Picture this—three kids, ages three and under. I was raising them alone while my husband was deployed to Afghanistan. It was noisy. It was stressful. It was exhausting. Deployments are never easy, but deployments with young children are especially difficult. If you have multiple kids during a deployment, you are forced to juggle the demands of solo-parenting with the non-stop needs of babies or toddlers. It is a frustrating situation that can push you to your breaking point. There will be times when you go to bed tired, then wake up tired, and wonder how you are going to get through another day. But you can get through it, because I did, and so do numerous military spouses every year. No one must go through deployment alone, and this is especially true if you are caring for multiple children. You are going to need a little help sometimes. There is nothing wrong with admitting that! Asking for help may feel awkward, but you would be amazed how many people want to help you. Here are some ways to reach out and find resources available to you.
Get help from family: Many military spouses are stationed far from family, so it isn’t always realistic for them to help during a deployment. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. Maybe the grandparents or a sibling can visit you for a few days to help with the kids. Or they may invite you for an extended stay back home during the holidays.
Phone a friend: Local friends can be a great help during deployment—whether they watch your kids while you run to the grocery store, keep you company during the slow days, or join you for a “Kids Eat Free” night at a local restaurant. Even friends who live far away can be a lifeline when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. You may not be able to communicate regularly with your service member, so it’s good to have at least one friend you can call for sympathy when the kids are driving you crazy.
Get childcare assistance: Granted, options for assistance vary depending how close you live to base. Near base, you may be able to use free or discounted childcare from the base CDC, in-home childcare providers, or military organizations such as Operation Help a Hero. Some base hospitals have a childcare room where you can leave your children during your own doctor appointments. If you need a resource farther from base, the YMCA is a good option. Using these resources to take an occasional break from the kids is worth the investment.
Hire extra support: When you are the only adult at home, you have to handle a lot at once. It’s okay to spend a little extra money hiring services that take stress off your shoulders. Talk to your spouse about a deployment budget ahead of time. Many military families hire extra help like babysitters, lawn care, snow removal, house cleaners, or grocery delivery during deployment. If it brings you peace of mind and makes parenting easier, it may be something to consider looking into.
Talk to a counselor: Every parent has moments where they struggle. The important thing is finding the strength to move through the struggles. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or at your wit’s end caring for your kids during deployment, then it is advisable to get some additional support from a counselor. Military One Source offers free, confidential counseling to service members or spouses. You can do counseling over the phone on your own schedule to get parenting support. It is also essential to take care of yourself during deployment, especially when little ones are depending on you. Self-care is much easier said than done when you are a solo parent, but these simple tactics will help you hold onto your sanity during deployment.
Get outside: Whether you take a walk with the stroller or bring kids to a park, fresh air and sunlight are good for your physical and mental health.
Find a habit that relaxes you: Some people relax with a cup of tea. For others, coloring in a coloring book is soothing. Find a hobby that helps you unwind and make it a part of your day whenever you can. Having 10 peaceful minutes to yourself each day can make a world of difference.
Exercise: Whether you use a gym with childcare or do workout videos at home, make time to keep yourself strong. You’ll need the extra energy to handle the kids!
Treat yourself: Give yourself tiny celebrations to look forward to. Small rewards like lunch with a friend, getting ice cream, buying a new shirt, or taking a long bath can help improve your outlook and give you motivation to get through the week.
Anyone would agree that going through deployment with multiple young children is no easy task. But when you take care of yourself and use all available resources, you will be equipped to handle the challenge!