November is Military Family Appreciation Month, and it’s a perfect time to recognize the men and women who have served our country in the military. But it’s also a great time to support military families.
The Service of Military Families
Military families make so many unseen sacrifices. A deployed spouse will miss birthday parties, school plays, and winning goals. In some cases, they might leave a pregnant wife and return months later to a newborn baby. There are extra sleepless nights when they haven’t heard from their loved one in a while and even when deployment is over, it’s not always a seamless transition back to family life.
“You never know when your spouse or family member would come home saying “I’m leaving for deployment”, writes Kenniqua Howell of the West to W.I.F.E. blog and military wife. “Because it sometimes feels like the military literally runs your life (and it kinda does lol) and that’s exactly why having a support system means so much.”
So what are some of the best ways we can help provide a support system for our friends and family in the military?
We want to let them know how much we appreciate them and the ways that they’re serving our country. And there are many practical ways we can all help:
Ways to Support Military Families During Deployment.
Many military spouses are hesitant to ask for assistance, so it’s important to be proactive about offering help. “Offer to babysit, come and help keep up with the house, etc,” advises Corrin Downiest of @theskyboxlife. “Most often military families don’t live by their extended family and when the significant other is away, the brunt of everything is placed on the one who is home. Having someone come and help keep up with yard work, or having someone come babysit so they can have some alone/quiet time makes all the difference.”
Here are a few more specific ways to help.
- Bring on the muscles! One friend was extremely pregnant, and in tears when a good friend showed up with his lawnmower. Mowing the yard, raking leaves, moving heavy water bottles, or taking care of any other maintenance work can be a huge help for military families.
- Plan a Girls/Guys Night Out. When a spouse is deployed, your social calendar can take a hit, but that’s when you probably need a night out the most! Get together with a group of friends and do something fun, or go out for a kid-free-lunch.
- Bring meals to military families when a spouse is deployed. After taking care of the household responsibilities, there’s something wonderful about not having to plan dinner. Even if you’re not a great cook, bringing over takeout or a cup of coffee can be a small miracle.
- Help with childcare. Many military families don’t have relatives nearby, and they might not have local friends, yet, either. This dynamic makes finding a babysitter difficult. So if you meet a new friend with a deployed spouse, offer an hour or two to watch the kids so they can go to the grocery store uninterrupted.
What to Say/Not Say to Military Families
Deployment can be a lonely and scary time, and it’s important to keep your mind focused on the important things. Sometimes, even though we’re trying to be helpful and say the right things, we can inadvertently say the exact wrong thing at the wrong time. So here are a few guidelines.
- If someone has a loved one who’s currently deployed –
- DON’T bring up news that might be really upsetting, ie. plane crashes, raids or bombings in foreign countries, or any other event that might trigger anxiety.
- DO offer words of encouragement and support. One friend likes to make a notecard book of favorite Bible verses for friends who are going through hard times and deployments. That way, they can focus on hopeful words, instead of fears.
- If someone is showing signs of PTSD after returning home-
- DON’T say something along the lines of “Don’t worry! I’m sure everything will be fine, soon.” It may be, but that’s not always the case.
- DO offer a listening ear and be a supportive friend.
- DON’T offer unsolicited advice diagnosing a problem someone may or may not have.
- DO direct your friend to a professional who has been trained to help people with these experiences, but ONLY IF THEY ASK FOR YOUR OPINION.
- If someone loses a loved one in military service and becomes a Gold Star family member-
- DON’T congratulate them on their heroic child/spouse/parent.
- DO express your gratitude, support them, listen, cry with them, and don’t wait for them to ask for help. Fill in the gaps wherever needed.
Talk to Your Children About Military Service
Starting a dialogue with the youth about the military and their service to our country is another way to support military families. Have your children or grandchildren send cards to the troops thanking them for their service. When you bring a meal to a military family, have your kids make special cards for the family members, too.
Even if you don’t currently have active-duty military in your family now, many of us have grandparents or great-grandparents who served in the armed forces. Talk to your children about that part of your family history and let them connect to that part of that story. Many of us have forgotten that we are able to enjoy our current freedoms because so many have paid the ultimate price.
Offer Military Families a Helping Hand Where You Can
Veterans Day is a great time to express your appreciation for military families, but it’s hardly the only time you can and should thank them. Even really simple things like just saying “thank you for your service” when you see someone in uniform can go a long way.
Military families are using FamilyApp to stay in touch with deployed family members, because it’s private, encrypted, and completely disconnected from social media. It’s also a great way to create a support group and virtual communities for military spouses.
(**Extra note: Many of these tips also apply to single parents. Parenting in any form is hard work, and single parents especially need a good support network. So feel free to bring them a meal or offer to do yardwork for them from time-to-time, too!)