Welcome to the Military Spouse Community: A Quick Guide
This week a friend of mine is joining the incredible military spouse community. Six months ago, her husband made the decision to join the Army Reserve and after many unexpected delays, he departed for Basic Training this week. Although my husband was already in the military when we met, I can imagine the feeling of excitement, pride, and nervousness all in one.
My friend’s husband is joining the military a little later in life, but he’s also going in with more life experience and humility than many of the younger recruits, so I have no doubt that he will make it just fine. Like our family, they have two children and also live far from any semblance of a military community. As he spends his first week in Basic Training, I can’t help but think about the things that I now know – about military life and living through a separation from my husband – that I wish I had known back then. Things that might have made that time just a little bit easier, that looking back with hindsight I might be able to pass along to my friend to help her through this time alone.
Don’t expect to hear from him often. They will have very limited access to phones while at Basic Training. He will make his standard phone call once he arrives to let you know he is there, but after that, it could be weeks before you hear from him again. And then the phone calls will be very short. In that first phone call, he should give you his mailing address. Begin using it right away, which leads me to the next one…
Write letters, lots of them. He will treasure your letters and some days they may be all that keep him going during training. He will look forward to them at every mail call and will read them over and over again. Even if your letters only include a drawing from your child and a short note about what you did yesterday, he will hang on every word. Make sure to keep every letter that he sends. They will be your most priceless treasure and one day, an incredible testament to your marriage.
Don’t send food in care packages. Not good, just not good. Trust me. Send only letters, blank paper and envelopes, stamps, and calling cards unless he tells you otherwise. The list of acceptable items may differ depending on where he is and who his drill sergeants are.
Make time for yourself. It’s hard to find this time when it’s just you caring for the house, finances, kids and working at the same time. It feels like there is never a moment to rest and the world balances on your shoulders, but the time for you is so important. Even if it is just a few minutes for a hot bath or a walk down the street, find the time. You will be much more rested and refreshed to take on the rest of the day.
Accept help and learn to ask for it. In the beginning, many people will ask what they can do to help, tell them. Most of the people are genuine in their asking and really want to help, but they don’t know what they can do. Be specific and tell them, “Sure, can you watch my daughter for a few minutes while I run to the store?” “Can you help by mowing the lawn?” It’s hard to accept help when you want to appear strong and show everyone that you can do this alone, but there is no weakness in asking for help.
Murphy will visit at some point. It never fails; Murphy loves to visit when our husbands (or wives) are gone. Within the first week of my husband leaving for deployment both kids got sick, the dishwasher broke and the car got a flat tire. I thought it was a sure sign that I was not going to survive the deployment. After a deep breath and a thorough Internet search, I called in reinforcements for the kids, a repairman for the dishwasher and called my neighbor to help with the flat. Surviving that first week made me realize that things would go wrong, but that I also was smart enough and strong enough to handle whatever came my way. Just remember to breathe.
It’s OK to break down and cry. We know we need to stay strong for our kids and our spouse who is away, but it’s also important to remember that it’s OK to cry. We miss our spouses. We miss holding them and having them by our side through the good and tough times. There is nothing wrong with crying and it can help your children share their feelings and emotions about missing their parent as well. If they see mom or dad sharing their emotions in a constructive way, then they will realize that it’s OK to share theirs as well. So have a good cry or a temper tantrum (my favorite) to relieve the stress, and then pick yourself back up and continue on.
You are stronger than you think. There will be days when you don’t feel that you can go on. You’ve had enough and are ready for your spouse to come home so you don’t have to take care of everything by yourself, you don’t have to carry that darn phone with you to the bathroom another time, and you just aren’t alone anymore. But you will and you do. You will continue on and one day, sooner than you think, you’ll be watching your service member walk across a field in formation having successfully made it through training. He will have made it through in part because of your strength. You held down the home front and made it possible for him to concentrate on his job. You are stronger than you think and one day you will look back on this time and realize just how far you have come.
Attend Family Day and Graduation. If you can, go. Next to a deployment homecoming, this is one of the most memorable days. Seeing your spouse walk proudly in formation and walking across the stage in their Class A uniform will make the entire separation worth it. Your heart will swell with pride at what he and your whole family have accomplished. If you can make it to the ceremony, it is definitely worth the trip.
You are not alone. You will feel like you are the only person in the world going through this difficult time and that no one understands what you are going through. You are not alone. There are resources out there specifically designed for you to help you through this time apart. Resources, like the Homefront United Network, are there to connect you to other spouses going through the same thing, encourage you when you need it most, and help you realize that you are not alone and that you can do this. Reach out. Speak up. Ask questions. You will be amazed at what an incredible military community is out there, ready and willing to help carry you through.
What advice would you give to a new military spouse? What do you wish you had known when your spouse left for Basic Training?
About the blogger:
Angela Caban is an Army National Guard spouse, freelance writer, published author and branding expert. Her husband was one of the many soldiers impacted by the unprecedented activation of the National Guard in 2008. In 2010, she founded the Homefront United Network, a military spouse and family support blog created to assist spouses who do not live near an installation, but also focusing on bridging the gap between National Guard, Reserve and Active Duty spouses. She is also co-founder of SpouseTalks. As a branding and digital influencer, she has created content for A&E, Lifetime Network and PBS. Currently she serves as a Community Manager for USAA, writing about her experiences in deployment and military life. She has an extensive background in Human Resources and Communications, with her Bachelor’s in Business Administration and a Master’s in Human Resources. Angela resides in the beautiful Garden State of New Jersey with her husband and two children.