This is an opinion piece that reflects the views of the author but does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MilitaryOneClick.
By Lizann Lightfoot
If you are a parent, I know what you’re thinking:
No way deployments are easier with children! Have you ever met a military kid whose parent is deployed? They are moody and temperamental. They keep you up at night and break your heart when they cry for their deployed parent. They direct all their anger at the missing parent onto the one who is taking care of them. They act out, throw tantrums, and get in trouble at school. Babies and toddlers are a huge handful during a deployment. How could it possibly be easier?
I’m telling you, I hear you. I’m a military spouse with four kids. During our recent deployment (my husband’s sixth one), my kids ranged from one to eight. I have given birth during a deployment, potty-trained during a deployment, and gone through just about every developmental stage without my husband.
You’re right: It isn’t easy. Being a solo parent is exhausting and frustrating and will try your patience every day. There are definitely times when solo parents look enviously at their child-free military spouse peers and think, “It must be so easy for them to get through a deployment without the burden of children!”
When we think about child-free individuals like that, we miss something. What parents perceive as peace and quiet, others experience as loneliness. When a parent complains about their daily responsibilities and exhausting routine, a child-free person longs to have purpose and direction during deployment. So if you are feeling up to your ears in baby bottles or after-school activities, let me remind you of some of the ways deployment is actually easier with kids.
1. Automatic entry into the Parent Club
Military bases have a disproportionate amount of children, partly because of the young population. When every house in your neighborhood has at least two kids, it’s easy to make new friends. You can meet people at the playground, the gym, the school pick-up line, or at soccer practice. Even if those other parents don’t become your best friends, it’s a built-in connection that many parents take for granted. If child-free individuals try to strike up a conversation at the beach or the park, it’s a lot creepier and harder to connect.
2. Kids get you up and moving in the morning
No parent enjoys waking up at 5 AM to feed the baby. Or rushing off to sports practice at 7 AM on a Saturday. Nevertheless, focusing on our children’s needs and schedules adds structure to a deployment. Parents have a huge responsibility to feed and care for their children during deployment. It isn’t easy, but focusing on someone else can be a good way to add some positivity into your own life. It gives your life value and purpose that keeps you on your toes and forces you to perform at your best, even when you are tired. Child-free people may find the same satisfaction in volunteering or coaching kids, but it’s easier to get out of a volunteer commitment than a diaper change.
3. All the play dates
During one deployment, I went to play dates several times a week. It probably saved my life. I had three kids under three home with me all day. Sometimes our days stretched before me in an endless cycle of feeding, changing diapers, and cleaning up messes. It was the perfect environment for postpartum depression, and I certainly had a case of it. . . but my mom friends pulled me through.
Play dates gave me something to look forward to. Sometimes we just spent a morning at someone’s house. Other times we got together for field trips in the local area. These friends helped me make meals, clean my house, and laugh when I needed it. They sometimes volunteered to watch my kids and give me a break. (I later reciprocated during their deployments.) I don’t know how I would have made it through without them, and I feel badly for any child-free military spouse who doesn’t find a similar supportive tribe.
4. Kids keep you company
Sure, kids are noisy and crazy and messy. But they also fill your house with love. When I miss my husband, I can snuggle with my kids on the couch. We plan picnics together, go to the beach, or play board games. I have someone to talk to during every single meal. Child-free individuals sometimes complain about the intense loneliness and silence of deployments. They turn on the TV just so they aren’t surrounded by silence. If they go to a restaurant, they sit and eat alone. I can barely remember what that is like. There are days when I crave just five minutes of peace and quiet. But if that stretched into five months or more, I don’t know how I would handle it.
These reasons are probably not enough for you to have a baby during your next deployment, and that’s okay! Solo parents carry a burden during deployment, but they should realize that they also have support and encouragement that is not available to some of their child-free peers. Sometimes, solo parents should reach out and invite their single friend to dinner or an activity. Even if it is a child-centric event, that may be their only social invite of the week.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at [email protected]