Deployment Series: Motherhood

We’re rolling along in the monthly deployment series on the blog, and we’re tackling motherhood today. The rest of the series can be found here if you’d like to get caught up: Introduction, technology, meal planning, anxiety, and friendship.

Living the military lifestyle calls for a whole lot of solo parenting, and let’s be honest, mothering looks a little different when your teammate is MIA.

Here’s the thing: The amount of responsibility on the shoulders of a solo parent during deployment is astronomical. Ridiculous, really. From tending to the kids’ emotional needs, feeding, clothing, and shuttling them around town, plus taking care of the house, car, and your own health to think about, it can be overwhelming.

And you’ll probably think your failing in a thousand ways.

But the secret is this: Never is there a better time for taking life down a notch, giving yourself grace, relaxing some rules, and bonding with your kids than during a deployment.

Choose Your Battles

This is simple math. As a solo parent, you are staring down months and months of discipline and correction situations. You only have so much energy to go around. I started out strong, too, but soon realized I could not keep up with every sassy comment, messy room or dish left on the table. I learned to save my energy for the biggies (usually in the realm of disrespect), and let the kids’ rooms remain in whatever state they chose. We typically run a pretty tight ship at full-parenting strength, but exhaustion forced me to look the other way at times. And you might find yourself in the same boat!

Predictable Routines

There is nothing like a deployment to throw routines and schedules out of whack. When a parent is missing, roles seem to shift while you are figuring out the new normal. Establishing some consistent routines helps everyone adjust. This doesn’t have to be strict, but gentle framework that lets every family member know what to expect. Make it fun, too! Some examples of routines we’ve stuck to in the past are: Wednesday popcorn and puzzle night, Saturday morning donut run, read-aloud classic books in the evenings, Sunday afternoon family Lego-build marathon, and after-dinner walks around the neighborhood.

Relax the Rules

And what’s more fun than sticking to the rules? Breaking them, of course. A loose framework is helpful for making sure kids feel secure in the family, but a deployment is also the perfect time to relax a little. This might look different for each family. For us, bedtimes slid a little later, I didn’t care as much about the exact minutes of screen time, and if we all chose our own dinners out of the freezer some days, that was fine with me! This was selfishly all about saving my sanity. I didn’t have the energy to deal with every little nitpicky thing, and this is how we got through.

The kids loved this, and had no problem going right back to normal routines when dad returned. We have great memories of staying up late together watching High School Musical, and yes, I secretly needed those nights of company, too.

Fill the Void

Something I did not anticipate during Clint’s deployment was how much we relied on him for spontaneity, both in our family activities and our pantry shelves. Clint was the one who always showed up with some new flavor of potato chips or a bag of gummy candy he scored on clearance. I had to consciously force myself to think like Clint at the commissary and come home with some goodies! Suggesting to the kids that we blast the music and have a dance party was way out of the norm for me, but forcing myself to be the active, silly parent paid off. The kids were missing this, and I knew it.

I’m the responsible, organized one, and my husband is the spontaneous, silly parent. Taking on both of those roles was difficult for me at first, but I learned to actually enjoy playing with the kids instead of orchestrating their chore charts. Maybe dads are on to something here!

All on the Same Team

More is expected from the kids when dad is gone, and they know it. Everyone’s got to pull a little more weight. During the last deployment, our 12-year-old decided he would be the “man of the house” and took it upon himself to check and add oil to our car every week that year. My daughter and I spent many nights falling asleep hand-in-hand, something we wouldn’t have done if Clint were home. It was comforting to be close to each other and strengthened our bond.

Cultivating an environment where everyone feels like they are on the same team, not against each other, is the key.

The bottom line is that deployment is a window of opportunity in motherhood, if you choose it.

And while it might look and feel a whole lot like survival mode, slugging it out in the trenches together builds a bond that  will last forever.