Support The Troops, Support Their Families.
“Thank you for your service.”
“I support the military.”
Those phrases have become more common over the years. When I met and married my husband, no one approached a service member in uniform and uttered those words. In the aftermath of 9/11, it’s become much more common. People want to acknowledge service members, and that is a good thing.
The problem is that, for many of us, we have no idea what to make of those words or how to respond. My husband has learned to smile, nod and say thank you. But it makes him a little uncomfortable, the acknowledgement of his service and the sacrifices he’s made. He’s learning to live with it.
Today, I would like to draw your attention to what many don’t realize: for every military member serving this country-putting their life on the line, there is a family that is also serving. We are not on the front lines. But we are making sacrifices and carrying heavy loads. In a way, we are veterans too. And in many ways, we are invisible. So, for just a moment, hopefully our incredible service members won’t mind too much if I shine a spotlight on those in the shadows…our Shadow Veterans, those working hard to keep things going and carry the load that is unique to them.
We ARE a unique group. I think the closest comparable group is law enforcement and first responders. Our spouses disappear and willingly walk into danger. We live with the worry that our loved one may not come home. And while we worry, we have to keep going. That is part of what makes us unique. Because unlike most of those first responders and law enforcers, our spouses don’t come home for long periods of time. The shortest deployment my family has experienced was 10 months; the longest was 15. That is a lot of time to worry, to keep the home life ‘normal’. And it takes a toll.
I’d like to give you a glimpse into that world, and some food for thought.
My husband is away again. This makes the 3rd one-year assignment in the 6 years we’ve lived here. That is one whole year where he is gone. A year is a very long time. There are very few things you can put on a honey-do list to wait that long. If you’ve got kids, that is a long time to be a single parent to wait for some relief. It’s not getting through a few days or even a few weeks. That is a birthday for each member of the family and every holiday. ALL of them. The person getting us through all of that is me. It’s all on me, all the time. I do it all. ALL. I get 3 kids everywhere they need to be (that’s a lot). I deal with fights over homework, checking the homework, kids’ misbehavior, band rehearsals and concerts, sports practices and games, housecleaning, never-ending meals, trash out, bills paid, grass mowed, broken things fixed, holidays planned and celebrated, everything. You name it. Think about all that happens in your own household for a minute. For 365 days there is no one else. Not for the house, not for the kids, not for me. I am a one-woman show until he comes home again.
Not all of us have support. Frequently far away from family, not always with close friends, and not always with the best resources, sometimes it’s all on us alone. I think that many people assume the military takes care of us. That is a sometimes yes, sometimes no, thing. If you live on a military installation and your spouse heads overseas with a unit, there are many resources available to you. But for those that don’t fit that mold, they can be on their own, with no support. No one to call for help, no one to help take care of the kids, no one to call if things break down, no one to call in case of emergency. We are just another family in the neighborhood. Which can be fine. It can be lonely. It can be scary. When there is an emergency and there is no one to call, it can be downright frightening.
Money can get tight. When you don’t have grandma or neighbors or friends to call on, money can get tight, because you pay for everything. Every babysitter, handyman, lawnmower, emergency tow costs. And unless your spouse is in a war zone, there is not much extra pay.
Then there’s the kids. The ones that you are working so hard to keep life normal for. But life isn’t normal. Having a parent overseas is a very stressful thing on a child. They worry. A lot. Stressed, worried kids act out. It can make even the best, most well-mannered child a mess: school problems, homework problems, peer problems, difficult behavior, crying, fighting, resistance, pushing back, withdrawl, depression, anxiety, and (frighteningly) suicide. And the parent left at home, trying their best to make everything okay, gets the brunt of that.
Overall we are a strong, resourceful group-military spouses. We deal with it all and keep right on going. But sometimes we could use a little of that “support” that people talk about when they see that uniform. If you really want to support the military, support that family. Give that military member the peace of mind that comes with knowing their family will be taken care of and everything is OK at home. Because, they’re certainly not going to hear that it’s not from us. It’s one of the ways we care for our service members. Even if it’s not true, we want them to think there’s nothing to worry about at home, we’ve got it handled.
How can you help? What can you do?
1. LISTEN. Let that military spouse unload on you. They might not have anywhere else to do that.
2. WATCH THE KIDS. Every little break helps. Even for just an hour or two. The relief is tremendous.
3. GIVE RIDES. It can get very challenging just to get everyone where they are supposed to be. If you’re headed that way, OFFER a ride!
4. FIX THINGS. For many, the handyman of the house is gone. It can be quite a load to carry. One of these days I’ll get my back door fixed, I swear. But for now, the rubber band holding it closed is doing a fantastic job! It’s on my to-do list….
5. MAKE A MEAL. Or a treat. My kids will never eat pizza as adults. They’re already sick of it. But, for the life of me, cooking a good dinner is beyond me these days. And baked goods? Once upon a time I did lots of those….
6. WATCH OUT FOR THEM. These days this means a lot of things. Just by writing this and coming out as a military spouse, I am putting myself and my kids at risk from ISIS. No, I am NOT kidding. That threat is real. But it’s the everyday stuff too. From burglars, to the bike that my kid left out on the sidewalk, to the fact that my daughter is crying and doesn’t want me to know. I’m overwhelmed and I’m fried.
7. BE PATIENT. We’re carrying a heavy load. Things get missed, things get dropped, and we can be exhausted and frazzled. But we’re doing our best to keep it all together. To smile so that our kids don’t see. And to make it sound good when our military spouse calls. Like everything is okay.
Military spouses have been through some stuff too. In a way, we are veterans too. We’re serving too. We’re serving our nation by taking care of our military member and their families. It’s not the kind of Veteran that you think of. We’re serving in the shadow of our military member. We’re shadow veterans. But our contribution is important. They know it. They rely on it. So for those of you that would like to “support our troops”, look around. Chances are you have a military family that lives near you. And when you see that there is a spouse there alone, tired, frazzled, racing around trying to get everything done, think about what would help you the most if you were in their shoes, and offer it. You will probably never know the depth of the gratitude they feel. Both of them. But you will feel the pride and accomplishment of knowing that you did “support our troops”.