While your partner is deployed and you are home with the children, there may be times when you feel like a single parent. Although the situation is temporary, there are emotional, financial and practical day-to-day adjustments you will need to make as you cope with this transition. How can you calm your children's fears about their parent when you are worried, too? Where will you turn when you need help? The information below will help you adjust to life as a temporarily single parent.
Preparing for what's ahead
Adjusting to life while your partner is deployed should go more smoothly if you take some time beforehand to think through and discuss some of the issues you may face. Try to anticipate what might happen and put systems in place to make it easier.
- Communication. Discuss how you will communicate with one another, and how often. Talk about how the deploying parent will stay in touch with the children. It's comforting for children to know they are in their parent's thoughts, even when that parent is far away.
- Legal. Be sure you have a power of attorney before your partner deploys. This will allow you to act on his or her behalf during the deployment. Make sure your wills are up to date as well. Your installation's Legal Assistance Office can help you do this.
- Finances. If your partner takes care of the bills, have him or her go over the process with you. Set up joint checking and credit card accounts if you don't already have them in place. Ask your partner to set up a Restricted Access Pin so you can review the monthly Leave and Earnings Statement online.
- Child care. Arrange for dependable child care during hours when you are at work and your partner would ordinarily be home with the children. If you live on or near a military installation, look into enrolling your child in a DoD Child Development Center. If you don't live near an installation, be sure to visit Child Care Aware of America for information on joint programs with the DoD that can help subsidize child care expenses.
- Plan strategies for handling everyday issues. Figure out what you will do when you or your child is sick or you have to travel for work. Make a plan for backup child care and be sure your child knows and understands the plan.
- Know whom to contact for emergencies. Each service branch has an emergency relief society to help with financial emergencies. Get in touch with the family support center at your nearest military installation or contact your local American Red Cross office if you need help.
A deployment can bring out a range of strong emotions, and some of them may seem in direct conflict with each other. You may miss your partner terribly, yet at the same time resent his or her freedom from family responsibilities. Be aware that all of your feelings are normal reactions to a difficult situation and there is support available for you and your family.
- Seek out a support system. Family, friends, co-workers and neighbors who are willing to help with emergencies or offer a shoulder to lean on will help you feel less alone. Realize you may need help and that it's OK to ask for it.
- Contact your installation Military Family Support Center for information on local resources and opportunities for families of deployed service members. Get involved with your Family Readiness Group. You and your children will meet other people in the same situation and find ways to help each other.
- Get to know your neighbors. Know at least three of your neighbors. You may need their help during an emergency and you'll always have somebody close by for support.
- Join a babysitting co-op or playgroup. Check with your installation's family support center, a local church or other house of worship or a community recreational facility such as a YMCA to see what's available.
- Take on only what you can handle. It's OK to say no to extra work or obligations. Just remind yourself that you already have your hands full with your partner away and you won't be doing anyone any favors by taking on too much.
- Learn and practice techniques for stress management. Whether it's a funny movie, a yoga class, a short walk or a quiet cup of tea at the end of the day, learn how to better manage the stress in your life. You can reach out to the consultants at Military OneSource by calling 800-342-9647 for information on stress management techniques. You can also ask to speak with a health and wellness coach to learn more about how healthy eating and regular exercise can contribute to the overall well-being of your whole family.
Helping your child adjust
Children may react to a parent's deployment as they would a more permanent separation. They may worry about what will happen to them and be afraid that the parent at home will leave, too. The following are ways to help:
- Keep to your pre-deployment routines as much as possible. Children find comfort in routines, whether it means bedtime stories, a silly song in the morning or watching a Friday night movie with you.
- Talk about the deployed parent. Share as much information as appropriate about the parent's location and assignment. Answer your child's questions honestly but in an age-appropriate way.
- Try to understand your child's fears. If your child seems afraid, ask what is making him scared. If your child is afraid for your loved one's safety, you can talk about all of the training service members undergo to help them be safe.
- Be consistent with discipline. Your child may test you to see if you'll bend the rules with one parent gone. You may be tempted to give in; but what your child needs now is not permissiveness, but a sense of stability.
- Tell teachers and other adults in your child's life about the deployment. Teachers, coaches, school administrators and religious leaders should be aware of what your child is going through so they can provide the extra support your child needs.
- Plan special outings or activities on days when your partner would usually be home. Do something special on weekends or holidays. Even a simple picnic or art project can give children something to look forward to and keep their minds off a parent's absence.
- Let your child take on one of the absent parent's chores. If they're old enough, let your children choose one of the deployed parent's usual chores, such as taking out the trash or sweeping up at night. This will help your kids feel like they're contributing to the family while easing some of the burden on you.
- Help your child communicate with the deployed parent. Encourage your child to send letters, emails, drawings, photographs, report cards, and audio or video recordings. If possible, arrange video chats. Many deployed parents say seeing and speaking with one another is a great way to feel connected.
- Help your child express his or her feelings. Give your child a special notebook or blank journal, markers, stamps and other supplies to write down thoughts, make up stories and create pictures of how he or she is feeling.
Ways to make the adjustment easier for you
Simplify your life as much as you can. You may feel you're short on one key ingredient - time. Raising a child, working and managing a household can be very hectic, but if you take steps to simplify your life, you may find it easier to cope. The following are some tips for simplifying your life:
- Use a family calendar. Write down appointments, birthdays, family and school events, and anything else you need to remember or do.
- Get together with your child once a week and go over the upcoming schedule. Talk about clothes, school lunches, practices and anything else that's on your schedule.
- Organize meal preparation. If you can, try to cook meals that will have leftovers for lunch or another meal, or cook several meals at once and freeze them. Plan a week's worth of meals before you go grocery shopping to cut out last-minute trips to the store.
- Learn ways to make the most of your time. Buy birthday presents for your child's friends all at once. Do a major cleaning at home on a regular basis and let it go in between those times. Make a list of all your errands and do them all at once.
Don't forget to take care of yourself. If you get enough sleep and exercise and eat well, the adjustment to life with your partner away will be easier for you and your child.