Several people have recently asked me, “How can the “average Joe” support the military community? In particular, they want to know the best ways that they can be helpful to a military family whose service-member is deployed. My first thought was buy the spouse a bottle of wine! But then I thought seriously about it and realized it’s kind of a tricky question: while we (military spouses) certainly appreciate and could totally use a helping hand, it’s hard to coordinate. When I am trying to keep the house in working order, keep the cars in working order, keep the kids in –somewhat- working order, figuring out how to let my neighbors be helpful can get kind of overwhelming. And when I’m already overwhelmed, adding another bit of overwhelming-ness isn’t awesome.
So, I decided to sit down and try to come up with things that were/would have been helpful to me while my husband was on his 8-month deployment. They start out easy and get a little more complicated, but even the smallest acts of kindness go a long way…
Let’s start with the BASICS:
These are things you could do whether you know a military family or not. They might be common sense, but are still worth mentioning.
* Teach your own children – and remind yourself – to show respect during the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, the American flag, and any time when there is a moment of silence for fallen veterans. It might seem cheesy or old school, but this is a simple way to show that you respect what our families do.
* Reserve judgmental comments and/or facial expressions (this is a good thing to do regardless of wanting to support the military) to the lady at the grocery store with the dazed look on her face while her three kids are singing loudly, and/or crying, and/or whining… or to the mom at the playground who is paying attention to her phone instead of her kids… or to the lady who is all of a sudden crying at Target… because that was probably me during our last deployment. My kids sang so much I no longer even noticed (not to mention that I was the only one disciplining them for 8 months, so choosing my battles was very strategic); I was usually emailing my husband photos or videos while we were at the playground so he could see them playing; I don’t know what it is about Target but I had meltdowns in that store more than any other place! So, before you wonder to yourself what is wrong with that lady and why can’t she pull herself (and children) together?! Maybe first wonder has that lady just spent 8 months away from her husband and she’s doing just the best she can?! I swear, I almost made myself a button that said “don’t judge me… my husband is on deployment.”
* If you see a service-member or know a military family, a simple “thank you” is quite nice. I have received a handful of thank you’s from strangers here and there. I probably looked at them a little crazy at first, because essentially, I’m just living my life and don’t think it’s really worth much appreciation. However, after the comment sank in I really did feel a nice, warm fuzzy. Of course it’s always nice to be appreciated, even when we don’t think we’re doing much of anything.
Sometimes an EXTRA SET OF HANDS makes all the difference:
So without our spouse around to help us do stuff… we get to do it ALL. (Yay! No. Not really.) These are probably best done if you actually know a military family, particularly if you live in the same neighborhood:
* What’s one of the most annoying things to do during deployment? Take out the trash and bring the bins back in. Depending on the garbage pick-up situation in your neighborhood, simply pulling the garbage bins to the curb and back would be AMAZINGLY helpful! You have no idea.
* Finding time to get all the chores done inside the house and outside proves to be nearly impossible during deployment. If you are mowing your yard and want to be helpful… go ahead and take care of their yard too. Or offer to wash their car, rake the leaves, shovel the drive, etc. Any extra help when it comes to doing outside chores is a total bonus. I once shoveled the walkway with my youngest in a Baby Bjorn… after getting my other two little ones dressed for snowy weather… then undressed after ten minutes when they had to go potty. Awesome.
* Offer to help with school pick-ups and drop-offs. Most likely if the family has school-aged children, the non-deployed spouse will be running errands while the children are at school (just like any other family, of course) but when you don’t have the option to ask your spouse to “grab some milk on the way home, will ya?” making sure those errands actually get done is critical.
* Speaking of errands getting done… if you are running to the store, a simple text or phone call asking if they need anything can be a lifesaver… you could be a stand-in for that “grab some milk on the way home, will ya?” spouse!
* Dinner prep time at my house can get pretty hairy. (Check out “Blue Line Time” for more details.) Anyway, not only is it a busy and tired time of day but it is also the point in the day when I no longer want to make decisions… or at least no longer want to make good decisions. What’s for dinner? Cereal, of course! (If you have not done a month or more as a “solo parent” you may think I’m kidding. I’m not. Cereal is a staple for all military families during deployments.) Perhaps eating cereal for dinner repeatedly is not the most nutritious idea. So if you have the opportunity to provide dinner for a military family… especially if it is NOT cereal… you will become a dear sweet angel in their eyes! Extra bonus: If you have a group of friends who could bring meals over on a regular basis, you will become a blessed saint in their eyes. I’m not even being dramatic. My church group did this for me every Wednesday night for almost 8 months… Wednesday nights were my favorite!!!
Bringing out the BIG GUNS:
These options are reserved for folks who have a good relationship with a military family.
* When one spouse is deployed, the other spouse is usually with the kids a lot. This can not only get tiring for the parent, but it can get pretty tiring for the kids too. Who wants to be nagged at by the same adult every single day?! Offer to watch the kids for a long afternoon or even an overnight (depending on age and how close you are to the family, of course). A few hours away from each other can make a big difference, but several hours away can be like hitting the re-set button for the whole family. Additionally, this can give the parent time to get chores or errands done or (bonus!) alone time without having to pay a babysitter. I believe my sitters TOTALLY earn their keep, but it is pretty disheartening to pay for a babysitter just so I can get the car’s oil changed.
* Invite the military child on special outings. Sometimes during my husband’s deployment I really really wanted to take my kids on a special trip to the local farm, or zoo, or movie, but I just had a hard time finding time to do it. I wanted to them to have those special moments (and don’t get me wrong, I definitely prioritized quality time/experiences as much as I could) but it’s hard to figure out the logistics when I was doing it on my own. Plus, those little kids need – deserve – some extra-special attention too! So when friends would call me up and ask if my kids could join them on an outing to the beach or movies, it really meant a lot to me.
* When my husband was gone, my kids terribly missed having a dude around. I think they could just tell that we were missing testosterone in our house or something because they would always focus their attention on other dads. Within the military community, I feel like there is an obvious yet unspoken tradition that the dad who isn’t deployed takes all the kids to the backyard to play ball or run around the playground or just do what dads do best – be crazy. (Additional benefit: Mom gets to sit and have a glass of wine with the other wife in peace and quiet.) So if you have military family at your house, and Dad is deployed, the kids might gravitate to the “dad” in your house. Let the military kids have a little extra attention from the grown dude in your house.
If all else FAILS:
Maybe the above list isn’t quite right for every military family out there, but I can almost guarantee one thing every military family will appreciate:
* All you have to do to support military families, is to be aware that there are families out there making sacrifices. We don’t like to be all dramatic about it. We know it’s “what we signed up for when we got married.” Our spouses serve, not for recognition or help with our yard-work, but because they love what they do and believe in the cause. Military families do what they do because they love their service member. So really, if you just try to keep in mind that there are military families out there, that would be great.
* Oh, and pretty much all military spouses (at least the ones I know) appreciate a bottle of wine too! Cheers!