This is for all the wonderful, well-meaning civilians out there. For those who, so often, try to reach out and help the military spouse when her husband is gone. For the civilian who wants to show love and encouragement to the scared young mom while her husband is off in a combat zone…I’m going to offer you a little bit of advice on the best way to support the military wife during times of deployment or separation.
#1 – Do not try to offer cliche phrases as words of encouragement. These phrases include, but are not limited to: “You knew what it would be like when you got married.” “It gets easier, doesn’t it, since you’ve already done this before?” “At least you have your kids to keep you company.” “I don’t know how you do it. You are so strong.” “Put on your big girl panties and drive on.” “You have to stay strong for your family.”
These phrases, and many others like them, may come with good intentions. But for the scared, lonely, and stressed out military wife…these words do not offer much encouragement at all. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people tell me to stay strong, pull my big girl panties up, or some variation of that. But to be quite honest, unless you’ve been on this end of battle, you don’t know how incredibly impossible it is to just “stay strong” when it, quite frequently, feels like the world around you is falling apart.
Many people seem surprised when I confess that I break down in tears about once a week, after the kids are in bed and the silence of the house is depressing. I just miss him, his hugs, his voice, his touch. I let myself break down, I cry out to the One whose strength has sustained me this far, and will continue to sustain me until my husband is in my arms again.
So if you want to offer encouragement, support, and love, just give her your ear to listen or your shoulder to cry. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything – that is okay, we won’t take offense to it. Offer to pray with her and for her. Give her Bible verses that might encourage her and remind her of God’s strength and love for her. Don’t expect her to be strong, but point her to the One who will be strong for her.
#2 – Want to give her a gift? Offer to watch her kids so she can sleep, read, clean, run, or whatever it is that she wants to do. She doesn’t know what peace and quiet is like. She doesn’t have time to sit down and read or to just sit outside and watch the beauty of nature unfold. Let her enjoy a few hours out of the house, away from the kids…let her feel free for just a little while.
Being the spouse of a deployed soldier is, in many ways, like being a single parent. It’s me and the kids, all day, everyday. While I love them and enjoy watching them grow and learn every day, it’s hard to do it day in and day out without a break. Life can get mundane and repetitive and it’s easy to slip into an “I’m not making any difference in the world,” train of thought. Which then leads me to feeling overwhelmed and stressed about my life and questioning my parenting ability and value.
Military wives, even if we portray an image of independence and self-sufficiency to the world, need your help to survive the deployments…whether we’ll admit it or not. We may not ask for help because of our own foolish pride; but it means the world to us to know that someone cares enough to offer.
#3 – Hug her. You may have no idea what she is going through and maybe you feel uncomfortable with her despair and desperation. Hug her anyway. And don’t let it be a fake, quick, one armed hug that just feels like your hugging out of obligation, not love.
It may have been days, weeks, or months since the last time she felt the warm embrace of a hug from someone who cares about her. Your hug will never replace the tenderness of the arms of the man she loves. But a hug can bring a tired soul to life and remind her that she isn’t fighting this side of the war alone. Your one hug can mean more to her than you’ll ever know.
I have a few friends who do this for me. They always seem to know, I’m pretty sure it’s God’s planning, exactly when I need a hug. Few things compare, when I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, to the feeling of a loving hug of a sweet friend. It feels like someone came along to help me carry the weight. Which is what we’re all here for, right? God didn’t make us to go through this world alone. He made us different in every kind of way. He made us to need friendship and love. Show her friendship, even if she is feeling too low to show it back.
#4 – Invite her and her kids over for dinner of bring dinner over to her house (and stay to eat with her). She’s missing the company of adults. Spending all day with children can get frustrating when all you want is some adult conversation. Just talk to her over a meal, not about anything in particular, just talk.
She is tired of sitting down for every meal with kids who don’t appreciate what she cooked for them and who end up throwing half of it on the floor. If there’s a baby sitter available, go for a moms night out. Have dinner, watch a movie, anything that allows her to spend some time with grown ups.
I’m sure there are many more things that could be added to this list, but these were just the primary ones I could think of.
As a proud Army wife, I am deeply thankful for my friends and family, whether military or civilian. The battle on home front is not one that we can fight alone. I think it is harder for civilians to understand what we’re going through and often our silly pride stands in the way because we think they can’t/won’t help for whatever reason. From my experience though, my civilian friends often want to help more than my military spouse friends because they don’t have the added stress of the deployment. But what stops them is they simply don’t know what we need from them. And unless we tell others what we need how they can help?