Preparing for deployment doesn’t begin with saying goodbye. For a military family, this preparation begins days or even weeks before the deployment goodbye. When a family talks about being apart before the deployment begins, making plans to communicate and stay connected, departure and absence can be less traumatic.
Tips for Deployment Goodbye and 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 not 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, 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 can communicate with their absent parent. Suggest daily tangible reminders of the deployed parent: 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. Give everyone time to ask and answer questions and say individual goodbyes.
- Before departure is a good time to begin journaling about deployment. The goodbye process is part of the deployment experience, and journaling can help process emotions, for spouses and for children.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
These tips are adapted from Surviving Deployment: A Guide for Military Families by Karen Pavlicin.