When I was a single mom, I used to think that was the hardest thing I would ever have to do. But honestly, being married to military is harder.
After we got married everything was so great… and then I found out he was being deployed. It was like I was a single mom again, but I was out in the middle of nowhere with no one to help.
Before marrying into the military, I don’t think I realized how much sacrifice is involved. People outside don’t see what goes on behind the scenes, even before deployment. When he’s deployed, Dad is out of the country for 6 months. But before that, there might be 2 weeks in the field, a month on ship where you don’t talk, or they have to go to a class for 6 weeks and you can only talk a few hours a day if you are lucky. This life is definitely demanding.
Since we’ve been married, Daniel has deployed 3 times.
Altogether, he’s been deployed 7 times including 4 deployments in Iraq. A lot of people say “I know what you’re going through because my husband leaves every week for work.” But that’s not exactly the same. Your husband may leave every week for work but he comes home Saturday and Sunday and you can call and text him and have an open line of communication. When your husband is military, the phones are turned off the second that they step on that bus. I can’t call and say, “Hey, I need you, it’s an emergency. I can send an email or a Facebook post, but when he is going to see it I’m not really sure. If it’s a real emergency I can send a red cross message.
The last time Daniel deployed, our son Osiris was about to be 3. We told him Daddy was going to work. He was aware that he was leaving, but at that age, he didn’t have any concept of time so he didn’t understand how long he would be gone. We have a picture of the ocean over our bed, and Osiris would point to it and say “That’s where my dad is because he works on a ship.” Osiris is going to be 5 this year and Daniel has only been able to spend one birthday with him. Either he was deployed or they sent him to the field. Last year, Daniel was already here in North Carolina and we were still in San Diego, so he attended the birthday via Skype.
Deployment has been harder on my 11-year-old daughter, Navaeh. Every time Daniel leaves it is the same cycle of emotions. The first week, she’ll be at school, and they will call me saying she’s sick and wants to come home. I just know that it’s part of the cycle. Then she will get a little bit angry and test her boundaries because he’s not there. Finally a few weeks in we find a new routine.
During deployment, anything that can go wrong will go wrong in the first two months – little things you don’t really think about.
You learn to be a type of MacGuyver. I remember back to the first deployment, when I had to mow the backyard and I had never touched a lawn mower. I was wandering around with an extension cord, studying the lawn mower because I thought it had to be plugged in. My neighbor was watching me the whole time. Finally, he said “Natasha, that’s a gas lawn mower, you don’t plug it in. Can I mow your yard for you?”
In the middle of the deployment you feel like you’re Supermom. When you are finally feeling on top of the world is when you get the phone call: “Hey I’m coming back in a month.” Then two weeks later he calls and says, “Hey, I’m coming back in a week.” Five days later he says “Hey, I’m at the airport.” There’s never any plan, or if you are given a plan it is amended 600 times.
There’s another adjustment period when they come back from deployment. Not only with the kids but with your relationship too. You get to the point where you are so used to running on your own schedule, and then suddenly you have to accommodate another person who also has their own schedule. You have to go back to sharing the parenting role and things change while they are gone. Sometimes I have to say, “That’s not how we do it anymore.” And I think that he has had some struggles with PTSD, but we are lucky he doesn’t struggle with every day life. I think any military member who has ever been in any type of combat doesn’t like big crowds. They don’t feel comfortable in places that they don’t really know. But Daniel is still so laid back. He’s the best person I could have ever picked to be my kids’ dad.
It’s definitely not easy on the relationship, but I will say it’s like a honeymoon for a week every time they come back. You are so excited and you get butterflies in your stomach like when you were first dating. You’re so excited to see them. That’s the reward.
As a military wife and mom it’s hard to find employment.
It’s hard to go to an employer and say, “I’m a military wife and I have two kids and my husband is deploying next week.” I don’t have Grandma or an aunt to call to watch the kids if someone gets sick, Even when he’s home it’s not like he has the type of job where he can take off time to help. Not many companies want to hire somebody like me because I can’t be at the beck and call of a job.
The first time Daniel deployed I had just gone back to work full time 6 months before. A month after he deployed my son got hand, foot and mouth disease, then my daughter got it as well. I literally had to call in sick for two weeks, and I lost my job. But what could I possibly do? I can’t take them to daycare or school, I don’t have anyone to watch them, so that time I lost my job. I have my own business now because I it was the only way to have an income and the flexibility I needed.
As a military wife and mom, you have to create your own support network. And having support from the outside community is so important. You yearn for a sense of community when you are in a new place, but when you have all the parenting responsibilities on your plate, you can’t necessarily go out and search for it. If you know someone who is a military spouse or mom, lending a hand is so appreciated – just offering your help to say, “I can watch your kids if you want to go grocery shopping alone.” When your husband is deployed and it’s just you, there are no breaks. You’re on the stage 24/7. You don’t know how far an hour can go until someone says let me help you with the kids, or here’s a frozen lasagna. The littlest things mean the most.
Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.