[Talk is cheap. I hope our patriotic, military-supporting Clash readers will read and act on what is written below -- Editor]
When I lived in Oklahoma City, my husband and I were speaking at a men’s prayer breakfast, and one of the men said that while they knew there was a sizable military community in the church, when a member of the family was deployed they didn’t know whether to offer help or even what to offer. So here’s a general primer in dealing with military spouses.
1. Don’t offer, just do.
What do I mean? Military spouses are independent people, by our very nature. If you ask me what I need, unless I know you very well, I’m going to tell you I’ve got things under control. But if you show up in my yard with a lawn mower or a snow shovel, I’m not going to scream at you to get off my lawn. And if you show up at my door with baked goods, I’m going to take them—happily.
2. Give them a break.
Imagine, six months with your kids, by yourself, and some days the only adult conversation you get is a garbled one via Skype, but you don’t really want to burden that person with the day’s events. It gets old. It may not seem like much to watch the kids for two hours so your friend can go to Starbucks or just go grocery shopping, but it means a lot!
3. Don’t ask too many questions.
Innocent questions like, “Oh, where is your husband deployed to?” or “When is he coming home?” can be OPSEC nightmares. Spouses are torn between wanting to be friendly and wanting to protect their family members downrange. Just know that they’re deployed, and that’s enough.
4. Keep them company.
You have no idea how quiet a house can be after the kids are in bed. Sometimes it’s welcome. Sometimes, especially during the holidays, it’s unnerving and lonely. Schedule a weekly or monthly movie night with your favorite spouse of a deployer and give them something to look forward to!
5. Help with the little things.
I was eight months pregnant and had a very active 21-month old while my husband was on a longish TDY. One of my friends would come over and help my daughter pick up her toys. She wouldn’t be obvious about it, but would stop by a couple of times a week (“Just to check on you!”) and during the course of the visit, the toys would magically get picked up. It sounds like a little thing, but when it’s hard to even bend over and tie your shoes, getting down in the floor and tracking down all the wooden blocks and toy kitchen pieces a toddler can amass is daunting. Another friend would stop by on the nights her husband worked late just to help give my daughter a bath and put her to bed. Then she and I would crochet and watch old movies together.
6. Don’t let them get isolated.
It’s really easy to barricade yourself in the house, but when you’re on your own, day after day after day with the kids, that’s when trouble starts. Everyone needs social contact. So invite yourself over. Call them or text. Chat them up on Facebook. Offer to come over and help organize a zoo trip or a trip to a favorite fast food joint. If you provide that outlet for them to vent, you’re not only helping them, but you’re helping that deployer downrange.
7. Don’t leave them out.
Yes, when their spouse is gone, they’re the odd man out at your dinner parties or get-togethers. So what? Would you rather have them sitting at home by themselves, wondering why you’ve quit calling and inviting them places?
8. Offer your skills.
If you’re good with tools or handy at something, help out! During my husband’s first deployment, our garage door lift broke. I didn’t know that there were people to call, so I looked up the make and model of the garage door, figured out the problem, went to Lowe’s, bought my supplies, put up a ladder in the garage and went to work — which would have been great, except I was 20 weeks pregnant with our first child. Later, in relaying the story, I found out there were all kinds of people who could have helped.
9. Hug them.
You don’t realize what a simple hug can do. When my husband is gone, most of the time the only physical contact I have with anyone is with my kids. As simple and basic as it sounds, there are nights when you would really just appreciate a hug and a pat on the back.
10. Encourage them to get help.
If you get concerned about your friend, encourage them to seek help. Offer to go to the emergency room or make the call to their spouse’s First Sergeant with them. Offer to take the kids if they need to be treated. But do not let them harm themselves or their children. If they have made a suicide threat, it must be honored, and once that crisis is resolved, get the kids off their hands for a week so they can focus on their own emotional and mental well-being.
Image: Family members from the 20th Support Command (CBRNE) select backpacks filled with school supplies at the command headquarters Aug. 24, 2009 for children preparing for classes. The backpacks and supplies were donated to the unit by the Washington D.C. Metro Chapter of Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that supports Soldiers and military Families. Their slogan is “Supporting our Troops and helping the Families they leave behind.” Source: United States Army; ROGER TEEL (20TH SUPPORT COMMAND (CBRNE)