MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho — As the dawn broke out over the mountains, I woke up to the sun peeping through my window. Once I got up, I went straight to the kitchen to make my family breakfast — yet in the back of my mind, all I could think about was, “How am I going to manage taking care of my children, dogs and work life.” Just the thought of knowing I’ll have twice the amount of things to do at home all while balancing my military work, made my heart sink a bit.
Growing up as a military child myself, I knew separation could be extremely hard and hit at any time. Looking back, I now know how alone my mother felt whenever my father went on deployments or TDY. It seems like an eternity waiting for your loved one to return home so you aren’t carrying all the weight on your shoulders.
There are dozens of base agencies to make these separations easier, but I didn’t realize it yet.
After just three days of being with my children and trying to balance everything, I felt like the world was crashing down on me. It was as if I were a first-time mother trying to figure out if I was doing anything right and becoming completely overwhelmed. My office was starting to notice a change in my attitude and how quickly I would become agitated to otherwise insignificant events.
My co-worker and I decided to hang out once a week to discuss everything that was on our minds. Although it was nice to vent and get some relief, it only went so far with reducing the stress.
Unfortunately, because of the hours my husband worked, I could only see him for an hour or two each day on Skype, after I put the children down to sleep for the night.
A week went by, and I had to pick up my children one afternoon, and I was stopped by a staff member at the child development center.
She asked, “Is there anything going on in your household?”
I explained how my husband was currently on TDY and I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress lately.
Shortly after my explanation, she notified me that my son wasn’t acting like himself, either. I was so consumed with my own problems, I didn’t even notice how my family was doing.
The caregiver said, “Your son is starting to become antisocial, not eating as much food and becoming a bully at day care.”
I felt as if I were failing as a mother and I had to get help, not only for my son, but myself as well. The only problem is, I had no idea where to start.
The caregiver gave me a pamphlet about dealing with separation and inside was a card. I called to make an appointment to talk to the counselor about how I could help my son and myself through this time of separation.
As I met with the counselor, we discussed my everyday routine. Not only did I find out I wasn’t failing as a mother, but I felt some kind of comfort.
The counselor explained that regardless of a child’s age, they can tell when a family member is gone or stressed. Although you may think it won’t rub off on them, it does.
As we continued our conversation, he recommended I try some exercises with my children and see their reactions to it.
One exercise in particular was the 1-2-3 method, also known as the “count” to stop behavior method. If your child happens to have a tantrum or isn’t listening, this is a great exercise to try.
This exercise helps to lead your child to learn, think and take responsibility for their actions. Doing this gives the message that your authority is not negotiable before you act with a consequence. This consequence doesn’t necessarily have to be a big thing. It can simply be redirecting your child toward doing something else, like assisting you with putting items away or reading a book with them.
He explained that the more I get involved with my children’s life, the better. I should replace that sense of separation with love and care, helping to distract that feeling of loneliness.
Once we finished discussing how I could help my children; the counselor asked, “How are you handling all this?”
Just as I was going to start talking, my face turned bright red because I knew everything I was carrying on my shoulders was finally about to be lifted off of me. I began to discuss my struggles of trying to make sure everything was the same as it was before my husband left. I was so focused on trying to make sure everything was perfect, I became overwhelmed and stressed, not only myself, but my kids, too.
He later explained that no matter how much I want things to be the same, they aren’t, and all I can do is make the best of each situation. Not only that, but I should take time to help myself relax by finding a hobby to diminish the stress.
I really took what he said to heart. My son is no longer being antisocial; he’s eating more and being a lot nicer. I still have to deal with his “terrible-two” moments, with my 1-year-old daughter deciding to join him, but with some redirection, they’re back to normal.
Even when you feel there’s nowhere to turn for help, there’s always someone who cares and can guide you in the right direction. There are other resources on base to support you in times of need, such as the Airman and Family Readiness Center, key spouse groups, first shirts and mental health.
Whether it’s a friend, family member, counselor or even just writing a journal there are always avenues for help.
You’re not alone.