Military Families: Those Who Wait

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Separations, while an unwelcomed aspect of life for military families, are generally inevitable. Whether in times of war or peace, it’s crucial that service members and their families are well-prepared for long-term deployments.

Patriotism runs high in military families throughout our nation, and as the United States mobilizes for possible war overseas, a special breed of people—wives and husbands of service members—finds itself loyally supportive, fiercely proud, but also intensely anxious about the weeks and months to come. Fear of the unknown and coming to terms with the dedication a military spouse has to our country are powerful emotions for those “married to the military.”

In war and peacetime, military families understand the value of precious time together; they also know that separations are largely an unavoidable and often difficult aspect of military life.

Taking Care of Business: Planning Ahead

While it’s natural to focus on the emotional upheaval of your loved one leaving, getting your affairs in order is vital to successful separation, providing increased peace of mind for you and your spouse.

Money Matters: Allow plenty of time to review your finances. Do you have joint access to your savings and checking accounts? Do you know locations of and account numbers for your savings, checking, loans and investments? 

Set a family budget and agree on an amount your spouse will take from the account monthly. Discuss when and how bills should be paid. You may also consider establishing an allotment to your savings specifically to cover emergency expenses. If a deployment is over the tax season, go over info needed to finish taxes.

If you run into financial trouble, the following organizations can help:

  • Army: Army Emergency Relief 
  • Air Force: Air Force Aid Society 
  • Navy and Marine Corps: Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
  • Coast Guard: Coast Guard Mutual Assistance

Create a Will: While nobody likes the premise behind creating a will, it is vital for a military family. A will ensures your estate is handled by people you designate and that your children will be cared for by someone you choose. Without a will, the state makes these decisions for you. Be sure you have completed and filed wills before deployment.

Power of Attorney: These documents enable spouses to move from government housing, sell cars, or conduct other business requiring legal authorization and are often necessary when a husband or wife is deployed. Children’s caregivers may need power of attorney to enroll children in school or to authorize medical care in a parent’s absence. A “general power of attorney” gives the person holding it the ability to conduct most business in the service member’s name, while a “special power of attorney” can only be used in instances specified by the service member. 

A lawyer at your military installation’s legal assistance office can answer your legal questions and provide free wills and powers of attorney.

Know Locations: Discuss the whereabouts of important documents with your spouse. Be sure the following are up to date and accessible:

  • Marriage certificate
  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security numbers
  • Wills
  • Power of Attorney
  • Most recent LES (Leave and Earning Statement)
  • Insurance policies
  • Car titles and registrations, base or post decals
  • Housing documents (leases, deeds, mortgages)
  • Medical records
  • Citizenship papers
  • Adoption papers
  • Military ID cards (check expiration dates)
  • List of credit cards and account numbers

In Case of Emergency: You may have to tackle household maintenance, the lawn, auto care, or other situations you may not be familiar with while your spouse is gone. Review these things together. Do you know who to call if the car breaks down? How to change a tire? Where to put gas in the lawn mower? Shut off the water valve for the house? The more you know, the more confidence you will have in your ability to handle situations without your mate.

Know the Support Systems: The military often provides family support briefings before major deployments, exercises or missions. Talks and literature given during these meetings can provide much of the necessary information and skills a military spouse needs to better handle separation, encouraging self-sufficiency and self-reliance. You will likely receive a list of support organizations such as: an ombudsman/key wife/family readiness leader/family support leader; a base or post chaplain, or rabbi; and the American Red Cross. Familiarize yourself with these organizations and how they can help you, and don’t hesitate to use them if needed.

Children and Separation

Military kids become accustomed to moving, starting new schools, and meeting new friends, yet saying goodbye to a parent leaving for an extended amount of time can be a most difficult challenge. During this period, it is normal for children to experience stress. Young children may not understand why Daddy or Mommy is leaving; it’s crucial you sit down with your kids and explain why their parent is leaving, where he or she is going and for how long. Reassure them that the parent loves them very much and is leaving only because of work, not because of anything the children have done. Emphasize that your kids are not alone—there are others just like them whose parents have also been deployed.

Kids may experience changes in behavior with such an upheaval in the family—expect tantrums, acting out, and whining. Children may have sleep disturbances, eating and behavior troubles, or they may test the discipline boundaries of the parent remaining at home. Also alert your children’s teachers or daycare providers of the separation. If troublesome behaviors continue or your child seems depressed, don’t hesitate to seek outside help.

Remember, kids take cues from you on how to handle emotions. Be honest with your children about feelings of loneliness or sadness. They should also understand you will go on and have happy times while waiting for the reunion.

If possible, show your children where their parent will be living. You might post a map on the wall or use a globe to explain where the parent is. If you have a return date in mind, mark the time the parent will be gone. You can do this with a calendar, paper chain, or even eating one chocolate kiss from a pre-set number of treats in a jar—be creative and let your children be involved!

Coping Techniques for Wives

Wives of servicemen learn that the military is not just a job for the husband—it is a lifestyle that affects the entire family. Although you may not don a uniform, you are strongly affiliated with this special community and its culture: you may live on base, give birth in a military hospital, or shop in a commissary. Where you live and how much time you spend with your husband are dictated by his role in the service. Coming to terms with this and maintaining a positive attitude about your lifestyle will go a long way in preserving your sanity and your marriage.

Military wives shouldn’t feel compelled to smile in the face of all obstacles. Long-term separation can be difficult for even the most seasoned military wife. A pre-deployment briefing may offer you information on the emotional cycles of deployment. Review these and remind yourself that mounting tension before a departure is normal, as are feelings of loss, shock, anger, frustration and eventual stabilization; yet if you meet the challenge head-on, you may surprise yourself with personal growth and learn you are a strong, self-sufficient woman.

Following are tips on making your “married but single” time a success:

  • Stay connected: The military generally has a strong sense of community. In times of deployment, military families often become closer, sharing in their joys, heartaches and fears, offering help with babysitting, bringing meals when you’re sick, or watching your pets when you leave town. Nobody can understand how you’re feeling better than another wife like you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others, go to family support group meetings, join a wives organization, or find new friends on BabyZone’s Armed Forces: Support for Military Parents, Families and Friends message board. You may also want to take a class that interests you or volunteer your time with the military, your church or temple, or a community organization. The key is not to isolate yourself.
  • Establish a routine: This can be comforting for you and the children.
  • Take care of yourself: Eat well, get some exercise, and do things you enjoy. Treat yourself to dinner and a movie with a friend (this is a good chance to see the movies your husband doesn’t care for!). Take a trip if you can afford it—sometimes a change of scenery is good for the soul. Try a new hobby.

If you find your feelings of depression and loneliness aren’t going away, seek help. Talk to a friend, spiritual leader, or physician. Many military installations have services available to help you through this period.

If you are pregnant and in need of assistance during birth, check out Operation Special Delivery, an organization providing free doula services to women who are preparing for and giving birth while their mates are deployed with the U.S. military. Check with your military installation for other services available to pregnant women and parents of newborns.

Open Lines of Communication

The emotions that accompany separation vary from person to person, yet communication is the glue that holds the military family together. Spouses and children need to keep in contact with the service member. Help your kids find fun, inventive ways to stay in touch with their parent.

  • Letters and care packages: Depending on where your loved one is, mail delivery can be slow and is often unreliable. Yet there’s nothing a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine loves more than mail from home! Have children send drawings, cassette tapes with recorded messages or goodies they helped make or pick out. Daddy or Mommy can send letters, cassettes and photos, too.

    Items to send in care packages vary depending on where your spouse is stationed and based on the regulations of his command. Using the guidelines given to you, be creative!

    Moms of infants can help far-off dads learn about their little ones. Send plenty of pictures, cassettes or videos (if your loved one has access to a VCR) of baby’s sounds, and lots of letters describing baby’s development, likes and dislikes, habits and looks.
  • Email: Some service members can send and receive email from specific military addresses. Don’t allow email to completely replace your handwritten love notes, but enjoy being able to keep in close contact so easily! See if your spouse’s command offers a website as well—some ships, for example, have sites for family members to look at pictures of the ships’ daily, weekly or monthly activities. 

  • Phone Calls: While it is wonderful to hear your loved one’s voice, overseas calls can be extremely costly. Keep a list of things you want to tell your spouse near the phone so you can make the most of your precious minutes.

Life as a spouse of a member of the armed forces brings its share of laughter and tears, and whether it’s your first major separation or one of many, you’ll get through it—and likely find yourself a stronger, more confident person when it’s over. Be proud of your loved one and how he or she is serving our country, and be proud of yourself too—you are an amazing pillar of strength behind our military, offering your encouragement, support and love. 

Thank you to all the military families—spouses, children, parents and siblings—for your quiet and unselfish gift to your nation. 

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