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Tips for Military Families Facing Deployment

Military families have to deal with separations during deployments, which can last anywhere from three to 18 months. Military service brings many advantages, such as the opportunity to apply online for G.I. Bill benefits that help veterans pay for college. But many families struggle to stay connected and deal with daily issues while the service member is away. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the impact of separation on family relationships. Here are some tips to help you and your family deal with deployment.

Practical Preparations for Deployment

You'll need to get a number of practical items in place before deployment. You may want to attend the Pre-Deployment Briefing offered by your military unit. The spouse who is staying at home will learn about things such as addresses for care packages and emergency contacts. They will also have the chance to connect with other families in the unit.

The service member's pay will most likely increase, so it's best if you decide as a couple where the additional income will go before the service member leaves. Some spouses use the surplus for extra childcare, for example, while other families use it to eliminate debt. What's important is that the spouses agree before the deployment takes place.

You'll also need to discuss the power of attorney, a legal document that gives the spouse at home the authority to make financial decisions on behalf of the service member. It is probably one of the most crucial documents for you to have during a deployment. Approximately 71.6% of Americans don't have an up-to-date will -- and while everyone hopes that having one won't prove necessary during deployment, it's essential to prepare for all possibilities and ensure that your family won't have to go through undue stress if the very worst should occur.

Some spouses staying behind might consider moving back temporarily to their previous civilian community during deployment. You will need to find out if you'll have the same resources available to you as you would have on base, such as medical coverage through TRICARE. You'll need to know if you'll have to relinquish your house on base and if moving would save money or cost more than you can afford.

Sustaining Your Romantic Connection

It's crucial that you discuss the separation to come. The U.S. has the sixth-highest divorce rate worldwide -- and military service members have some of the highest divorce rates in the country. If you want to stay connected to your spouse during deployment, talk about it beforehand. Schedule some alone time without the kids around so that you can express your honest feelings and discuss how each of you will handle the separation. Acknowledge each other's emotions. You'll need to talk about how you plan to handle parenting, manage the finances, and deal with emergencies. Make a list of family and friends who can help out when necessary.

During deployment, don't try to schedule specific times to talk. If the deployed spouse can't talk at a regularly scheduled time, you may become alarmed and think the worst. As an alternative, spend part of your conversations discussing a broader time frame when the next talk might take place. Similarly, you can email, phone, and text as frequently as you can, but don't expect that the deployed spouse will be able to follow a particular pattern of communication.

Try to share activities long-distance, like watching the same movies on DVD. Create one photo album for the deployed spouse and one for the spouse who's staying home. You can look through the albums during a phone call so you can talk about the special events you've shared in your marriage. Each spouse can also page through the album separately and write a letter to the other about the feelings those memories stir up.

Approaches to Parenting

Both parents should talk to very young children about what deployment means in simple language they can understand. Referring to deployment as a "long trip" is how many parents explain deployment.

What may make the situation difficult for kids of all ages is the fact that they may not be able to communicate with the deployed parent as often as they want to. Distance, changing schedules, and problems with cell and internet service may make kids feel less connected to the parent who's away. The spouse at home can help by keeping photos of the deployed parent on display and talking about them often so that children will remember the bond.

Establishing a routine during deployment is a way to help kids feel secure while one parent is away. Creating new family activities might seem odd or even inappropriate during this time, but they can give children something to count on when things may seem uncertain to them. You can make a schedule of events that includes a family movie night, a weekly visit to a children's museum or a zoo, or a monthly camping night when you sleep in the backyard under the stars. Women are 70% more likely than men to develop depression at some point in their lives; having a deployed spouse is a time when a woman might be susceptible to depression, particularly if she's caring for small children by herself. A routine made up of enjoyable activities can help keep everyone in good spirits, including the spouse at home. It also brings the family together during a challenging time.

Resources for Kids

Your children might exhibit changes in behavior once your partner leaves on deployment. The spouse staying behind needs to consult with their kids' teachers and find out if the school offers support to children going through a deployment.

Fortunately, there are programs to help military families stay connected. The USO's Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program allows deployed parents to make a recording as they read their child's favorite storybook and send the recording home. They can also enter USO centers and talk with their children via Skype, interact through social media, and call for free through Operation Phone Home.

Deployment is a huge challenge for any military family. The spouse who stays home can get overwhelmed, while the deployed spouse can feel cut off from the people they love. But you can prepare for the separation practically and emotionally -- and work to make sure kids and parents alike stay connected.


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