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Coping with Deployment as a Parent, Spouse, and Leader

Mara R. Lockard
Newnan GA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 2, April-May-June 2006, pp. 40-41.

La Leche League philosophy states that "breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby's father," and that "a father's unique relationship with the baby is an important element in the child's development from early infancy." But how does that work for military families, many with a beloved "Daddy" deployed overseas? How do Leaders with a military spouse practice loving guidance when at their wit's end trying to be both mother and father to their children? And how can these Leaders find time for LLL responsibilities while running a household alone? This article will explore ways to cope: as a parent, as a spouse, and as an LLL Leader.

As a parent, routines were my most important tools during my husband's deployments. I have "Flylady" (www.flylady.net) to thank for that! Routines are helpful in any family, but vital when only one parent is present. They kept life reasonably smooth and minimally stressful. Flexibility helped too. When her father was home, my daughter's morning routine was to eat breakfast before getting dressed for school. After my husband left, my daughter felt sad eating alone. I was flexible, and my daughter got dressed with her little brother and me so that we could eat together. Also, I strived to keep meals healthy but simple, used a crockpot (slow cooker) often, and realized that a little menu planning goes a long way!

Other Leaders have found creative ways of coping with the separation. Lisa Woodworth (Wahiawa, HI, US) put up a world map with pushpins at Afghanistan and Fort Campbell (a US Army Base that lies on the border of the US States of Kentucky and Tennessee), while her husband was deployed to Afghanistan for a year. Sandee Luttkus (Westhope, ND, USA) shared that before her father deployed during her childhood, he recorded himself reading a book of bedtime stories. It kept her father real to her, and was an incentive to go to bed without arguing. Mitzi Kiefer (Knoxville, TN, USA) had a clock in her home set to "Daddy time" (Iraq), and a special time of day when they all were thinking of each other. She and her children would say a special prayer at that time.

When Susan Carlson's (Oil City, PA, USA) husband deployed, she had no family members or close friends nearby. She did have helpful neighbors, and employed a mother's helper weekly in order to do housework or go to the gym for stress release. Bedtimes were challenging, so Susan set them earlier to avoid overtired children. She sought out other families of deployed soldiers, but avoided the military base when possible (rumors about the deployed ran rampant there). Susan said that asking for help was difficult. I suspect this is a common trait in military spouses, being able to relate to it myself. I wanted to prove that I could do it alone. I felt so bad imposing upon neighbors that I created a military support group in my off-post neighborhood! For some reason, it was easier to ask strangers for help than neighbors.

Mothering burnout can happen to any mother, but those parenting alone can be particularly susceptible. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, describes mothering burnout and how to counter it in a NEW BEGINNINGS article from May-June 2001. It is crucial that mothers find the emotional support of others in similar situations. What better place to seek this out than with other LLL members! There may be other military wives within your LLL Group, or Leaders can connect to the "Semi SoLLLo" group on the La Leche League Community Network online at http://community.llli.org. Setting boundaries as a parent, spouse, and Leader, especially in a father's absence, is key in addressing mothering burnout. You simply cannot fill everyone's needs every time and end up with nothing left for you.

As a spouse, I made sure to email my husband every day before bedtime, giving him a synopsis of our day, and he said it felt as if we were talking about the day at the dinner table. Mitzi Kiefer enjoyed Staying Connected for Military Couples by Janel Lange for maintaining a spiritual connection with her husband in his absence. Lisa Woodworth captured it eloquently when she said that being apart is hard on a marriage, and "you just have to realize that you may be in a 'valley' in your marriage, and it will take time and being together for it to be like it was when you first started dating." As happy as the reunion is, it requires some adjusting. After all, you have both changed and taken on different responsibilities. It is important for both spouses to recognize this and not to expect the household to run as it did before. Even if the deployment hadn't happened, routines would have changed over time. After a separation, it takes time to adjust to the new reality of life.

As a lone Leader, I tried to do as much leadership work via email as possible when Bill was away. It was not the personal contact I was used to offering, but I know that the mothers understood. I asked callers for patience when my children needed me, indicating that my husband was not present to help. If necessary, I called back or finished via email. Susan Carlson avoided the extras of leadership (e.g., Toddler Meetings or Enrichment Meetings) in her husband's absence. Launa Hall (Montgomery, AL, USA) pointed out that when her husband was gone, it was a good time to scale back on LLL responsibilities. However, when her personal stress level was high, spending time with mothers and their healthy, breastfed babies was exactly what she needed.

Editor's Note: Maria "Flylady" Cilley's popular home and life organization book, Sink Reflections, is part of the LLLI Bibliography. Mara Lockard also states that Cilley has a section on her Web site full of helpful ideas for those parenting alone at www.flylady.net/pages/FlyFocus4.asp.

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