If you are currently experiencing or getting ready for a deployment, chances are that you are very focused on ensuring that everyone around you is ready (as they can be) and supported. I am sure you are worrying about how they will manage, what you can do for them, and how you are going to manage ‘flying solo’ and helping them through this difficult time. The problem with this outlook is that the caregiver never makes any plans on how they are going to care for themselves. Whether an absence is a week, a month or a year, it is hard and exhausting. It is emotionally and physically draining, yet I have never once seen a list devoted to how people will take care of themselves during this difficult time. I have experienced a deployment through pregnancy, the toddler stage, pre-teen and teenage years, and never once during any of those did I make a solid plan for myself. I ended up drained, resentful and often with pneumonia or some other illness – I think lack of preparation made it harder for everyone. What if when we were busy making plans for all the people we care for, we included ourselves and followed through? What if, even once a month, we made ourselves the priority? Below is a checklist urge you to consider using to make sure that you don’t crawl to the finish line of a deployment or absence and allow you model what self-care looks like for those around you.
Make a list of the people you would feel comfortable asking for help.
Make the list and then write to those people and tell them that you are going to need their help. Be specific! Asking for help is a sign of strength – not weakness.
Join something that gets you out (without children) one night a week.
Find something you will enjoy and be motivated to do regardless of how tired you are or how much your kids tug on your heartstrings to stay at home. There are always plenty of excuses about it is too expensive or you are too tired, but getting out with adults and doing something you enjoy will rejuvenate you. Find a neighbour and take turns watching each other’s children, book a babysitter for the same time every week, or ask someone on point number one to do this for you!
Pamper yourself once a month by booking it in advance and treat this pampering like a doctor’s appointment you would make for your children.
This is your deployment doctor’s appointment. You wouldn’t miss your doctor’s appointment if it was for your kids – don’t miss your own medical needs (yes, I consider a pedicure or massage a medical need, it contributes to my emotional and physical wellness).
Put $10 – 50 a week in a different section of your wallet – depending on your budget.
When you are out, buy yourself something with that money. Make a rule that it can only be for you. As a parent, we always find the money for our kids when they “need” something and often at the expense of sacrificing things we want. Get yourself an ice cream, speciality coffee, book, or buy yourself chocolates or flowers – buy something just for you impulsively and selfishly. Often, there is no one to do these small things for you during a deployment – do it for yourself.
Ask for meals
The hours between after school and bedtime were nearly the end of me. I had worked all day, had to manage the house, daycare, school, etc. on my own and everything that could go wrong usually did. I wish that I had asked people to make me a meal once a week. They would have–they offered–I just didn’t take them up on it, thinking I would be an additional stress for them. The truth is that people receive something out of helping others and in return you get a break from the madness. Go back up to number one on your list and think of 10 people that would be more than happy to make an extra portion for your freezer. Ask them. Better yet, take 4 of those people and suggest that you all take turns doing a meal. That means that 3 times a month your kids are all together being entertained and you don’t have to think about a meal. You also got out of the house.
Don’t sugar coat it
While your family member is not on a trip to an all-inclusive resort, there are a lot of things that they no longer have to worry about at home. Yes, they have a lot of stress too, but you will feel better when you vent and share your day – both the good and the bad–with the person that knows you best. This list isn’t about what you are going to do for other people, it is about doing things to help yourself out. I can also assure you that painting a realistic picture of your life will also help you out when they return as you have stayed “real” with one another and continued to connect in a meaningful and honest way.
Get a cleaner
At least once a month, hire someone to come in and clean your house. I don’t want to hear excuses about how you can do it better, you wouldn’t trust someone in your house, or that you don’t have the money. If you have the money to take your kids out to eat, you have the money to do that once a month. Take your kids to a friend’s place, go to the park, just do something fun together while someone else cleans for you. If you really don’t have funds to eat out or get a cleaner… back to number one. Ask someone to come and help you and get it done in half the time. My mother-in-law came to stay with me and ended up with the nickname “the laundry fairy”. She would show up at the bedroom door after I had been up all night with my colicky son with a clean basket of laundry. It was magical.
Say no at least 10 times a week to other people’s requests or demands.
Deployments and absences are hard and you will not be able to do all the things you used to do for others and stay sane. Start getting comfortable with saying no to things and stick to it. A deployment or absence is a great excuse. You cannot be all things to everyone and that is okay. Most times people will either work out how to do it themselves or realize they didn’t need to do it anyway. Keep a tally of when you say no and ensure you are setting limits and boundaries on your time. It isn’t easy not to be there for everyone, but if they are meant to be in your life, they will understand.
Create a mailing list
There are a lot of people that always want “status updates” on your life. Do not spend all your time on the computer trying to get everyone up to date on what is happening. This is time-consuming and not taking the time you need for you. Create a group mailing list, send out an update every 2-3 weeks. This allows people to know you care, what is happening and is a quick way to get information out to everyone all at once so that once your kids are in bed, you can step away from the computer and go to bed early, have a long bath or do something else that renews YOU.
Create an alarm on your phone for your bedtime.
Routines aren’t just for kids. We can get caught up in saving everything until the kids are in bed and then run around the house for hours past when we should be sleeping, trying to be all things to everyone. Set a reminder that you need to be getting ready for bed and another alarm to nag yourself. With sleep comes perspective and patience – the two main ingredients you need to survive an absence. Sleep should be as important as eating well or exercise. In fact, when I don’t have enough sleep I tend to eat more and don’t exercise which just adds to my problems!
Deployments and absences are never easy. Many things that can go wrong, will. Follow the tips above and you will be better able to tackle whatever is thrown at you. Take it from someone who usually learns the hard way!