I thought I knew it all.
I grew up in the military and married the military. But fifteen years ago when my eldest son took his oath to defend and protect on Induction Day at the US Naval Academy, I was ambushed by my feelings. Fear, worry and pride washed over me like a flood. His three siblings soon followed him into military service.
I am a proud mom of four military members, each serving in a different branch, who collectively have been deployed 11 times– with number 12 starting soon. I have learned a lot as I hold down the homefront time after time again.
Here are some words of wisdom that I use to hold myself together:
1. It does not get easier.
People think because I have experienced my children’s deployment so many times it must not be so hard. Sending someone you love into harm’s way is never easy. It is like labor pains. No matter how many babies I had, those pains hurt! The difference is that after the first birth, I knew what to expect. The same is true with deployments: Once you survive the first one, you at least have an idea of what it will be like.
2. Have a deployment plan.
Everything feels different when they are gone so you might as well do something different to help the time pass. I know I will feel like huge weight is on my back until they return. Each time they leave, I have a project or goal I use to distract myself from the worry that creeps in. One deployment, I walked the distance to Afghanistan. I have run –okay, in full disclosure, walked– marathons. I planted a blue and gold garden when my Navy son deployed.
Go ahead and just let it flow. Science has proven that tears have a purpose to help us release negative energy. I call it a preemptive strike. If I have a good cry every now and then I may not melt down at the grocery store, or like I did the other day walking across a parking lot because I saw a truck that looked like my son’s.
4. Get a battle buddy.
Find someone–another military mom is usually good–who gets it. They need to be able to talk you off the ledge at 2 AM when the bad dreams overtake your sleep. They won’t tell you things like, “ I can’t believe you let her go,” or “At least they are not in ______.”
5. Expect no news.
Repeat after me: “No news is good news.”
I spent 2010/11 teaching in Kabul, Afghanistan. Yes, I know-it is a crazy idea to think of someone like me in a place like that. I learned that the stress on my family was much greater than mine. I knew I was okay, but with every bombing in the city, they were wondering about me. Our wild imaginings can conjure up all kinds of scenarios.
6. There will never be enough letters, phone calls , or texts from them.
This is really hard for a mom who used to know everything about her children. It is amplified by the worry. But the reality is that maintaining long distance relationships is tough AND if they are married, spouses come first. I know it is hard for moms to hear, but the in-laws should be first on the communication list. Help your children by supporting their marriage.
7. Remove stress.
You have enough to deal with already. You have permission to cut out toxic influences in your life as best you can. Annoying FB friends? Let them go. Too many commitments? Just say no. You have a good excuse.
8. Limit the news.
Just the facts are all you need. Avoid those sources that have a lot of “discussion.” You need to protect your mind from needless worry. You have enough to think about.
9. Move your body.
I am not an athlete. It is a struggle to get myself out of my chair and exercising. I would rather be knitting or writing. But whenever my child deploys I know I need to get moving. I walk and pray to ease my mind. It also helps compensate for the extra chocolate I eat!
Prayer and meditation do wonders to calm my soul. I love to knit and pray–every stitch is a prayer. My Marine commented on his last deployment, “You know when mom has someone deployed–production goes way up. “ I have to depend on my faith to keep myself focused and not frantic.
11. Don’t make them worry about you.
My job as a mom is to protect my children. The last thing they need to worry about during a deployment is me. I hide my fears and send them off with a smile. I keep the care packages and positive energy flowing. They need me to be brave and strong, so I step up and do my duty to support them. It is how I can take care of them like I did when they were young.
I just said goodbye again. As I struggle to get my deployment game plan in place once more I fight my fears with pride. My children have answered the call to serve. It is an honorable thing that makes this momma’s heart swell. I know what they do matters, and that is the greatest lesson of all.
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Elaine Lowry Brye, an avid supporter of and advocate for military families, served as a longtime moderator for the USNA-Parents listserv and was one of the founding organizers of its parent community website and Facebook page. She became a national figure when she introduced Michelle Obama at the 2012 Democratic Convention. She lives with her husband in western Montana. In Be Safe, Love Mom: A Military Mom’s Stories of Courage, Comfort, and Surviving Life on the Home Front, Elaine weaves stories from her own life as a military mom and those of other parents with advice, anecdotes, and wisdom to help guide other moms and dads on the long and bumpy road of having a child in uniform.