1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #467

Thankfulness - Not Just A Temporary Thing!

Each year at Thanksgiving, we go around the table, talking about the things we are grateful for - as I know many do.  This feeling of fortune and happiness often extends beyond the meal times because we leave the table not only full but also focussed on what we are happy about rather than all the things that aren’t working in our lives and I like it.

Being a part of a military family means you often have to go without - family, friends, homemade treats only certain people can make, etc.  It got me to thinking that perhaps we should  list things that we are grateful for each day until Christmas (or American Thanksgiving or New Years) and keep that feeling of gratitude for a little longer than at just one dinner or day.

This year I bought a second hand tablecloth from a thrift store.  Each day we are going to write something on it that we are grateful for having had happened this year or something/someone in our lives that we are grateful for.  Then we are going to use it as our Christmas or New Years table cloth - it will not only remind us of how lucky we are but there will be some great conversation starters in there too.

How To:

  • Buy a material tablecloth (wash before using)
  • Buy Sharpie Markers (all colours)
  • Have a flat piece of cardboard under the cloth to ensure that if the marker goes through it isn’t on your countertop or table
  • Commit to adding to it on a regular basis (have it on the table before meals or fold it into squares and place the cardboard underneath there is an exposed square for people to write on easily without taking the whole thing out
  • After completed, throw into the dryer on high heat for 10-20mins, leave for 24 hours and then wash only in cold water (some people also recommend throwing a cup of salt into the cold water too)
  • Use at your next big event/dinner!

For more information about our tips, books and resources go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org

1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #466

Selfish Day

Many of us think of the word selfish and automatically think of it as a negative thing.  After all, it is often used by people to describe someone that thinks only of themselves, is thoughtless and mean.  I am, more often than not, guided by doing what is right rather than what makes me happy.  I think many of us are.  That is okay (most of the time) as, living in a military family means there are things that always need to get done BUT… I also think that we have forgotten how to slow down, take care of ourselves and take uninterrupted “fun” time doing things we want to do, things that relax us or bring us joy.  These moments don’t happen often as you are either planning a move, trying to settle in after a move, waiting to hear about trainings and deployments, trying to get through deployments, etc.

For the past 2 years I have been Mom (and Dad most of the time) and had to put a lot of my needs aside to look after the kids, the house, the dog and all the things in between including a full time and demanding job.  Being a military spouse often means that you don’t get a lot of time for yourself unless you take on an epic coordination the size of a small deployment!  I took on the coordination this weekend and it was worth it.  My in-laws took the dog, my kids went to friend’s houses, I put the phone away and didn’t answer emails, I ordered in for dinner, etc.  It was soooo worth it!

For the first time in over 2 years I took a completely selfish day this weekend - not without wrangling with some guilt but I still took it (I worry it makes me a bad mother if I just do things for myself).  I stayed strong.  I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do, I resisted the urge to do baking, cooking, cleaning and work and I didn’t give in to my family’s requests to ‘just do this or that and it will only take a few minutes’.  The world didn’t come to an end.  I just took care of myself and made a plan to do something fun, something a little out of my comfort zone and a little bit of absolutely nothing (a few hours of mindless Netflix).  I also think I modelled for my kids what self care looks like.  I am not going to say they were happy about it but I think they understood in the end that this is what I needed.  As adults we don’t often come right out and say to our kids “I need this” so when I did, they listened (until they needed something!).

I have written a lot of tips over the years and always live it before asking others to.  I forced myself to do this partly for me and partly to complete this tip!  Now though, I will be taking a monthly selfish day (yes, once a month)!  I will be doing this more often as I deserve a break and truly believe that I have earned the right to have some time doing things that I want to do.  Military life is hard but this can’t be used as an excuse for why I don’t take care of my needs too.  There will always be a reason not to do it but, as I discovered this weekend, there are so many more reasons to do it.  All you need to do after reading this is go to your calendars and book your own selfish day!

For more information about our tips, resources and books go to:  www.whileyouwereaway.org

1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #465

Focusing In - Tip # 465

When my husband was away I focused on spending time with my kids.  I became my son’s soccer team manager (had no idea what I was getting myself into but best thing I have done with him), went to my daughter’s practices and swim meets, drove them to school once a week, had sleepovers, took them out on the weekends and just made sure I was present and available.  This seemed to have worked for them (although this did not stop them from missing their Dad and nor was it intended to) but I am writing more about what it did for me.

While I was truly exhausted by this latest deployment, I think it was by far the easiest.  Initially, I had put this down to my kids being older and able to help a little more.   I have since realized there was more to it mainly because having to ask for something to be done 10 times does not make it easier.  Often it was easier to just do it myself and they had more complex thinking, knew more about what was going on in the world and had real life problems with friends, school, etc.

The bottom line is that I learned to focus in on what was important - the kids and making sure I was okay too.  I did this by setting new limits at work, I was honest with friends and family when I couldn’t do things and took care of myself in a way that I hadn’t before.

Lessons Learned:

  • I stopped emailing people after hours and on the weekends whenever possible.  This practice alone reduced my workload by at least 20%
  • I got into a good sleep routine.  There were nights I even went to bed when the kids did!
  • I made family holidays different and relaxing events and reduced our commitments.  We also tried to have different experiences over significant holidays or events to distract a little from the fact that their Dad wasn’t there to enjoy it with us
  • I put away my cell phone, computer and didn’t answer the phone during meal times and after dinner when we were talking and hanging out.  I made us the focus of this time.
  • I never let a day go by without finding something to appreciate or laugh about.  While deployments are hard there are many other things that are much harder.  Overall, we lead a privileged life with a home to come to, food on the table and people that love us.  We looked at the world feeling fortunate and grateful rather than spending a moment of it complaining about what we don’t have.
  • I remained organized throughout the deployment and this really saved my sanity and numerous times it also allowed me to take a nap or have time for myself.  I had a paper copy of a calendar for the family to reference, one on my computer and phone, when I cooked meals I usually made double and froze them for an easy meal the next time, etc.
  • We created fun To Do Lists of 100 things to do by a certain time (see blog about those here: http://wp.me/p10tfJ-Fq  ).  These kept us doing fun things and challenging ourselves but also ensured we had a pyjama day or lazy day thrown in too
  • I missed my not being able to go out as much with friends and having a husband who would take over so that I could go and do my thing but I also discovered that true friends understand. They will also be right there waiting for you when you are done with the crazy deployment!

Doing some or all of these things can really alter the way you approach and how you cope through a deployment.  I am not suggesting that everyone has to give up going out as much (perhaps that is how you unwind) or that you need to always go to bed when your kids do either.  Deployments aren’t fun or relaxing but they can be made a lot easier when you focus on the ‘Big Rocks’.  Stephen Covey has a great video that I often use with teenagers about focusing on what is important but it applies to us all and this deployment I really looked at what my big rocks were.  Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_N_uvq41Pg

For more information about our books, resources and blog go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org

1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #464

Fitting Back In - Tip #464

For us, reintegrating back together after a deployment is so much harder than the deployment itself.  You would think that after countless absences and three major deployments that we would be pros but we aren’t.  This time my husband and I are struggling trying to find the balance between the kids, work, things we want to do separately and making space and time for each other.  Fitting back into each others lives after months and months of not having to communicate or consider the other person’s feelings on a daily basis is so hard and it isn’t something that can be fixed quickly.  As many of you also know it is challenging for people that aren’t in the military to understand that you need this time without taking it personally and those hurt feelings only add to the stress you are already under.  Then there is the tiredness.  The person who was at home is exhausted from having to do it all solo and for the person returning after working 24 hour days 7 days a week for months on end under less than ideal circumstances.  This is like the perfect storm and the best advice I have been given and do give is to find out how you both fit again and do this on your schedule and not other people’s.

Tips to help “re-fit”:

  • Talk everyday even if it is only for 10mins
  • Make short terms plans to do fun and easy things together as a family that don’t require a lot of planning, work or money (bike ride, swimming, mini putt, etc.)
  • Reduce commitments and focus on spending time getting to know each other again
  • Do some every day things together (grocery shopping, walking the dog, gardening, etc.)
  • Be honest about the things you don’t want to change or give up
  • Even when you aren’t feeling generous or patient, try to be as much as possible or walk away and take a minute until you can be
  • Say less, listen more
  • Work hard on letting go of resentments - you both had it hard and there really is no way to compare or come to conclusions about who suffered more
  • Eat at least one meal a day together as a family
  • Give each other a mini holiday.  Each person should get at least one day to be completely selfish and do whatever they want away from the responsibilities of kids, work, the house, bills, etc.
  • Laugh together as often as possible.  Go and see funny movies, tell jokes, talk about funny things that have happened and bring laughter into your family every day

I don’t want anyone reading this to think I am doing all of these things well but I am still trying to do them.  I still get annoyed about the piles of shoes I trip over by the front door, the lights left on, I forget to tell him plans and activity schedules and sharing the bed is REALLY hard.  It will take months, not a few days or weeks to get back on track as well as being patient with your family member be sure to remember to be patient with yourself too!

For more information about my books, resources and tips go to:  www.whileyouwereaway.org 

1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #461

Dividing Time 

Taking a few days off to camp with Dad and eat bacon!

Taking a few days off to camp with Dad and eat bacon!

My husband came home for 3 weeks after being away for 8 months.  My kids had lists of things that they wanted to do with him that couldn’t humanly be accomplished in 21 days unless he chose not to sleep or eat.  I was quickly reminded of a phrase that I live by - What is fair, isn’t always equal.  I had spoken to my husband ahead of time to warn him that he and I would have little time together given the needs (and wants) of our kids on his time and that there was only three weeks.  We also said no to a lot of other visits and family time - I am not sure we were overly popular with this but it was the right thing to do. I think it was helpful to talk about all of this ahead of time but it was still a 3 week long juggling act!

 We decided to base our time decisions around three things:

* Is it important to our kids?

* Will it happen again at a later date when we have more time?

* Will it be time well spent together and fun?

Of course, there were things we couldn’t do and wanted to but in three weeks a lot of fun was had.  In the end, it was three weeks of trying to do things the kids had been dreaming of doing with their Dad in 8 long months.  Of course there was a list a mile long of things we needed to get down around the house, papers signed, bills, etc. but in the end we have no regrets as our kids got the only thing they ever really want - our time.  Don’t get me wrong, now that he is gone again I can often be heard muttering around the house about the things that should have been done or feel frustrated that I didn’t ask about one thing or another.  There is no perfect answer to these quick breaks but I think we came close as our kids were a lot happier for it.

For more information about our tips, resources and books go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org



1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #462



As we head into the last weeks of going it solo I am now spending a lot of time thinking about how we are all going to come back together as a family and some of the things that need to be said. We have lived in the same house for approximately 100 days in 3 years. In that time the kids have grown and changed and we both have too.  There are a lot of things that were awful and difficult about all the time away but there were also a lot of things I enjoyed too.  All of this needs to be talked about.

Tips for communication:

* Don’t take on any heavy topics for the first few weeks. Focus on fun and spending time together.

* Carve out time to talk each day once you have begun to settle into a routine of some sort. Even if it is for 5-10mins this is important and will truly help.

* Try to choose one or two things to tackle at a time.

* Be prepared to hear things you don’t want to.  No one enjoys hearing negative things about themselves or about all the things we are doing wrong but we aren’t perfect and if you don’t know what is bothering someone you can’t move forward.

* Be honest and courageous in your conversations not angry and spiteful.

* Set some common goals - we are talking about this because we both need/want…

* Listen to understand, not to be understood.  There is a huge difference and it will make a difference if you really try to understand what it is they are saying.

* Start and end conversations with something positive even if you have to dig deep!

* Take time outs when you get emotional. Talking when you are in a heightened state will accomplish little and may take you back a step or two.

* Conversations should not take place in front of children or family members. Go for a walk, sit outside, wait until the kids are out or have gone to bed.

* Don’t try to have discussions when either of you have been drinking or are exhausted. I don’t believe this has ever been a successful technique particularly as the other person may wonder if it was said because of intoxication or if it was even true or they just wanted to get to sleep.

* Turn off phones, TV, etc. I am not sure I know of anyone that appreciates someone watching the TV, texting or answering the phone in the middle of an important conversation.

Feeling anger, frustration, sadness and so many other emotions is normal and natural but… To have a healthy relationship you will have to let go of these things (eventually) and you can’t let go until you let them out!

For more information about my tips, resources or books go to:  www.whileyouwereaway.org

Living It Week 35 and 36

Calendar - Tip #25

When my husband was away, I was great (if I do say so myself) about keeping a calendar with everything and anything on it.  The kids even got into the habit of looking at it (I know you may be thinking that is a small accomplishment but it really isn’t in my world!).  It really helped to keep us organized and maintained some sanity.  Then my husband got home and all routines fell apart and the calendar was just taking up space on the board in the kitchen.  After two weeks of missing appointments, never knowing where everyone was, being totally out of sync and becoming really frustrated we quickly realized that it was something small that made a huge difference!


I took my own advice and…

1) Asked that everyone put their things on the main kitchen calendar (it isn’t overly helpful to me to know that it is in your phone calendar…) and did the first input with everyone right there to get them started

2) Colour coded the calendar for people so that you would know which things were yours by quickly looking

3) Went over the calendar once a week at dinner (for the following week) so we all knew what was happening, who needs to be taken places, etc.

4) Printed out 3 months at a time so we also knew what things were coming up in the next months that were important too

5) Took a picture of the calendar and texted it to everyone

While I know that we are all in the era where we generally believe that technology can do it faster and more efficiently, this printed calendar in the kitchen may have actually saved the lives of my husband and children as I was teetering on the edge of insanity with the chaos!

For more information about our tips, resources and books go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org


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