Being an Army wife and the mother of two boys gave me a unique perspective on parenting. I was in a different category, oftentimes feeling like a single parent. But my husband did come home, maybe not at the end of the day, or the end of the week, but after the training or the deployment was over. I learned some lessons and some truths along the way that apply to life and parenting, in general.
10 Military Spouse Parenting Realities
Reality 1: If you are a military spouse, you will spend time alone.
I not only had to be comfortable being on my own, but once we had kids, I had to shoulder the responsibilities of parenting on my own, as well. Once I accepted that reality, it was easier to find joy in my situation. Between training cycles and deployments, my husband was gone for significant periods of time. Living far from our families in Vermont, I didn’t have parents or grandparents to count on for help, so it was my fellow Army wives that I turned to.
Reality 2: The old cliché, “Just wait till your dad gets home!” doesn’t work when dad is on a twelve month deployment.
Life with two boys, just two years apart, made my life, let’s just say, interesting. Mine were typical active, noisy, pushing and shoving, young boys and I knew if I didn’t face them and their high energy head on, they would get the best of me. That wasn’t always easy when they were chasing each other through the house at break neck speeds with whiffle ball bats! Most of the time, I had no way of contacting my husband. Even if there had been internet and cell phones back then, I’m not sure I would have bothered him with their childish antics and pranks. I mean, how could I call him when he was off on some classified mission involving real world events, to tell him that one of the boys landed a kung fu kick to the other one’s mouth, resulting in a trip to the ER for stitches? Or the time the boys, home from college and bored, set the lawn on fire while lighting fireworks (A drought in Texas was not the time to be playing with bottle rockets!). So I learned to handle things on my own.
Reality 3: Kids, at any age, want and need structure, especially when their dad is gone.
Doing all the things they were used to doing and keeping them on the same schedule was essential to our well being. School, sports, and extracurricular activities served as a healthy outlet for their energy and it helped pass the time. (Sometimes).
Reality 4: Be creative.
Once I made a “cuss” can and made them put a quarter in every time they said a swear word. It worked until I made the fatal mistake of raiding the cuss can to pay for a pizza one evening. A few days later I found them by the cuss can, uttering every swear word in their repertoires while dropping coins in the can. They turned to me and said, “Hey mom, can we go out for Mexican food tonight?” My creative approach only worked part of the time!
Reality 5: You don’t have to be mommy and daddy.
In the beginning, I thought I needed to fill both roles, which was confusing, exhausting, and ineffective. Our pediatrician gave me some good advice when he said, “You’re making it harder on yourself by trying to be their dad too. Just be their mom.” I was trying to compensate for their dad’s absence and once I absolved myself of that guilt and went back to being a mom, life settled down and was easier for all of us.
Reality 6: Be the constant in your kids’ lives.
I did all the things any mom would do for her kids, I just had to do it alone sometimes. I made numerous trips to the ER with each of them; I refereed their bickering, consoled, listened, cheered, coached, and disciplined them the best that I could. I was there for them when they needed me and even when they didn’t. And I loved them with all my heart.
Reality 7: Take care of yourself.
When you don’t have someone coming home at the end of the day, it is lonely and exhausting. If you have access to childcare or someone to watch the kids, even for short periods of time, you deserve a break. Whether you go for a workout, spend time with friends, or get a mani/pedi; you need time just for you.
Reality 8: Your attitude is very important and directly affects your kids.
It is hard to be positive and upbeat 24/7 especially when you are feeling resentful, worried, overwhelmed, guilty, or any number of other feelings. I tried my best not to let any of those emotions filter down to my kids. Why burden kids with all of that baggage? The happier I was, the better they dealt with the separations.
Reality 9: Be your kids’ best advocate because if not you, then who?
They depend on you and need to feel safe. They need to know that their mom is capable of handling things, especially in their dad’s absence.
Reality 10: The years go by in a flash.
All of my years in the trenches as a stay at home mom, even with the mundane and boring days, the stress, the challenges, the highs and lows; I wouldn’t trade any of it. I made the most of the fun times, found joy in the simple pleasures of child raising, and tried not to let Army life get in the way of us living life to the fullest. I shared unique, special moments with my sons and when we were all together as a family, we cherished those times, making wonderful memories.
Vicki Cody grew up in Burlington, Vermont and graduated from the University of Vermont. For the next 33 years she was an Army wife, supporting her husband in his career. While raising their two sons and moving all over the United States and overseas, she served as a coach and mentor for other Army spouses, and as an advocate for Army families. Army Wife is her first memoir. The Association of the United States Army published her first book Your Soldier, Your Army: A Parents’ Guide in 2005. Her articles have appeared in numerous military magazines and publications. She and her husband of forty years live in the Washington, DC area.