Deployment doesn’t begin with goodbye. For a military family, preparing to say goodbye to a spouse or parent begins days or even weeks before departure. When a family is able to prepare for the event in healthy ways, there’s a chance saying goodbye will be less traumatic.
Here are a few tips to help your family prepare for goodbye, as well as separation:
- As spouses, talk about how you will communicate during the deployment to keep your relationship strong – be honest and flexible. For example, writing every day may or may not work out to be a promise you can keep. Find out if you will have cell phone connectivity, whether you can depend on email and if the computer is private. Agree on what kinds of things you don’t want to—or cannot—talk about via email or messaging.
- If you have children, it’s very important to let them participate in the preparation, saying goodbye, and throughout the deployment. They have all the same fears and anxieties about this separation.
- Talk to your children about the ways they will be able to communicate with their absent parent. Suggest daily tangible reminders of the deployed parent: perhaps a photo or a handwritten note to keep on their nightstand.
- Set aside time for each family member to spend some time with the person deploying. This gives everyone time to answer each other’s questions and say your own individual goodbyes.
- If family members plan to journal during deployment, before departure may be a good time to begin. The goodbye process is part of the deployment experience, and journaling can help each person process emotions.
- Get the names of other spouses in the unit. They will have access to information you need, or vice versa, and will understand your situation. You may have other friends and family to support you, but they may not have the same access to information or have the same understanding of what you are going through as other spouses who walk through deployment with you. If your spouse does not deploy as part of a unit, seek out a deployed spouse’s group to find others who understand.
- Stress levels are high as deployment approaches, so be prepared for family and marital conflict. An approaching departure guarantees feelings of sadness, and anger is a common mask for sadness. Address conflicts in the family with honesty and compassion. Let the little things slide. They will not seem so important after all the goodbyes are said.
- Give children plenty of reassurance, amid the stress and busy-ness of deployment preparation. They need to know your family is united, even when you will be apart.
Everyone in a military family is affected by saying goodbye and being apart in different ways. Even those who have been through deployment before will find each experience is different, because each is surrounded by different circumstances. Talking through the circumstances and emotions ahead of time can ease some of the fears and concerns that are a part of every deployment.