Dear Civilians: What Every Military Wife Wants You to Know (PTSD)

Before I was a military wife, I had no idea what it was like. I didn’t know much about the war, what was going on, and I knew absolutely nothing about military life. After my husband (then fiance) joined the military, I soon discovered a whole new world. A world that people seem to forget about if they do not watch the news and one that they do not know much about. Not only do people not consider what current military families go through on a daily basis, but also we forget about those military families in the past during other wars that helped give our country the freedoms we have today.

Being a military wife has made me so much more patriotic. It has made me more aware of the freedoms we have, why we have them, and the sacrifices that have been made by others so we could keep them. My goal since becoming a military wife has been to encourage other military wives, but it has also been to let people know what these families- these wonderful military families go through every day.

People ask me, “How can I help?” or “What can we do?” Well here is a wonderful post full of ideas to help. Don’t let not knowing what to do, or not understanding what military life is like keep you from being there for a military wife or loving on a military family.

Below is a list of questions asked by a very good civilian and blog friend of mine. She came to me asking me to write this post so that she could know what it was like to be a military family and so she could know what to do to help. Go Paula for taking that first step forward! Please visit her wonderful blog: Hopeful Future and give her some love! Paula has asked me a list of questions about military life and deployment and below are my answers and also the answers of other military wives that I have polled. I hope this helps others see that while we love our lives, they sometimes can be difficult and unique.

Must Read:  "I'm PTSD — Paid Till Suicide or Death"

Paula asks…

1. What kind of support could friends offer your husband or his (Troop? Group? I’m totally clueless as to what they are called…)
It’s called a squadron. At least that is what it’s called in the Air Force. It may be different in other branches. And actually it just so happens that my husband’s squadron does not deploy as a unit. So if you sent something it would be per person not per squadron. If there was some kind of support you wanted to offer a deployed military member, I would say care packages, letters, and emails. Anything that you can send that would make him feel better or that would be encouraging to him. Cookies are very much appreciated! Depending on who you are sending it to, you could ask his wife/family what things he might need or like, such as snacks and toiletry items.

2. If I lived close to you what would be the biggest help and/or support I could be to you?
I know a lot of civilian friends who feel the same way. They want to help, but they just aren’t sure how to, and while a blanketed statement such as, “If you need anything let me know” or “Let me know what I can do to help” is nice, it sometimes is embarrassing for us to have to ask. We don’t want people to think we can’t handle ourselves and our family while our husband is away. So here is a list of things you can do without asking:

  • Do her yard work. Things such as mowing the lawn, raking, or shoveling are very helpful.
  • Invite her over. On a weekend(s) for dinner or game night or any night. Weekends are the hardest day of the week for military wives because that is usually the time we would spend together as a family or on a date night with our husbands.
  • Babysit for her. Don’t ask her to tell you when she needs you, say that you would like to help out or give her a break once a week or once a month and have her pick a day.
  • Invite her over on special days or holidays. Days such as her birthday and anniversary and holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Fourth of July are hard for her while her husband is gone. Invite her over or make sure she will not be alone on those days.
  • Church. If you go to church together ask her to sit with your family in church so she does not have to sit alone.
  • Grocery Shopping. Offer to pick up groceries for her and she can pay you back when you drop them off.
  • Bring her a meal.
  • Don’t just ask her how she’s doing. Chances are she will say she is fine and chances are that she’s not. Instead, tell her hi, give her a hug, and tell her that you care about her and are praying for her. Then actually pray for her.
  • Listen. Military wives need a friend. Someone to vent to and another adult to talk to since it’s just her and the children all day long.

(This list was compiled by me and my friend Aprille whose husband is in the army and just completed a year-long deployment)

If you were to ask me which ones were the most important to me from that list, I would say babysitting and the “bring her a meal.”

Babysitting – I can’t tell you how many times I have needed a sitter, because of the doctor’s appointments I go to for my health problems or because I just want a break or to go out with a friend, but sometimes I can’t afford to pay someone. EVERY single military wife needs a break. Most are home all day alone with the kids and don’t have any help. Having someone watch the kids even just so she can clean the house or be alone for a few minutes is a bigger help than you would think.

Bring her a Meal – Military wives don’t really see the point of doing much cooking when their husband is gone. Of course they make food for the kids, but we try to keep it nice and easy. In my case, because Adam has food problems he eats separately from me so I make food just for me. Many times I just buy the frozen food dishes because it’s so much easier then making a whole meal, getting the dishes dirty, etc. I have loved it the times someone has sent food home with me because then I don’t have to worry about what to cook or eat another frozen food dish again!

Last but not least:

Remember: It’s not too hard to think of things to do to help. Just think if you were on your own what would YOU miss? What would be nice for YOU? – Briana

3. We both know  that I’m far away, and most of your non-military friends are too, so how can we help and/or support you from afar? There have been several times that I’ve seen something that made me think of you, but I didn’t know if it would be weird to send you little gifts or cards to brighten your day while your hubby is away…
Not weird at all! Some people think that care packages just apply to military members, but you can also send them to military wives and/or kids! I know that it would help cheer me up, encourage me, and make me feel loved too.

Here are a few other things you can do too!

  • Check in and see how she is doing on a regular basis.
  • Be available to talk/chat. Sometimes She just needs or wants another adult to talk to or to vent.
  • Pray. Pray for her and pray with her.
  • Go visit her! If it’s possible and if she’s up for it go and stay with her for a week or two. Or invite her to your place for a mini vacation!

Credit: Kelly West Mars (kellywestmars.com)

4. What about Adam? How is he taking his daddy being away? Is there anything a friend could do for him? (If not your son specifically, do you know of common needs of the children of people who have been deployed?)
All military children are affected by deployment, but depending on their age sometimes it’s harder to see. My husband left when Adam was 16 months and honestly, I don’t think he really understood what was happening. He kind of just went on with life. But I do sometimes see little things, that let me us know that he still loves and misses his daddy. He is excited when we Skype, he waves and blows kisses to his daddy on Skype sometimes, and he goes around saying, “Da-da-da” a lot.

But even at this age there is a lot someone could do to make things easier for him. Here are a few:

  • Play dates. I find that the times he is playing with other kids are his happiest. Having people who are willing to do play dates with us and being understanding of behavior problems that may arise because daddy is gone is a must.
  • A “big brother.” While daddy is gone Adam still needs that male attention. Someone who is a little older or even an adult, teenager, or big kid who would be willing to wrestle and have fun and get down in the dirt and do “boy stuff” would be perfect and very helpful to him while he is missing his daddy.
  • Special attention and a little TLC. I’m not saying that he needs to be spoiled because his daddy is gone. But people letting him know that he is still loved and giving him a little extra attention would be helpful to him so that he does not feel left out.

“Honestly when you have little babies who are unaware of daddy being gone the thing they need the most is a sane, loving, and relaxed mommy, so again I would just reiterate the need for mom to have a break. Lots of TLC for mom.” – Aprille

5. Ok, I am one that always puts my foot in my mouth, so what are some cliché sayings that people say to you that just get under your skin?
Ohh yes. We military wives have a long list of them and we more than appreciate you asking about them!

  • “I could never do it.”
  • “I thought the war was over!”
  • “Do you miss him?”
  • “What if he dies?”
  • “How do you do it?”
  • “I know how you feel. My husband has to go away on business trips sometimes too.”(Honestly, there is a huge difference between a deployment and someone going away on a business trip.)
  • “I thought the war in Iraq was over!”
  • “I thought you made a lot of money.” (Actually military members are paid very little.)
  • “Well, you knew what you signed up for.” (That may be true, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard and we don’t still need help.)
  • “Why can’t he come home for… Christmas / anniversary / birthday / birth of a child / wedding / family reunion / death, etc.?” (When a military member is deployed they are not allowed to just drop everything and run home. Only in matters of emergency: life or death, can they come home. And even then sometimes they will not be able to. It just depends on the situation and where they are at the time.)
  • “Don’t you miss sex? I couldn’t do it!”
  • “How long is he going to be gone? Oh…that’s not bad.” (I’m sorry, but gone is gone. None of it is fun).

If you want the explanation for some of these and why we don’t appreciate these sayings check out this link: What Not to Say to a Military Wife.

Also, I have one more thing to say on this topic. Please don’t: pity us or give us looks of pity. Military wives do not want to be pitied, they want to be loved, cared about, and prayed for.

6. What is something that people don’t say enough?

  • “How are you?“ (But really care and want to listen to how we are doing)
  • Just simply, “I’m here for you” without any questions asked.
  • “Would you like to come over for dinner?”
  • “Do you have someone helping with the lawn work?”
  •  “Would you like to go do something this weekend or hang out today?”
  •  “Do you have somewhere to go for the holidays?” (And if not, invite them over that day!)

Military wives speak out:

  • “For me, actions speak louder than words. Instead of making a general, ‘I’m here if you need anything.’ etc., volunteer to do SPECIFIC things.” -Kayla
  • “THANK YOU! In the 6 years that my husband has been in, I think he’s only been told ‘thanks’ like 5 or 6 times.” –Stephanie
  • “It’s not that people don’t say these things enough, it’s that their words are rarely backed by action.” –Danielle
  • “I wish people would say, ‘I care. It matters. What he does is important.’ And truly MEAN it. I sometimes feel they say what they do because it’s in context of the conversation. Almost obligatory…” -Errin

7. If you could tell us civilian wives one thing to help us understand what it’s like to be in your shoes during deployment what would it be?

  • “It is the hardest and scariest thing I have ever done. And while that really is the case, it is also a learning and growing process. We love our husbands and we support them. Even though it’s hard we are still blessed.” -Me
  • “We don’t go through deployments because we want to. We survive them because we have to.” –Lauren
  • “Sometimes you just have to hide behind smiles and pretend nothing is wrong.” -Kaitlin
  • “Being in the shoes of a spouse of a deployed service member is like wearing shoes that don’t quite fit but they were too cute to pass on. You wear them day in and day out because they go with everything but each step pinches just a little bit and feels off. I love my husband and can’t imagine life without him – each day during a deployment stings no matter how great it is because he’s not with me.” -Becky
  • “I know you can’t understand…but for once, stop saying that you don’t/can’t understand and just TRY.” –Aprille
  • “Sometimes being a soldier isn’t what he does, but it’s who he is. You don’t have to understand that to be our support. You just need to be a friend.”  – Kim

8. Do you think the average military wife has the support and love she needs from her friends and family while her hubby is away?
After polling tons of military wives on Facebook, I have come to the conclusion that it’s about 50-50. It depends on the type of family they have, where they are stationed, if they just moved to that state or if they have been there awhile, if they have a church family, and if they have good neighbors. However almost every single person said that other military wives are their best support not civilians. Mostly because another military wife is going to understand better what we are going through.

Military Wives Speak:

  • “It kind of depends I think. I know some military spouses that are very ‘connected’ in terms of having lots of supportive family and friends who understand. I really battle with feeling alone even though I have support because I am a National Guard wife living hours away from my hubby’s unit, and I don’t know any military spouses here.” -Rebekah
  • “If they are military then yes, I would say for the most part. But ONLY if you put yourself out there to FIND a support system. For me my whole family and friends are civilians and they have no clue nor do they care about the things they could do to just ease the deployments.” –Lauren
  • “From their family? I would say no. I know I don’t because we are the only military in my family so no one else understands. From my friends, yes and no. I have some military friends, but my civilian friends don’t understand at all.” –Stephanie
  • “Not really. Military wives form too many cliques. My family lives too far away to do much.” -Amanda
  • “My immediate family and military friends are. Civilian friends not so much…which is why I have very few of them!!” –Aprille
  • “No, I feel like our credit is lost! We become mom and dad all while our spouse is away and we are almost living a single life. There’s a lot more emotionally involved in all of this that takes place. Not to mention, the simple task of shopping takes 3 times as long. My family is great and they all understand what I’m going through and help out amazingly. But that’s not the case for everyone.” -McKenzie
  • “I know that a lot of civilian friends really don’t get it, but when my husband was gone for 2 months I only had civilian friends and even though they didn’t understand what I was going through they tried and they really helped me out. It was good to at least have someone that was willing to be there for me whether they got it or not. -Jessica
  • I would say from experience before I met my husband, I had no idea what military families went through. I was almost oblivious to it, especially since my family growing up had no one enlisted so we never talked about it much! But once I married my husband and went through 3 long deployments, I definitely approach military families differently and try to help them out and support them as much as I can! I had a lot of support from my family and friends, but the most came from those who actually went through deployments before. The best thing {besides prayer of course!} was just venting or talking with the military wives who became friends/family to me. I tried also not to get upset at those who didn’t call enough or try to help out enough, because sometimes people are just oblivious and don’t understand what we go through as military wives! –Sarah

9. If you do not have that love and support, what is the MAIN thing that is missing (that a friend could provide) from your life, or from the lives of others you have seen.
Every military wife is different, but for me, I am not very independent. I don’t like to be alone. I would love to have someone to talk to most of the time or to hang out with. I think the main thing is to just be there for them. To listen, to hear them cry and to vent, even if you don’t understand what they are going through.

10.  This is one I always feel awkward about… I don’t know how often you get to talk to Jon etc. so should we ask how he’s doing? Or when you talked last? Or let you bring it up when you want to?
Yes, please do ask how he is doing! I have felt sad in the past when I have gone to parties, church functions, or other things, and not a single person asked how my husband was doing. It makes me feel like no one cares, even though I am sure they do, and they just didn’t think about it. You can ask when we last talked, but just know that every deployment is different. Sometimes we get to talk a lot and other times we may not get to talk very much at all.

Homecoming – Also please keep in mind that if you ask about specific dates or when he is coming home, we may not be able to talk about it. There are rules called OPSEC that sometimes don’t permit us to say things especially online. Also, the dates tend to change a lot and never stay the same, so while you might want to ask, keep in mind that she might not even know when he is coming home, or she might know, but it could change again later.

11. What is the best thing some one has done for you since Jon’s deployment?
Throughout this deployment there is one person and her family that has always been there for me, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them. The Russell family (also a military family) has become my greatest support system and Mrs. Russell has become the person I go to to ask questions and get advice, cry to, or even to just vent to.

They have invited Adam and I over for Sunday lunch almost every Sunday that they could since Jon left. They invited me to sit with them in church so I don’t have to sit alone. Their sons take time to play with Adam and make him laugh, and their daughter, Emily babysits for Adam on almost a  weekly basis and sometimes several times a week. Sometimes she even does it for free. They have even let me borrow their car for a few days when I had car trouble.

For the first several months they watched Adam for free so I could go to yoga class. They told me thy wanted me to have some time for myself and they wanted to do it for free to bless me. Mrs. Russell has gone to the hospital with me, given me advice, talked me through my son getting sick at 3 in the morning, prayed with me, driven a total of 6 hours with me to see a specialist, and listened as I cried and cried when Jon’s grandpa died. Mr. Russell, has helped to fix my car, my vacuum, and my internet! He has also given Adam haircuts even though he screams and cries very hard. I can’t even begin to say what a blessing they all have been to me.

12. Any last words or thoughts for civilian wives?
Thank you to all that have read this, and thank you to all the civilians out there who have helped me and been there for me personally. I appreciate it!

 

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