Deployment is hard. I know that. I have experienced the pain of separation and frustration of not knowing when (or if) he is coming home. However, if I can be honest for just a minute, I have to admit that for me, pre-deployment is even harder.
The months and days of knowing that orders are coming, but not knowing exactly when, of trying to plan life around the what-ifs and maybes. My Soldier’s unit is leaving “sometime this year”. It could be anytime from May to September and he (read: we) has to be ready. Try explaining that to six kids and one mother-in-law (not to mention all the relatives and friends that don’t get it).
If you have been through deployment, then you understand that his head leaves before his body. The mission takes over their brains long before boots hit the ground. That leaves the biggest challenge of pre-deployment: trying to keep your Soldier involved as part of the family.
How do we do that? How can we encourage him to get down and play with the kids instead of repacking his bag for the 10th time? How can we make memories and plan for all the details of him being gone? How can we get everything done that needs to be accomplished? For our family, it means lots of planning, lists and intentionality on my part.
For example, one of my goals before he leaves is to have new family photos. We had our last baby 2 ½ years ago and we still don’t have a family picture with her in it. If I want that perfect shot to hang on the wall while he is gone, then I need to plan ahead to get it done. It goes on my Must Do List, along with updating the power of attorney and our wills (we haven’t done that since the baby either…). To me, it is just as important.
Then there are the things that I would like to see happen before he goes, such as painting the house and re-seeding the yard. Of course, these are things that I could -if you know me, please don’t gasp out loud- handle on my own. Or at least, hire someone to do while he is in the sandbox. These things go on my Wish List. This is the list of things that I have to be willing to let go when something else comes up.
Family time is always important, but it is vital to us during pre-deployment. It doesn’t just happen though; we have to plan it. Our family sets aside one night a week when everyone has to be home (not an easy task with two teenagers!). Family nights vary from a holiday devotional to coffee at Starbucks or a silly movie, but we are always together. Cell phones are not allowed, not even for the grown-ups. Our kids may grumble, but I know they won’t forget these times.
I know with all the details, there is never enough time, but don’t forget to spend alone time with your Soldier. You need to bank all the extra time together that you can. Army deployments are long and they can drain even the best relationships. Plan date nights (again without the cell phones) and enjoy being a couple.
Nothing will ever be perfect for deployment and I know that we won’t ever ‘be’ ready, but the last thing I want my kids to remember was that dad was so busy, that he didn’t have time for them. If I want the days and months leading up to his departure to be filled with fun memories, then I have to be intentional with my planning, learn to relax my expectations and live in the moment.
For more from Army Wife Network, check out their website at http://www.armywifenetwork.com/
Athena Goldinger Hall
Army Wife and mom to six Army Brats
Extreme Adventures in Motherhood (and trying to keep a house with 3 boys from smelling like a locker room!)