Managing a family while your Soldier, Airman, Sailor, or Marine is deployed can be a challenge. PCSing every few years is always a life-changing event. With all of the goodbyes and “see you laters,” military life for everyone is stressful. We interviewed a few military spouses who have experienced that and provided great advice for others new to the lifestyle. They’ve discovered creative ways to keep their families focused and resilient while staying connected with their heroes.
We elected to structure this post in more of an informal Q&A session, in the hopes to maintain the personal reflection that these women provided.
For your reference, the interviewer is Katie Dyer (KD:) and the interviewees are Amanda Collier (AC:), Amanda Olson (AO:), and Tonya Miller (TM:)
KD: What were some of the ways you kept your children busy while your spouse was away on deployments and training exercises?
AC: It is a balancing act of routine and fun. There is an importance to keep life as normal as possible while our service member parents are away to show our children that life goes on and this is our way to serve our country; but incorporating fun and special things into that time is just as important. While my husband was deployed last year, my son was three years old. This was an age where he understood Dad was gone, but no concept of why or when he will be back. When explaining to him that Daddy was going away for work for a little bit, we also talked about all the fun he would have with Mommy while daddy was gone.
When Dad was gone, we would have Colt and Mommy dates once a week. We would go to lunch, see a movie, do a picnic at the park, a bike ride on the trial with ice cream after, a trip to the museum, etc. We had slumber party nights in Mommy & Daddy’s bed, which is not something we do when Daddy is home. We would do movie day/night in the living room, build a fort, and blew up the air mattress. We would go to the breakfast after church on Sunday. It didn’t have to cost a lot of money, but lots of special moments helped keep his mind off missing his Dad. We also tried to visit friends and family and have friends and family visit us. These activities broke up the time nicely because we always had a countdown to the next “fun” thing. Now when Dad needs to go, he mentions, “So are we going to have special Mommy, Colt time?” which the answer is always yes!
AO: Lots of time was spent in the pools at Fort Benning & roaming around Europe when stationed in Germany. Make Friends, keep a schedule and, talk to your spouse whenever possible, is the best advice I can offer.
TM: My daughter is currently 4 and we’ve been lucky enough to not have any deployments yet although he was scheduled for one this year but the current pandemic is postponing the deployment. When my husband had week long TDY’s (Temporary Duty Travel) in the past, My daughter and I like to continue with our daily routines and at night we will skype or call my husband.
KD: What are some tips and lessons for PCSing that you’ve picked up over the years?
AC: Honestly, I have two tips that help tremendously with unpacking. They take some time to prep prior to the movers coming but saves so much time on the back end.
- Put all your clothes currently in drawers that you want the movers to pack in ziploc bags. I go buy a value pack of them and go drawer by drawer for each of my family members.
- Put garbage bags over all hanging clothes. One garbage bag for every 3-5 hangers. The movers just then grab them and hang them in a wardrobe box.
Besides those two things, I would suggest making copies (multiple copies of orders) of everything. Also, make a file box to bring with you for important documents and double check those moving forms that list everything box by box.
Lastly, look at every move as an adventure! A way to see a new part of the country or world. Take the opportunity to do some fun things along the way, make a bucket list for your next duty station of things you want to do and see. The saying “Home is wherever we make it” truly applies and we always enjoy decorating our new home and finding the hidden gems (like the cutest coffee shop, the best breakfast place, or new favorite park) everywhere we go.
AO: Save your money! There will always be extra expenses that occur during a PCS. Be prepared, research your new home, and when possible, stay with friends when you arrive to cut down on hotel costs.
TM: One tip that I will probably always do is hire a cleaning company to come and clean the house! Haha You have no idea how much time is saved when you are already a parent, and having to pack and get everything lined up at your new location.
KD: How do you stay connected with your spouse during deployments?
AC: My husband loves music and he loves sending me songs that either remind me of him or he thinks I would enjoy. I would then download them and make my own playlist with all those songs and play them on repeat on those rough days. We had also written letters back and forth during Joe’s first deployment when his ability to get on a computer or make a phone call were extremely limited. Joe would be out on missions for weeks at a time, so he always kept a few sheets of paper and a pen with him. When he got time, he would write and then when he got back to the FOB, he would mail them and pick up the ones I sent him to take on the next mission. Those letters are now in a scrapbook that we look back on every now and again. We also loved sending him care packages. Colt and I would pick a theme every month. During the month when we would go to the store, we would pick out things to send to Daddy. Colt loved finding “green things” to send to Dad in March or Halloween things in October. We would also include photos and notes of encouragement. Lastly, if I was really missing him, I’d grab something of his out of the closet to wear such as a hat or some pajama pants to wear to bed. That always made me feel that much closer to him.
AO: Back in the day, we would use yahoo messenger and magic jacks, I’m sure this has improved…LOL.
TM: Skype or Facebook is a go to source for us to stay connected. Over the years technology has definitely made things easier for anyone with traveling jobs unlike in the past when all you could really do is write letters.
KD: How do your children stay connected with your spouse during deployments?
AC: Communication has gotten a lot better in the last nine years, which has been amazing for children with deployed parents. We tried to make sure that we video chatted with Dad at least once a week if my husband’s schedule allotted. As part of setting our routine we would make plans to talk to Daddy every Thursday night before bed or Sunday mornings. This way if it is Monday evening and he mentions that he wants to talk to Daddy, I explained that it is only Monday and we will talk to Daddy in a few days, which always helped. My husband was even able to video chat during a few soccer games for a few minutes, which was always the best for our son.
We also made a Daddy Wall or a Deployment Wall, which our son absolutely loved. We had a “mailbox” to add anything he wanted to send to Dad. It had two clocks, Daddy’s time and our time
and a map with a heart where we were and where Daddy was. Lastly, we had a whiteboard with a countdown to Daddy coming home. Every day we would change it and every night before bed he got a Hershey kiss or “Kisses from Daddy”. It gave Colt a visual as to how far away Dad was and gave him an opportunity to send Dad schoolwork and pictures while also giving him a piece of love (or chocolate) from Dad every day. He loved showing people where he was in the world versus where Dad was. In turn, my husband made a ‘Colt Wall’ by his bed with photos, drawings and schoolwork he sent. My son absolutely loved seeing it in the background when we would video chat.
Lastly, we made a Daddy Bear that came everywhere with us. He also was there when we had moments of sadness of missing Dad to hug and snuggle.
We are the captains of our households; we need to adjust our sails from time to time. It takes a strong person to be a service member, but it takes an equally strong spouse to stand by them and help guide their family.
AO: We kept a deployment board where we would pin notes of everything that happened and we wanted to discuss between phone calls. This kept our thoughts organized and kept the kids excited about their upcoming conversations.
TM: My daughter luckily hasn’t had to deal with a deployment so far but when he goes on his week long TDY’s we call each other and skype.
This is Part 2 in a 3-Part Series on Life as a Military Spouse. You can find Part 1: Advice for Military Spouses by Military Spouses and Part 3: Organizations for Military Spouses on USP News & Reviews.