my parents, aunt and in-laws came out to visit they were able to give me the help I needed, but in my own space.
We all wish these weren’t typical scenarios for military families. How many of us really want to test how “strong” we are while solo parenting with a spouse on the other side of the world? No one that I know. But unfortunately, so many of us experience the challenges of parenting through deployment or training.
Celita Lewis, a Navy spouse, gave birth to her second son without her husband. He was on a three-month training and wasn’t allowed to leave to attend the birth.
“I felt very resentful for so long,” Lewis said. “I was so mad raising the kids by myself. I didn’t think I’d be doing it the whole time. It felt very overwhelming.”
Even with family help, she said accepting the separation as a temporary season is what helped her.
“I didn’t see how I was going to survive giving birth by myself and it turned out okay,” she said. “It’s not always going to be this dark, never-going-to-end moment.”
Codi Baxter, an Air Force spouse, raised two girls and gave birth while her husband was deployed for a year. They found out 10 days after he left that she was pregnant.
To a spouse going through a similar situation, Baxter said to remember that you are stronger than you realize.
“Having a newborn without your spouse is hard. Being a mom without your spouse’s support is hard. But you were made for this,” she said. “Keep praying (if that’s what you do) and just know there’s a world of people out there that have been in your shoes and understand you.”
Theresa Allen, a Marine Corps spouse of nearly 17 years, has been through four deployments, one of which when their first child was four weeks old. The deployment was supposed to be 6 months and was extended to 12 months.
She suggests military spouses give themselves grace as it takes time to establish a new normal during deployment.
“Identify the people who can help in case of an emergency, those who will cheer you up when you are having a bad day or that neighbor that can help you when you’ve locked yourself out of your car for the second time that week,” Allen said.
“Go with the flow,” Durant said. “Do what works best for you to keep your sanity and just survive. Despite my husband being gone, and the kid’s dad being gone we tried to make really good memories.”
If you’re a friend or family member of a military spouse dealing with a long separation from their partner, know that a delivered meal, coffee card, visit or offer to watch their kids for a few hours goes a long way.
“Find ways to help give them time to themselves to recharge and take a breath,” Lewis said. “Just be there to physically support and listen to them.”Read comments