How a military mother copes with deployment

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The following is a feature by Master Corporal Jennyfer Russell, a medical technician from 5 Field Ambulance, Valcartier. MCpl Russell is deployed as a JTFU Instructor on Operation UNIFIER in the Ukraine.

Master Corporal Jennyfer Russell, teaches first aid to members of the Ukrainian Forces during Operation UNIFIER at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) near Lviv, Ukraine on March 1, 2016. Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND IS03-2016-006-010
Master Corporal Jennyfer Russell, teaches first aid to members of the Ukrainian Forces during Operation UNIFIER at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) near Lviv, Ukraine on March 1, 2016. Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND IS03-2016-006-013

By MCpl Jennyfer Russell

Truly, I do not feel there are any differences between being a deployed woman in the army and a man who’s doing the same thing. We all have families; a reality that we temporarily leave behind. Emotionally, our gender difference does not make it any easier.

I’m often asked how I balance work and home. No matter how strongly you may feel about a job there is no such thing as a perfect career situation, it is all about life-work balance. A deployment is very tolerable when you focus on the positive aspects, keep your chin up, and perform the tasks to the best of your abilities. Depending on the mission and the area of deployment, we have many opportunities to keep in touch with our families. Thank goodness for the advances in communications technology.

If there is one thing we have to learn to do as deployed mothers it’s to learn to focus on the things we can control, and sometimes we just have to let go of things back home that are outside of our reach. These are things such as: was the house cleaned, did the children eat well, did the dog get enough exercise? A more difficult example is when the children tell you that they had a disagreement with their father. It is tough to accept, but no matter how much you would like to fix things, you cannot. The key is to listen, support and encourage. A friend once said:  “Everything will be taken care of but managed differently; the rest is small stuff”.

I was once the parent at home with two young children, while my husband deployed multiple times. I can understand that a spouse may experience hard times and it may bring up a wide range of emotions. And it is also hard for the children. So far, our two teenagers have experienced seven deployments altogether. As I left for Ukraine my youngest daughter told me “the house is so quiet without you; I’m never going to do this to my kids”. Mothers often take up a lot of space in the house, leaving less room for the father. In most cases, a deployment serves to strengthen father-daughter (children) relationships.

I was first deployed to Afghanistan, then Nepal, and now I am progressing through a third deployment in Ukraine – three very different experiences. Everyone has their own way to cope with the first day. I find the first day is the hardest moment, the hardest hour, the hardest day of the next six months of my life. Hugging my children and husband until the absolute last possible second before departure, knowing that I will be missing out on so many memories, is simply heartbreaking. I have to remain strong for them, as they do for me. They are always in my heart, but until my return, farewell it is to my loved ones.

After a few hours when the initial, most difficult, period subsides, you can feel the spirit of camaraderie being instilled in everyone. We talk and laugh amongst colleagues and friendships develop, bonds are created. With friends and family support is how I overcome the next six to eight months of deployment. More often than not, comrades inevitably become your second family. Very few people can understand this strong bond.

In a few months I will look back and realize that it actually went quicker than I thought. I will be back with my family enjoying every minute with them, because it’s not the amount of time that I spend with them, but the quality of it that matters most.

When you think about it, mom or dad, we cope the same way: trust in your spouse, trust in the good values you’ve instilled in your kids, and work hard until the deployment to finishes.

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