GBD and Deployment

HELP! My husband’s deployed.

Let me first say that my heart goes out to you. My husband was medically retired from the military before we married so I have not had to have my spouse deployed, but I grew up in a military home and remember my father being gone in peacetime for months on end attending academies or for training. After becoming a mother myself I had such compassion for what my mother must have gone through for months without my father. Let me also say that my family is deeply grateful for the sacrifice that you are making for our country and for us. It does not go unnoticed or unappreciated in the Lutton home and we are teaching our children to appreciate the sacrifice of our soldiers who are away from their families and their families who await their return.

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Yet none of that makes it easier for you to parent. In fact, the stress of having a spouse who is deployed is one of the most difficult circumstances in which to parent. One important thing to remember is that it’s stressful for mom and children. Having daddy gone, especially when you lack the ability to understand all of the nuances of war and why he’s away, is a very emotional and difficult time for children. They need you to make sure that your focus is on helping them with their emotions and understanding when those emotions get so big that they come out in negative ways.

Reflecting feelings is vital at this time. Helping children identify, understand, and feel validated in their feelings is important for helping them successfully get through this time. The child whose father is gone for a long time who isn’t sad, frustrated, disappointed and even scared is a child I would be concerned about how they are handling things. These negative feelings are normal in a negative situation like deployment. And they are normal for you also. Sharing your feelings (appropriately, of course) with your children can help them process.

The child who is feeling scared and lonely while missing daddy will feel closer to the mother who can honestly share, “Tonight I am feeling scared and lonely. I really miss your daddy. I bet you feel like this sometimes. How do you feel tonight?”

Young boys tend to respond to these situations, sometimes at their daddy’s request, by wanting to “be strong.” But a weak person pretending to be strong is not a healthy goal. The child who is confident about knowing their feelings and being able to process them and talk about them with a healthy adult like mom or a family friend is going to be strong as an outcome of that self-confidence. Young boys often need to be told that it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to feel lonely, it’s normal to want to cry when daddy is gone for a long time. And even if it’s difficult for mom to see her child cry, mom needs to find her own strength to help her children through this.

It’s quite interesting to me in my experience with family serving in the military and hearing my husband, father and father in law talk about war and deployment times how in tune many men are with their feelings and how the men who don’t fit in well in their situation are the ones who are not able to deal well with their feelings. Thankfully the military is moving more progressively into insisting on, or at least providing, counseling for men who are going through situations like war. As the wife of someone deployed there are two very important things you can do for them to help them through. The first involves what we’ve been talking about and is about making a safe place for his children so that he knows his home is well run and taken care of in his absence. The second is to help reflect and validate his feelings, or at least acknowledge them. You will never understand what he is going through unless you have also gone through war, but you can love him and make sure he knows you are here for him, home waiting for him, praying for him and supporting him.

This means it’s vital for you to get a network of support. Friends and family are the best place to start. For those who are away from their friends and family, as is often the case in the military, seek out support at your base. When women can swap things like child care, skills for things normally done by your husband, and even companionship with someone going through the same thing, it can help you to feel not quite so alone. Online support can be wonderful for sharing your more intimate struggles and feelings. But in real life support is vital when you need to go grocery shopping and have someone help with your young children. If you can’t find a decent network of support in your area you may want to consider starting one. If you are in your situation and need others, there are others out there who need you.

All of the tools for GBD will work to get your family through this. Your children will be benefited from playful parenting that keeps them moving through the day, they will appreciate the kind and firm boundaries that remind them they are safe in their world, and they need you to communicate with them so that they know where they stand with you at all times. Remember to reflect and address the feelings and you’ll make it. Before you know it you will see your husband walking towards you and those tears will be not of sadness and grief but of relief and joy.