I've had a few military wives/moms e-mail me asking if I'd be interested in sharing anything about our experience as we wrap up Brett's BOLC and head to our first duty station at Ft. Carson near Colorado Springs. This is our third and longest duration of time having Brett away with the Army and although he's not been deployed yet (that's going to be rough) and we're still relatively new to being a military family, it's been challenging to be a single-but-married mama.
Below are some practical things that helped me tremendously, as well as some I wish I'd done better (read: get enough sleep). Before I continue, I hope that anyone who has 'been there, done that, didn't break a sweat' doesn't hear me complaining or offering my expertise. I'm merely sharing from my own experience and I think it's safe to say we're all learning as we go. I've come a long way from that first summer two years ago when I could hardly stop crying after three days of parenting a toddler and six month old on my own but I am the first to say I have a lot of room for growth when it comes to doing this gracefully!
I find myself always staying up an hour longer than I should because I so badly crave time for myself - time when I don't have to take care of anyone else or hear sounds I don't want to hear. I always assume my kids will sleep well and I'll squeeze by with a solid six or seven hours but then one kid gets sick or the other has a bad dream. Next thing I know I'm running on fumes and life just feels ten times harder.
None of us needs to be sold on the value of sleep. Being disciplined enough to unplug goes a long way in how I handle things the next day. It can make all the difference in the world.
Find two or three great friends/relatives and ask their permission to call or text or e-mail them on your bad days.
There will be bad days. I struggle with asking for help or sharing my feelings because I don't want to add to anyone else's problems. Sometimes, I don't feel like my worries or hardships are valid enough to share or that I should be taking measures to ensure I don't have bad days. I should get more sleep so I don't freak out about a spill or the noise level during a sibling fight. I should be better at building in the things I need to handle the pressures of being the only one in charge of two kids and a dog.
No matter what, we can't keep it together all of the time. It's important to have emotional support from others on those days when you really need to talk about how much you miss your partner or how hard it is without their help. Having at least one person you know is available to listen can help you cope with the challenges. Also, they can't read your mind so reaching out is really important. Sometimes you may need to tell your friends how they can best be supportive because it's different for everyone.
It's hard. It's okay to feel like it's hard. We all have different coping techniques but think about ways to make the separation easier on you. Do you need to delegate some responsibilities that are adding stress? Do you need to simplify your schedule? Sometimes you just need to tweak things a bit.
Two things that helped me out immensely were having my neighbors offer to take Sebastian to school every morning along with their girls. It meant I wasn't as frazzled trying to get all three of us dressed and fed before we left. I could just focus on him and take care of the rest of us after he'd gone. Another thing was buying a nice crock pot. I could make meal preparation easier by taking care of it in the morning (after Kindergarten send off) instead of having to entertain two cranky kids while I shuffled pots and pans in the kitchen.
Make a list of those things that help lift your mood.
Sometimes I forget what makes me happy because I'm so sad. When I need a pick me up I think about things I can do to improve my mood based on things that make me feel normal again. This usually includes getting out of the house and sometimes means a trip to the thrift store with Ruby in tow. When I have both kids at home it means finding a park for them to burn some energy if the weather is above 45 degrees. We bundle up good! Having a list of things in front of me just seems to make it easier to actually try one of them.
Also, blasting your favorite music helps. Unless your favorite album is by Bon Iver. I suggest investing in some White Stripes or Mates of State. Save the Bon Iver for later.
Whether it's taking a photo a day, starting a quilt, organizing your cupboards, or visiting every park in your town, give yourself something fun to achieve while your partner is away. It may vary depending on your dependents (mine are not into organizing cupboards) but choosing a project or a goal is a great distraction and an opportunity to work towards something instead of just viewing this time apart as a pause button on life.
Find a local gym with childcare.
It's the only way I have the motivation to exercise because it doesn't take up my 'free' time. Working out from home during Ruby's nap time or after they're asleep just feels like another chore that eats away at that precious down time even though it's a good way to take care of myself in a different way.
Our local YMCA provides great childcare and it's another chance for my kids to get out of the house and be around other people. This isn't always an option depending on your local gyms, schedule, number of children, finances, etc. Some gyms provide financial aid or scholarships to help offset the cost. Making time to go can be tricky but I'm always glad I did.
I had to stop putting so much pressure on myself to meet the same expectations I had of my role as a wife/mother/friend as when Brett was home. Use your time wisely and give yourself room to not do and be everything to everyone. In the same manner, use your time to tend to things you might not otherwise have as much time for such as relationships with girlfriends or trips to see family if they're close. Being aware of how things are different will help you make those choices to take advantage of this time rather than just surviving it.
This isn't a conclusive list of how we've made it through the last few weeks with Brett away but rather my reflections on what I've learned through the process. I'd love to hear your additions to the list in the comments section below or maybe a specific instance that stands out in your mind during a time when you've had to be without your partner. One of my favorite things about the internet is sharing experiences with each other to gain insight from other people's stories. I think it can help shape us into better mamas, sisters, friends, etc.
So, it's your turn. What has helped get you through your time alone?
p.s. Pardon my blurry photos. These were too good to not use.