That phrase is known by military families everywhere. The “hey” phrase means that either orders have come – either to move or deploy. Deployments come with a variety of emotions. Like the stages of grief, there are stages of deployment. These emotions are normal and natural states of deployments for every family member.
Deployments don’t come at “good times.” There are birthdays, anniversaries, births, planned vacations, illnesses in family members. Units include thousands of individuals; it is not possible for every person to be accounted for in planning a deployment. Deployments happen to assist other countries in need, protect U.S. assets, and complete humanitarian missions – there are no planned or predictable timelines for them. It is normal to feel angry that deployment is occurring. Angry that the military member will miss events, angry that you may have to single parent. As a military member, you can also feel angry about leaving.
Kids can get angry too. And they may not even know why they are feeling angry or be able to express it by saying “I am angry.” They may just act out, scream, or be angry at you for what feels like little things (the wrong color cup was used). Tell them how you feel and tell them you understand why they are angry and it is okay to talk about it.
Address the anger, determine if there is anything you can do to change the things you are angry about. If you are angry about missing a vacation, try to move that vacation to before deployment or plan a big vacation when you get back.
Like anger, you may feel sad about the things that are missed during deployment and missing the service member during deployment. Sadness is a powerful emotion – it can leech into everyday activities. It can feel like even the simplest thing, washing dishes, pulling laundry is upsetting.
Children can cry over small things or cry when seeing pictures of military members. Like an adult, they feel the same emotions but aren’t always able to express them through words. When you are feeling the emotions of sadness, you can tell your child you are feeling that way too and want to talk about it. This may give them the opportunity to share how they feel as well. Teens may express sadness through both sadness and anger. Just like younger children, sharing how you feel may allow them to open up to talk about their emotions.
You just want the military member back to commiserate with, talk to or even help with the never-ending daily tasks. That feeling of being overwhelmed with everyday life is part of the cycle of emotions. You may want a break. For the adult family member left behind, consider hiring a babysitter to get alone time, or a cleaner once or twice a month for a mental health break from daily chores. These may seem like small things, but just having a little help or even adult time can reset the brain when feeling overwhelmed.
Children may not be able to express feeling overwhelmed. Younger and older children alike may act out when overwhelmed. Because they are acting out doesn’t necessarily mean they feel overwhelmed, but asking open-ended questions may help you get to the root cause.
When you are nearing the home stretch, the end of the deployment – the feeling of joy and excitement appear. It is a time to get excited about the military member’s impending return. The excitement of surviving and maybe thriving during deployment, the sense if relief, often accompanies the joy. It is a time to embrace the excitement – maybe make plans for post-deployment leave or plan for a few days to just be together. Don’t make too many plans without the military member’s involvement, coming home is exciting for them but it usually takes hours or days for them to travel home, and they will likely be exhausted. The military member may also not want to be around crowds for a while after a return, so going on vacation may be overwhelming post-deployment.
It is normal to be nervous or apprehensive about the returning military member’s return. It will take time for the family member to get back in the swing of things. New routines have likely been established since daily life like bills, laundry and activities had to be completed solo for the last several months. Family members may have changed as well. Children likely have grown and changed, and the adults may have changed interests as well. Make sure to discuss the feelings of joy and apprehension with the family members.
The key to these emotions is addressing what you can change and acknowledging what you cannot. There may be things you can’t change but addressing them can help the family member move forward. Children of all ages may not be able to express with words how they are feeling, but if you share with them how you are feeling they may also open up about how they are feeling.