Friday, December 17, 2010

Bridging the Divide

Some of you who are reading this are military spouses, others are not. Sometimes it can be hard to relate to, or know the right things to say to, someone whose experience seems so very different from your own. But, the truth is that all of us--all wives, mothers, women--are living this experience together. We all have similar struggles. And, if we try, we truly can help one another through this journey. So, to that end, here are a few ideas.

For my civilian readers, here are the best things you can do to support your military friends:

1. Just be there to listen. Especially if your friend's spouse is deployed, listening is more important than ever. Saying how quickly the time will go by or that everything will be fine if she just stays strong and/or busy is not helpful. Let her vent, scream, cry, or whatever else she needs. And, if you're lucky, she'll do the same for you when you need it.

2. Offer to help. Last Christmas, while my husband was in Iraq, our home in Kansas was being pummeled with snow. It seemed as if I spent every free moment outside shoveling ... and shoveling ... and shoveling. Christmas morning, I peered out the window, dreading the white mess that surely had accumulated while we slept. But, I was thrilled to see that the driveway was completely cleared. Two of our neighbors had gotten up early and come over to shovel the driveway. When I tried to thank them, they said it was the least they could do for our (yes, our) sacrifice. It was truly one of the nicest things anyone could have done. And I was, and still am, incredibly grateful. It's not really the amount of work that matters, either; what matters is that you actually want to help.

3. Don’t compare a deployment to, well, anything. Once, an acquaintance told me that she understood what I was going through because her husband went away on weekend business trips a lot. I told her I was sorry that she had to go through that. But, I was thinking, “unless he is dodging IEDs in his hotel room, it’s really not the same thing.” Having your spouse thousands of miles, and several time zones away, in a war zone, in danger, is like nothing else. Sometimes people just want to be able to relate. And sometimes people really do understand parts of what we’re experiencing. But, generally, don’t compare deployments to any other experience in the world, because simply, they’re not.

4. Thank her for her service. No, not her spouse (although that is certainly appreciated as well). But, military wives deserve a thank you as well. Yes, soldiers are the ones risking their lives every day. But, spouses are still sacrificing, more than you may ever know.

Now, in case you military readers thought you were off the hook, think again. Here are a few tips for you as well:

1. Go easy on your civilian friends. They don’t understand what you’re going through because they can’t. Just like you can’t understand every aspect of their lives or experiences. But, if they’re truly friends, they love you, and they’re trying. Give them credit for that.

2. Don’t make your spouse the topic of every conversation.This one, I will admit, is hard to do. If your spouse is deployment, he is on your mind all the time. Deployments can turn otherwise independent women into mushy, romantic basket cases. But, it’s important to maintain your own interests, your own hobbies, your own friends, your own life. And your friends need to hear about more than just web cam dates and bomb scares. Your spouse is already away, your friends don’t want to lose you, too.

3. Don't assume that you have it worse than your civilian friends. Yes, the life of a military spouse is rough, very rough. Especially during a deployment, you may lose all sympathy for anything someone else may be experiencing. But, try to remember that there is always someone who is going through a more difficult struggle. Try to remember that, although far away, your husband is safe, your family is safe, your family is (hopefully) healthy, you have income (albeit small) and benefits, and many other blessings that many people go without. So, be grateful. And do your part to help others, as well.

4. Take care of yourself. (Disclaimer: All of my friends who are reading this are laughing right now, because I certainly did not follow this advice). But, I know now how very important it is. You can't truly care for your spouse or your children unless you're caring for yourself. So, let the laundry go for a day (or two), turn off the phones, watch useless TV, or, my personal favorite, have PB&J (or better yet, ice cream) for dinner, at least once. You deserve it.

Finally, everyone, avoid the temptation to judge others' lives, experiences, or behaviors. You never know what the person may be going through. We are all sisters. We all need one another. So, rather than lashing out, reach out. Imagine the strength we, as women, would have if we all supported one another. What a wonderful bridge, a wonderful existence, that would be.

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