For Remembrance Day, we’ve invited Sarah Hill to write about being a military mother. For many Canadians, images of soldiers at war and families left behind on the homefront is brought to us by way of the television – and usually American television at that. This Remembrance Day, we have asked Sarah what it’s like to be part of a Canadian military family. Sarah’s husband flies helicopters for the Canadian military and is often away for extended periods of time.
The quintessential military mom—children flanking her sides as she waves a Canadian flag standing stoically as her uniformed loved one departs to a far off dangerous place. It seems like a scene from a TV special or a news clip. Yet this is a reality for many families in Canada.
To be completely honest, until I was asked to write a guest post for the “4 Moms” I’d never really given much thought to the fact that I am a military mom but, as my dear friend pointed out, our family life is not run-of the mill. We have deployments and relocations, protocols and echelons. The Canadian Forces are so vast and diverse in their services it really is hard to capture the ‘typical’ military family experience, but I’ll attempt to offer a little insight.
Yes, my husband does leave for extended periods of time and we do have to move more often than most and not just down the street or the other side of the city. It will be from one coast to the other for us. As unsettling as the whole experience is, with the waiting and wondering—when and where we will be posted– I’ve learned perspective is everything. You make the most of what you have, learn to love where you are, build in strong supports and work hard nurturing our relationships. Many military moms can speak to part-time single parenting. I have much respect and admiration for those that do it full time.
How do you do it? I am often asked. In short, you just do. The Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) offers fantastic support services and education around the deployment cycle, some of which I’d like to share, because if you have a partner that travels I know you will be able to relate.
The Deployment Cycle
- PreDeployment—often characterized by an anticipation of loss, denial, mental/physical distancing and an increase in arguments.
- Deployment—a mixed emotion: relief “yes he’s finally gone the lead up is over, but now I really miss him”, overwhelmed, numb, sad, alone, which quickly moves into new routines and calling in supports, then comes anticipation, excitement, “daddy’s coming home!”
- Post Deployment—the honeymoon, the need for your “own” space and the renegotiation of routines and reintegration into family life.
Some of my favourite tips from the MFRC:
- give your children secret diaries where they can write down the things they wish their absent parent could hear
- Take pictures (or video) of the parent doing ordinary things at home, which are very good for young children with short visual memories. Post them where they can be seen frequently. We posted a picture of daddy brushing his teeth on the bathroom mirror so every night we could brush teeth with Dad.
- Talk about what you think the missing parent is doing right now and give an extra kiss from “Daddy” or “Mommy” – whoever is away.
- If you know how long the separation is going to be, start a countdown. A friend of mine used a tower of blocks with her young child and everyday they’d take a block off.
- Keep the absent parent with you. Put some books on tape or video so the kids can still be read to. Hallmark has some great recordable books.
- Homecoming can be wonderful and stressful. Things change in your partner’s absence, take it slow. Talk. Be patient.
- Adults and kids need to take time to get to know each other again. Do things as a family and as a couple.
My husband gets paid to do something he loves—fly helicopters. He has stable employment and benefits. He has now been to 5 continents, seen first hand the border between North and South Korea, a boat of refugees packed like sardines crossing the gulf of Aden in hopes of a better life, Somalian pirates, Pearl Harbour, parts of this country that few ever get the chance to experience and we get to live vicariously through his adventures. Family day at Daddy’s work involves going for a Sea King helicopter ride, and sitting in the cockpit exploring the endless switches and buttons. Every time a helicopter flies overhead we wave ‘at daddy.’
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that at times we envy a life where our children would be at the same school, with the same friends, and there would never be a missed birthday, graduation, lost tooth, or Christmas concert. But I am proud of what my husband does and our role in keeping Canada glorious and free. Military families are the strength behind the uniform. So in honour of those that have sacrificed so much for our freedom, do not forget to thank the wives and mothers this Remembrance Day. Lest We Forget.
Sarah is the mother of a 4 and 2 year old, married to an Airforce Pilot, and currently based out of Victoria, B.C.