What helps? What hurts?
Military spouses tend to be independent and determined to get through the military separation on their own. It is hard to receive offers of help, and harder to accept. Sometimes it is good that we keep busy taking care of our own needs, however, offers of assistance encourage us to know that we are not alone in this. Some things to consider:
- Offers to help need to be genuine. Insist that you really want to help, but you're not sure how. And keep asking... situations changes as the deployment drags on.
- Churches...be intentional in your support. This is a time that we need to experience community.
- Every situation is unique. The best thing to do is to keep an open line of communication with the family. Ask, with all sincerity, how you can help.
Here is a list of suggestions and insights shared by military spouses who have gone through deployment:
- "Ask how you/your family can support our family - a meal a week, grass-cutting every other week; agree on something specific."
- "Offer assistance or support but don't be obtrusive or hurt if they say 'No thanks.'"
- "Be patient and available for when a family does finally accept your offer or ask for help."
- "I think the families with a special needs family member must be remembered during these deployments and some assistance provided to them. It would be great if there was a list of people who would be interested in providing just an hour or two of respite for these families."
- "Our youth director took my son to a baseball game. It meant the world to my son."
- "Offer to watch the kids while I run to the grocery store or do a workout or pick up a movie. It is amazing how tiring it is to just run to the store for milk and have to drag all of the kids out of the car and back in the car... something that is so easy to do when my husband is home and I can just run to the store. If a neighbor would offer to stay with the kids for 20-30 minutes, I would definitely take them up on that!"
- "Male neighbors that would offer to just throw the ball around with the kids or do the dad type of activity would be great. My four boys crave male attention while my husband is deployed and although I can and do throw the ball with them, it just isn't the same."
- "I had especially hoped that someone/some people would have played a big brother/big sister role to the kids regularly....I hated to be the sole disciplinarian...sometimes I was so tired and emotionally spent that I felt I was too hard on them. I wanted someone to pick them up, take them away and spoil them for a day."
- "During my husband's deployment, a relative e-mailed my husband and asked if there was anything he could do with my son on behalf of my husband--a place they liked to go together, a particular restaurant, or an event. It was really neat for him to want to do something personally significant to my family, and help my husband feel involved in giving that experience to my son."
- "Sometimes relatives would pick up one or two of the kids, but rarely all three...and I really needed some alone time."
Other ideas submitted:
- Offer to help with children via car pooling, babysitting, etc.
- Offer to help plan a birthday party for a child and pay for it.
- Babysit the kids for a few hours.
- Offer to take the kids for the night.
- Remind the kids that they are heroes too.
- Do something for the kids.
- Show your support with free babysitting
- If you are going to offer for someone to babysit my kids so I can attend an event, be clear if I am expected to pay the babysitter or if this is being offered to me for free - not knowing is frustrating.
- Create a babysitting ring to give parents a break.
- Watch the kids so the parent can have some personal time.
- Play with the kids - especially a man who can run around the yard with them.
- Step in for the deployed parent at a special event.
- Take the kids for an outing so the parent can have quiet/catch up time.
- Offer to take the oldest child to do something special.
- Establish support groups for students with deployed parents in all schools and at all levels.
- Set up a support group for the teenage children of the deployed.
- "When churches and other organizations recognize and pray for our Soldiers and fail to mention the spouses and families, they lose me right there. The sacrifices we make are sometimes equal if not greater than that of our spouses. When my husband returned from a deployment, he received a standing ovation. I had gone through the worst year of my life...my sacrifices were not noticed or acknowledged."
- "I was so nervous that my family and I would become the church's project during my husband's deployment. I don't like a lot of public attention. Anonymous or personal gestures of caring would have been appreciated, but I didn't expect that they would hardly reach out at all; I felt lonely and abandoned."
- "Don't publish our pictures, addresses or other information in church bulletins, on your website, or on a bulletin board unless we have given you permission."
Cleaning, errands help
- "Help with the surge of cleaning/chores before redeployment."
- "Help with spring or fall cleaning."
- "Help with babysitting, car pool, grocery shopping duties."
Co-workers: "Offer to cover a fellow co-worker to go on unexpected family visits to their Soldier or when they come home."
- "If the spouse has family nearby, don't assume that their needs are being taken care of."
- "Don't assume that because I have a smile on my face that I'm doing ok. I'm doing my best to survive, and the smile on my face is a means to convince my own spirit that I'm doing ok, while deep inside I may really be struggling."
- "Military appreciation days or events, where the families get discounts and or just support. Some times just saying that you appreciate the sacrifices of military families goes along way. I had lived in El Paso and I truely feel they were the most supportive just because everyone who found out my husband was in the military said kind and appreciative things to me. It made me feel a little prouder."
- "USO Fort Riley worked with a community radio station and did a shopping trip for spouses to a town about an hour away -- free bus, free breakfast and lunch, low-cost child care and free wine tasting at the local winery. Several businesses offered special discounts for the day (including the salon and a photographer, who took some nice photos of the ladies). Everyone had a wonderful time, even those who didn't have as much funds to spend."
- "Set up a weekly coffee/soda break to give them an opportunity to get some perspective or an opening to ask for help."
Other ideas submitted:
- Community events are awesome.
- Have a special military get to know you picnic at church at least once every three months and publicize in military newspapers.
- Plan a community event for folks to understand what a deployment is like/about.
- “One time a guy came to the door with flowers for me. My husband knew him from his growing up years. It was rather awkward, for him and for me. Yet, he told me God put it on his heart to bring me flowers, and I felt God's love for me in my situation because of it.”
- "I would love fresh flowers."
- "Surprise them with flowers."
- "Take flowers over to brighten her day."
- "Before my husband deployed our pastor looked him in the eye and said "We'll take care of your wife while you're gone." A month has gone by and no one from church has asked me how I'm doing. I'm doing okay for now, but it would mean a lot if they would show they care."
- "Make good on offers to help."
Gifts, gift cards
- "One family in our church sent me a note. They didn't know how to help me in my situation, but felt compelled to send me a gift card for the local pizza place. I was touched by their efforts, and the pizza was greatly appreciated!"
- "Note cards or a gift certificate to a stationary website would be nice. I send a letter or card to my husband every day. That's 365 notes while he is deployed! It is nice to get some new stationary or cards to send. For the kids, too!"
Other ideas submitted:
- Send gift certificates/gift cards to let us know you are thinking of us and care.
- Give a gift basket of goodies.
- Send care packages (suggestions - visit this link).
- Give money for gas/lodging/airline tickets, etc. toward a visit to see their family/relatives - offer your air miles.
- Give a paid calling card to the family, Soldier, etc.
- Offer some pampering - makeover, hair and makeup.
- "I think it would be neat for people to offer to be on a "Go To" list. When something happens, like needing a last minute babysitter, having a plumbing problem, car trouble--I would love to have a list of names and phone numbers of people who have offered to help out in those areas if something suddenly comes up and I need advice or service."
- "A source of support for emergencies. For example - child care in the middle of the night if I get sick and need to go to the hospital. I worry a lot about what I would do in that situation and what I would do with the kids in the nine to ten hours it would take my family to drive here to get the3 kids. It is my worst fear here for me while my husband is deployed."
- "Give a go-to list of people to call for help."
- "Keep families of absent military members safe. Call the police if there is suspicious activity around the house at night or any given time, kind of like the neighborhood watch. Look out for our well-being if you are our neighbor or know us somehow."
- "Know your "deployed" neighbor - keep an eye out for their safety."
- "Help us to stay healthy too and take care of ourselves."
- "My husband is deployed and I don't receive as much affection as I used to. A woman at church told me each time she saw me she was going to give me a hug since I don't have my husband around to do that. I always treasured that sweet gesture."
- "Just give a random hug to us."
- "Give us a soft place to land, lend an ear, give a hug."
"Pampering if they get ill or have surgery (meals brought in, someone to drive them to and from the hospital)."
Include us - friendship, outings, etc.
- "Stop by just to say "hi" instead of looking the other way when you see us out riding bikes or playing in the yard just because you don't know what to say or do. You don't have to always talk about the deployment or say how sad you are for us; just treat us like normal every day people."
- "Include us in your life (social events, etc.)"
- "Offer to take walks around the neighborhood or to the park so we get out of the house."
- "Offer to take them on a day-trip with your family - a picnic or swimming or just a change of scenery."
Other ideas submitted:
- Help get the family out of the house and do something different.
- Gym membership with a pal.
- An evening out (with companionship).
- Just hang out with the family.
- Take us to the zoo - it's a great place to take your mind off things.
- Include us in your social life, like back yard BBQs, movie nights, etc.
- Invite us to social events.
- Bring over a movie and have a movie night.
- Include us in your family's outings.
- Be there for the family...deployments are hard on everyone.
- Plan a camping trip together.
- Take your friend to a movie, and maybe even pay for the tickets.
- Weekly outings with others.
- Offer to take walks around the neighborhood or to the park so they get out of the house.
- Don't stay away because you don't know what to say.
Listen - phone calls, etc.
- "Just a quick phone call, e-mail, note, etc. that you are thinking of them...at random times, not just because it is a holiday, etc."
- "Always remember, don't dance around the issue. We love to talk, talk, talk about the loved ones fighting for our right to TALK."
- "Don't be afraid to let them cry with you if something scary or potentially harmful happens to their Soldier."
- "Call them and ask "How are you doing?" Ask what is going well and what is not going so well; let them vent if they need to."
Other ideas submitted:
- Support by regular phone calls to offer support or help.
- Ask them how they are doing and acknowledge the burden they are undertaking.
- Be there just to listen when they want to talk.
- Make regular phone calls to check up on us - don't forget us, please.
- Offer compassion and love from the heart.
- Make a phone call to check up and give support/encouragement. It's nice to know that others have not forgotten about you.
- Just be willing to listen if it's been a rough day.
- "I work in my church and am a member of the military missions ministry. On a few occasions we discussed what could be done for all of the spouses that were waiting here at home on behalf of the church. We came up with some ideas such as delivering to them our hot cooked Wednesday night meal so they could count on that at least one day a week. We do this for our home bound members and figured it would be an extension of the churches ministry. The whole time I wanted to say, “That would be great! We could really use a hot meal once a week.” But I was too embarrassed to include myself with those that were struggling with a 15 month deployment, raising children and couldn’t make it to church on time or at all because someone was having a meltdown."
- "Sometimes if you don't know a way to help, instead of doing nothing, just have me and my kids over for a meal. Not only will that act minister to us, but in the process of communication while eating, you may discover more ways tangible ways to show love and support."
Other ideas submitted:
- Order pizza delivery if you know it's been a rough day.
- Invite us over for dinner.
- Offer to come over and cook/grill a meal.
- Bring a meal over after a long day alone with the kids.
Newspaper: "Create a weekly blog in the hometown newspaper from the spouse of the deployed."
Notes of encouragement
- "Mention or write to us, acknowledging that we are all living free because of the sacrifice not only of the service member, but the families are well."
- "I love to get mail, and I'm always encouraged to receive a note of encouragement and that we are being prayed for."
Other ideas submitted:
- Leave an anonymous money order in a Thank You note in the mailbox.
- Send cards of encouragement.
- Leave a Thank You note on a car in the parking lot with a military sticker.
- Send a card of encouragement.
- Be sure to say "Thank you" to the spouse for his/her service.
- Send pictures of the deployed Soldier with you in happy times.
- "Acknowledge your support verbally and with items such as a yellow ribbon on your door or mailbox."
- "Fly the American flag proudly in your home/yard."
- "Wear a yellow ribbon to show your support."
- "Fly your American flag so we can see it."
- "Help with pet care, grooming, walking."
- "Keep the politics out of your support for the Soldier and his/her family."
- "Refrain from any negative political comments."
- "Stop stereotyping military families. We are not all bad."
Postage stamps, care packages, and other Soldier care
- "Stamps! Or money to help with shipping boxes! It gets expensive to fill the boxes AND to ship them. I really wish we could ship to an APO for free, but until then..."
- "Pay the postage and give items for a care package to their loved one."
- "Offer to help put together a box to mail to their loved one - get the box from the post office, start adding things, then take it back to the post office to mail."
- "Thank a Soldier every single time you see one."
- "Send letters and boxes to the Soldier (it helps me by knowing he's getting mail even if I can't get it done."
- "Ask about the deployed spouse, "How are they?"
- "Send care packages to any Soldier of any branch of service constantly. The one you know may not get it but their comrade will and if they are uplifted it will help them as well."
- For other ideas to support deployed or geographically separated military personnel, visit this LINK.
- "It means a lot that people pray for us. That's one of the best ways you can support us."
- "We keep a small 4x6 photo album at the dinner table with pictures of Soldier families and our own relatives. At every meal we pray for a relative and a deployed Soldier and his family."
- "Pray for our Soldiers safe and speedy return and for the strength for the waiting families."
- "Send a card letting us know you are keeping us in prayer."
- Here is how you can pray for the military home front - LINK
Privacy: "Respect their privacy."
Random acts of kindness
- "Random acts of kindness - anything, big or small. Just having someone do something nice for you out of the blue puts you in a good mood and really helps you get through the day."
- "Show your support by random acts of kindness."
Special days - Holidays, birthdays, Mother's Day, etc.
- "A lady from our church discovered it was my birthday and made a last-minute cake and brought it over for the kids and I to enjoy."
- "Once while my husband was deployed I had a good friend whose kids were older; and her husband was deployed too. She delivered a basket the evening before Mother's Day, because she knew my kids would be to young to make me breakfast. The basket had a special coffee cup, a wrapped muffin, tea bag, and a flower. She made my Mother's Day extra special. A few years later, while most of the guys were deployed on our post, I had my (now older) kids do the same thing for several of the wives. I hope the idea continues on."
- "My sister and her family invited us to spend a few days at their house over Christmas. I was so nervous that my three little kids would be well-behaved. I was so touched that they would include us in their Christmas activities."
Other ideas submitted:
- Send a card to them on their birthday and wedding anniversary.
- Send birthday cards for the Soldiers and their families (no money) - just a note.
- Spend time with them during holidays (this is the hardest time of a deployment).
- Make sure they don't spend a holiday alone.
Yard work, handyman help, auto, tax preparation
- "I would have loved to have been 'cared for' by having someone do some mowing, raking, or shoveling (depending on climate). It would take a load off me and give me more energy for the other duties of single parenthood. This is an incredibly easy thing to help with too because it doesn't require coordinating our schedules or me getting my house ready and presentable. I know of one military wife who never shoveled her own driveway during her husband's entire deployment. Sometimes she didn't even know who had done it, but someone had it on their own heart to coordinate that service for her, and after each snowfall it was always done."
- "A rent-a-husband program helps! My friends and I always loan our hubbies out when they are home to our friends whose are away. It really helps when moving furniture, fixing things, yard work, etc!"
- "Handyman services; contacts to honest, reliable people to hire when problems arise."
- "A list of recommended businesses/people to call for auto repair, home repair, computer repair would be GREAT! I would love to get that from local people who have lived here a while and would know the best place, same for good restaurants, local places you may not know about, etc. That would be wonderful."
- "Offer to help them or work with them on home projects. Sometimes it's the loneliness or aloneness that is a factor, not the work itself."
Other ideas submitted:
- Shovel snow, mow the lawn, and help with other yard work - it's so hard to do with little kids.
- Auto repair and oil change.
- Volunteer handyman service.
- Help with tax preparation.
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