As Jamie gets ready to come home from overseas and we begin the final steps of transitioning out of the military, I can feel the weight of his absence releasing from my shoulders. We’re almost to the finish line. The months that he’s gone are obviously more difficult for us, but that’s not a secret to anyone. When strangers find out that my husband serves, they often thank me for supporting him. Most recognize its a rocky road for spouses and children, and I’ve never had to ask for additional support, encourage, or love. People are ready to give it because they know my role as a military wife is a wild one.
But this week, as we navigate the final days of deployment life, I can’t help but reflect on two groups of people who do a lot of stepping in and playing “spouse-like” roles when my actual spouse is gone: my parents and my in-laws.
When Jamie goes overseas or is absent for weeks on end doing training exercises, our parents step in and fill the gaps in as many areas as they can. I rarely (if ever) have had to ask. They know that when he’s gone, I lose his help with all that he does as half of our marital team. They know what a lot of those things are, and they travel across the country to just be here.
My mom held my hand during both of my gender reveal ultrasounds and during the bulk of my two pregnancies since my husband missed nearly all of both of them.
My MIL visited for two straight weeks to help put together all baby furniture, paint, and prepare for our first baby.
My FIL spent an entire day working on my yard during his two only days off of work during Thanksgiving.
My dad drove 4800 miles in five months driving my children and I back and forth from Kansas to Alabama when we wanted to come home for the holidays and when I got ready to have another baby.
All four of them have mowed my yard more times than I can count on my fingers and toes.
My mom once quit her job so that she could move in with me for three months to help me care for my first baby while my husband was still serving in Afghanistan. Two days after she quit, we found out that my husband wouldn’t be going back overseas and would be home after all. And she’d already quit her job.
My dad painted my second daughter’s nursery when I was seven months pregnant and didn’t need to be on a ladder.
My MIL planned to stay with us for two weeks to help with my toddler and my newborn until my husband returned from overseas, but then she ended up staying eight additional days because his flight was delayed. She could have gone home, but she wasn’t leaving me and my kids. She even got my medicine and cared for me when mastitis destroyed me.
My mom has offered a sympathetic ear for years and years on the other end of the phone when I call with yet another emotional roller coaster to unload.
They’ve gone with us to visit Santa, hunt for Easter eggs, visit festivals… all so that I didn’t have to go alone amidst all of the other happy families.
When they get vacation time from work, they use it to visit us instead of go on an actual vacation.
So many little and big things come to mind; I could go on for another couple thousand words, at least.
When they’ve done these things, they’ve said that they’re happy to help and do what they can, but the truth is, they’ve had to play a lot of roles that they shouldn’t or absolutely didn’t have to play.
Sure, they were happy to be a part of extra pregnancy/newborn moments and help around the yard and go to our kids’ activities and go on road trips with us, but don’t be fooled – they didn’t do these things when they were convenient for them and just because they wanted to. They knew I needed them. They knew they needed to be here. They knew I couldn’t do “x” without help, so they chose to come whether it was convenient or not.
Sometimes I carry guilt that they haven’t gotten to play the traditional grandparent role at times simply because they’ve had to fill in for the “duties” that Jamie would have done for me, for our home, and for our kids. And I know my attitude at times hasn’t made it the easiest for them either, because let’s be honest – I’m not my best self without my other half for extended periods of time. I miss my love.
But they’ve loved our family through it and helped in any way they could, whether it was convenient for them or not (more often than not it wasn’t – I promise.)
So to other parents and in-laws of service members, you are not overlooked, even if your kids don’t do the best job at telling you thanks. They see the areas you fill in, they notice the time you sacrifice to be with us during deployments, and they see that deployments are a hardship for you too, just in your own way.
For parents, it’s so hard to have your son or daughter overseas, and it’s surely hard to watch his or her spouse struggle at home alone. You don’t talk to your son or daughter much, and you miss them.
For in-laws, it’s agonizing to watch your adult kid struggle through everything a deployment emotionally and physically throws at them while you feel helpless the majority of the time.
In the military, this is an overlooked group that deals with secondary side effects of deployments, but I hope I speak for thousands of military service members and spouses when I say that we see you, you’re appreciated, and we are so grateful.