My family was devastated. In June 2006, I received orders from the United States Army Reserves to deploy involuntarily to Kosovo: a 15 month tour. This was my first deployment in nineteen years that took me to an overseas location. My family and I were in shock by the news of the deployment, but thankfully it wasn’t Iraq. According to Crumbo (2009), the five emotional stages of deployment are: pre-deployment, deployment, sustainment, redeployment, and post-deployment. The main focus of this paper is to show how deployment affected my family. My objective is to show how the four strategies for improving communication within intimate relationships helped my family to survive my absence. I will discuss the four strategies, which are: emphasizing excitement and positivity, having realistic expectations, handling conflict constructively, and managing dialectical tensions (Floyd, 2009).
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During the pre-deployment phase, I had to prepare my husband for my absence. Truthfully I thought I would never be deployed. The pre-deployment phase consists of the soldier being notified of the imminent deployment and existent departure date. This period holds the psychological denial of the event, extreme preparation, and anticipation of the departure (Crumbo 2009). All of the household bills were in my name because I managed our financial affairs. It was time for Richard, my husband of eighteen years, to take over as our financial manager. One problem was that Richard didn’t like to write checks, or do any type of paperwork. Nonetheless, our financial paperwork was transferred to my husband’s name to assume responsibility. I created a separate bank account because of the horror stories I had heard from fellow soldiers whose spouses had emptied their bank accounts and left numerous unpaid bills. (This actually happened to a soldier with whom I was deployed with in Kosovo).
The first strategy that I used was emphasizing excitement and positivity. The intensity of relationship contentment is augmented by placing emphasis of excitement and positivity (Floyd, 2009). My husband was hesitant to the idea of taking the money and running but understood my insecurities. A confirming message, which is a behavior that shows how much we value each other, was when he stated that he would do whatever I wanted to handle our financial situation (Floyd, 2009). My husband and I remained positive and supportive when we discussed how our financial affairs were to be handled. Our marital agreement was that deposits would be made monthly from my personal account and placed in our joint bank account to assist with our financial affairs. To emphasize excitement and positivity prior to my deployment, our family also visited Disney World to celebrate Christmas early in July 2006.
I prepared many things for my family before leaving, such as buying school clothes, setting up daycare, registering our kids for extracurricular activities, and buying lots of household goods, since our household was short of nothing. We bought our son Nigel a car for an early graduation present. Nigel would graduate in June 2007 from Kalamazoo Central High School. Nigel was very excited about his car. I would miss his entire senior year and graduation day. Although he insisted that he was okay with everything, I still felt terrible. Gambardella (2008) emphasizes that military parents usually feel emotional distress and often experience guilt for being absent. We held a family meeting to explain to our children that I would be deploying soon and what to expect. My children had different reactions during the pre-deployment phase. I expressed to Nigel that I was very proud of him and that I loved him. Nigel would always respond with “I love you too.” Diana our eight year old daughter was very close to me. I spent lots of time with her. I would also be missing her entire third grade year of school, and the award ceremonies and dance recitals that came with it. My daughter’s reaction was different. Because she was younger, she was sadder. Diana and I had many conversations about Kosovo. I conveyed to her that I would miss her and that I loved her.
Finally, the departure day arrived and I was met with lots of tears, hugs and kisses. I conferred with my family to be strong and always do your best. My husband stated, “We will be fine.” During the deployment phase, my family gradually adjusted. Crumbo (2009) identifies the deployment phase as the first month the military member is gone. During this time the family attempts to recover its equilibrium (Crumbo, 2009). Many family members have feelings of numbness, sadness, isolation or abandonment, while other family members undertake many of the absent member’s responsibilities (Crumbo, 2009). Richard maintained an upbeat attitude. Nigel was in his own adolescent world hanging out with friends. Nigel had more freedom due to the absence of my authority. I think it also had to do with his new car too! Diana was handling my absence well. My husband gave into her every wish and desire, which meant buying her a lot of toys. Ramirez (2009) reflects, often kids have a difficult adjustment. Studies have found that children do well as long as the remaining parent displays a positive role (Ramirez, 2009).
The second strategy we adopted was to have realistic expectations in our relationships. Realistic expectations are defined as an intimate but realistic attitude one holds as actual truth in a relationship (Floyd, 2009). While in the sustainment phase, which lasts from a month after the departure to a month before the soldiers return, my husband didn’t have a good support system (Crumbo, 2009). Many military families establish new routines and go about their daily lives, using whatever resources are available to them (Crumbo, 2009). During this span, Crumbo (2009) points out children may have a difficult time and began to rebel against the caregiver at home; they resent the absent parent or slack off on school work. Many family members who stated they would help quickly became invisible after my departure. My husband and I knew that many family members would not be true to their word. Our expectations of them weren’t very high. On the other hand, we knew we had a reliable babysitter who stated she would babysit the entire deployment no matter what. My family knew that I would communicate by calling home weekly. By keeping our expectations realistic, we were able to prevent disappointment. I never missed a call. We would communicate via internet with a web camera. My husband would complain about everything the kids were doing. He would also complain about our babysitter’s tardiness. I would sit and listen and try to console him. At times he admitted he would cry. Richard, my husband is not a softy, and does not cry easily. The stress of working and managing the household by himself had taken its toll.
Ramirez (2009) highlights, children who observe a parent struggling may attempt to help by taking over responsibilities that once belonged to the deployed parent or by trying to conceal their feelings in order to protect the remaining parent. This was not the case at our house. Nigel did not want to help with the household chores and Diana had behavioral issues. My husband also accused me of creating a monster, in which he was referring to our daughter Diana. Thomas (2009) emphasizes that mothers in our culture are often held responsible for any problem in the family. So my deployment was often blamed on Diana’s behavioral problems, which could or could not be true (Thomas, 2009).
Diana’s teachers claimed that Diana was an angel and a star pupil. Diana’s third grade teacher was aware of my deployment. Diana’s educational success was met by her teacher meeting her unique needs of academic, emotional and behavioral support at school (Harrison & Vannest, 2008). At home, however, she was the exact opposite. Crumbo (2009) states that researchers have established children suffer, too. The Pentagon reported 67 percent of Guard and Reserve spouses described a rise in their children’s level of fear and anxiety (Crumbo, 2009). The research, however, was contrary to my children’s educational performance. Academically the study revealed that children of our part time military force’s grades dropped 38 percent and poor conduct soared to 34 percent (Crumbo, 2009). Diana was mentored at school by female volunteers in a group called Kids First. She also was mentored by the ladies from our church every Sunday.
The third strategy we used was in handling conflict constructively in our relationships. Handling conflict constructively is how the people implicated handle the disagreement beneficially (Floyd, 2009). Investigators have found children display a realm of emotions, including acting out and emotional outbursts (Fitzsimons & Krause-Parello, 2009). Diana’s behavioral issues began the minute she arrived home from school. She would become mean, bossy, and at times refused to speak to anyone. Diana would also treat our babysitter in the same way. When our babysitter Marge, a long time family friend in her early sixties, would greet my daughter, Diana refused to speak to her. To solve this situation constructively, my weekly calls home would include discussing this behavior with Diana. We would discuss how she felt about me being gone. Diana would get upset and ask repeatedly when I would be coming home. I would reassure her by giving her the month of my return. I would encourage her to do the best she could to be kind to others, because they are also having a hard time with my absence. I would email her often with love notes. I would also send her care packages with items and cards expressing how much I care and miss her. This was a positive way for me to soothe my daughter’s fears and reassure her that I missed her as well.
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On the other hand, Nigel, our son, was very upbeat. He was a straight A student who was accepted to the University of Michigan with a major in mechanical engineering. The only behavioral issue my husband had with him was helping with household chores, such as washing the dishes. A new study found that teenagers whose military mothers are away at war are prone to develop behavioral problems and do poorly in school (Thomas, 2009). This was not the case for my teenage son. I thank the Lord this was not part of his life path.
The redeployment phase, a month before my return, I informed my family I would be home soon (Crumbo, 2009). This phase was an exciting time for my family. They were filled with high hopes along with conflicting emotional anxiety (Crumbo, 2009). I could not give them an exact date until I was in the United States at the demobilization site. I could, however, give the month of arrival. Everyone in my family was ecstatic.
After arriving home, the post-deployment phase began for us (Crumbo, 2009). My family and I after several months readjusted into our old but yet new found routine. Their emotions lead from being very supportive, to extreme delight and relief. My husband immediately relinquished all financial matters to me. My husband did a great job! All the bills were paid. Our son was not present as he was attending college. I did, however, travel to Ann Arbor to visit him.
The last strategy I handled was managing dialectical tensions, or conflicts amid two contrasting desires (Floyd, 2009). Diana was very emotional. She did not want me to lay down with her in her bed for bedtime reading, which was something I had done since she was a toddler. She declared that she had learned how to sleep by herself in my absence. My daughter wanted to be close to me, but at the same time, she wanted to distance herself so that I would understand her pain and loneliness when I was gone. We used integration as a coping strategy (Floyd, 2009). Integration is when people find ways to please each other without losing their own personal desires in a relationship (Floyd, 2009). I allowed Diana to prove her new independence from me. She started by going to sleep by herself, which I found to be very difficult and hurtful. However, we did continue to read bedtime stories together. Diana would constantly state, “You were gone. You were never around.” Finally, after six months of this, I told her “If you keep on saying it, it might happen again.” After this reminder, Diana gradually began to accept me sleeping in the same bed with her again. I was able to reestablish our intimacy by giving Diana the space and time she needed.
In conclusion, through the five distinct emotional phases of deployment (Crumbo, 2009), my family struggled, grew independent, and accomplished many things without me. The four strategies for improving communication within intimate relationships were effective in helping my family cope with my absence. While serving in the military, deployments are bound to happen (Nola, 2008). This is why, in March 2008, I retired from the United States Army Reserve after twenty-one years of service. My family was very relieved that I retired from the USAR. They now don’t have to worry about another deployment. Although my family may have had a hard time with our separation, they continued to move forward to a higher level of capabilities and have persevered. After everything I learned from this experience, I recommend that military families undergoing deployment apply the four strategies for improving communication so that the family can remain strong during the separation.
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