How Deployments Affect Family Members

deployent affects family members
Getty Images / Zigy Kaluzny

There’s no way around it; deployments are hard. They’re stressful before, during, and afterward—and it’s more than simply worrying about your loved one who’s far away. Sometimes you might worry that the military lifestyle was the wrong choice or that it’s too hard on you or your kids. You might cry inside on some days, yet be strong as a pillar on others. As hard as deployments are, you can get through them.

After all, millions of families already have. Here’s how:

Your Mental Strength Affects Your Children

Studies show that children rely heavily on their parents to get through difficult circumstances, such as a parent’s deployment. They tend to follow your lead in challenging times, so your attitude plays a very big role. If you handle the situation well, choose to be proactive and positive, and are strong mentally and emotionally, there’s a good chance that your children will be fine. 

Give Yourselves Time to Adjust

The period of time right after receiving deployment orders, and the actual deployment itself will both be filled with their own unique challenges, which may include loneliness, stress, worry, and fear (which is why you should try not to make too many huge decisions right before a deployment: you might not be thinking as clearly as you’d like). And once that lovely, post-deployment honeymoon period has passed, getting used to having dad or mom at home again will take time.

These are big changes for everyone, so don’t be too hard on yourselves. 

Keep a Steady Routine

Everything's going to feel off for a little while—and that’s OK.. But, one of the most important things you can do to help your family through tough times is to keep them on a schedule. Make sure they get to school on time each morning, give them a regimen of activities for their afternoons, and have as many meals together as possible.

These little things will make a world of difference for a struggling family. It will give your children a sense of normalcy in a changing environment and provide them with stability.

Decide How to Help

Knowledge, as the old saying goes, is power. And the more you understand about how your servicemember, your kids, and you will react to a deployment the better. One great resource for your servicemember is "The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads." Your children will have different needs, depending on their age and maturity levels. Small children may have a harder time understanding why daddy has to leave home for a while, but will adjust quickly to him being gone. Older children and teenagers often don’t like change and may act out, be rebellious, or pull back from you. As unpleasant as this is, it’s all perfectly normal. You know your children and you’ll have to rely on your judgement to decide the best way to help them. Some kids will respond well to one-on-one time, while others need athletic activity or time away from family to relax. You can also anticipate a hard time after your spouse comes home—he may treat little children as though they’re the same age or in the same developmental stage as they were when he left.

He might not know how to act around them or might feel like a stranger in his own home. Don’t worry—many of these feelings are normal and will subside with a little time. If they don’t, you’ll want to reach out for help from other sources.

Know That You’re Never Alone and that Help is Always Available

If you’re struggling to care for yourself or your children or you find yourself feeling hopeless or depressed, please reach out. There are organizations that are devoted to helping people in these exact situations.There are programs that can give you hope and respite. There are hands that want to comfort you. Your friends and family want to be there for you, too, but you have to let them in. It all starts with accepting that you need help. Use the resources available to you from the military—there are so many ways to help your family during this hard time- don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.

Edited and updated by Armin Brott, December 2016