Life in a Military Family: 5 Things You Might Not Know
While the White House's Joining Forces initiative has galvanized civilians hoping to help the families of U.S. servicemen and women, there are plenty of people who have little idea of what it's really like to live in a military family. Sometimes, it's too easy to focus on political differences instead of the people who are actually dealing with deployment-and more.
Dena Provenzano, a Chicago-area mother of four whose husband is a commander in the Army reserves, is dealing with deployment for the third time.
"It is such a challenge when they are preparing to go," she tells Yahoo! Shine. "He left January 4th. You can imagine our Christmas-everybody wanting to come see him, but everyone trying to give us space."
"You feel very anxious because you're counting down," she continues. "You're just trying to make all of these days memorable, but yet everyone is just feeling… there's this heightened sense of him going. It's very stressful on families."
1. Deployments come with plenty of paperwork. In addition to the emotional stress that comes with the countdown to deployment-not to mention the deployment itself-there's the stress of all of the paperwork that needs to be done, Provenzano says. Wills need to be changed, power of attorney needs to be assigned, and in order to get a bit of a financial break (unbelievably, soldiers who are deployed have take a pay cut while they're away), applications for assistance under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act need to be filed. The act is supposed to protect reservists from financial and legal problems by reducing the interest rates on their mortgages and credit card debt, delaying any civil court actions (including bankruptcy, foreclosure, or divorce proceedings), and, in some cases, preventing eviction. But not all companies understand that it's not optional. "Then you have to go into the legal side," she explains. "Who has time to get into legal situations?"
2. Life doesn't stop for deployment. "We don't like that our family is split up, but we can't live in the future or press a pause button on our life, so we focus on other things," writes Yahoo! Shine parenting guru Sarahlynne. "Our life is still full. Just not complete."
"I really try hard to just stay focused on the positive and surround myself with good people so my children have good influences." Provenzano says. "If you don't… you just don't want the life sucked out of you. You want to be able to continue to wake up everyday, be grateful, stay focused on the good stuff."
3. Sometimes, your spouse is in training nearby-and you still can't contact him or her. There are times when the waiting is over and they actually leave, and they are training nearby-but for safety and security reasons, you can't contact them. And that can be even more nerve-wracking than when they're out on the front lines, Provenzano confides.
She helps her children (a 14-year-old son, twin 10-year-old sons, and a 6-year-old daughter) cope with the uncertainty and the lack of communication by putting up a world map and marking all the places their dad is going or has been. They make books and collages, and try to keep their own internal lines of communication open.
"It's a constant visual reminder of where he is and what he's doing," she explains. "Sometimes, as the kids get older, those reminders can be tough. But it's my job to remind them that his job and our work here… it's important."
4. Even when your spouse comes home, it doesn't necessarily get easier.Yahoo! Shine reader ThisIsMyPositiveAttitude has been married to a soldier for nine years. "In that time, he has been deployed five times and detached twice, for a total of three years and two months," she writes. "So this time, when he was deployed for a much longer deployment than someone of his rate is deployed (nine months, as opposed to six or seven) I was surprised when it hit me harder than I thought it would."
"It had gone on for so long that it felt like he'd never come home," she continues. " Routines had been established. New facets of personality had developed. I think I was scared that he would come home, see the people my children and I had become and want a divorce (it happens)."
And once his homecoming day had arrived, it still seemed unreal. That romantic image of excited kids running to their dad or a brave soldier swinging his loyal wife up into his arms? It happens… but not right away, and not for everyone. "We get to the airstrip, 20 minutes before the arrival time. The plane doesn't arrive until fifteen 15 after the updated time," ThisIsMyPositiveAttitude writes, describing standing there with her 3-year-old and 8-year-old in tow, waiting to welcome their dad home after a 9-month-long deployment. "Once the plane lands, though, it's another 20 minutes before its occupants are allowed to disembark so we all stand there, impatient and anxious, as the usual requirements are met: first-time dads are allowed off the plane first, more requirements are met... and finally a slow steady stream of figures in identical uniforms file off the plane."
Forget what you see in the movies. "They're not allowed to run. They trudge (it's been a long flight) as quickly as they can to their waiting families, short, tall, wide, skinny-in those uniforms they all look alike," she describes. "I can't even find my husband because I'm trying to keep my active, bored and hungry toddler in line."
When she finally finds him, his arms feel barely familiar. "I'd like to say all the stress and worries and icky parts of the last nine months melted away," she writes. "Nope. They don't. But they are put on hold, temporarily, to be dealt with over the next week or so as the two of us learn to become a couple instead of two singles once again."
5. It can be hard to ask for help. "It really take a lot to ask for help because you really want to just take care of things on your own," Provenzano confides. "But then you're realizing, 'I have a teenager and he really needs extra support.' Or 'I have another child who is really struggling emotionally because he understands what kind of environment my husband is in and he knows its not safe'."
That's why the best thing other people can do is take the initiative themselves, Provenzano and other military wives say. The open-ended questions, like "What can I do to help?", is well-meaning, but it's too easy to turn down the offer. Instead of asking what you can do (or accepting "Nothing, thanks" for an answer), just help, Provenzano suggests. Bring a meal, rake their leaves, stop by to say hi, help them prep their house for winter, or check in after a bad snowstorm. "I came outside one day and my neighbor was on the roof and he was cleaning out the gutters," Provenzano says, adding that it felt like she had "a fairy godmother."
"Everybody wants to help," she says. "And I say, jump in and do it. Just make it happen."
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