Deployment really brings out the best in us . . . said no military spouse ever.
I don’t know about you, but when my husband deployed for the first time this past year, I came face to face with all kinds of neuroses I didn’t even know were making their home in my very active, anxious, over-processing brain.
I knew I was an introvert, which made the solo task of mothering a complicated task. I knew I needed to ask for help because I couldn’t do it on my own. But I also knew I needed a lot of alone time. My brain was lit up with all kinds of conflicting messages, and I needed time on my own to sort through them.
But there was this weird guilt thing that kept happening any time someone suggested we spend time together or offered to help. I felt like I needed to say yes because wasn’t I supposed to accept help? And company? And advice?*
Trying to figure out how not to disappoint the well-meaning and loving offers of friends and family became an added stress during an already very stressful time.
If someone you love is an introvert facing a deployment, here are some tips on how to care for her without adding to her already full and close-to-toppling-over plate:
Ask her what she needs.
Your friend needs lots of love right now, but she may not know exactly what kind of love she needs. You want to bring her meals or offer your husband’s ability to move heavy furniture? You want to visit for a month and help with the kids? That’s very kind. But know this: what works for some people will not always work for your friend. Maybe she would love to share a meal with you and chat. Maybe she’d appreciate an extra set of hands to rearrange the living room or move those boxes from the last PCS to the attic. Maybe she wants to have an endless stream of visitors coming in and out of the guest room. But there’s also a chance — and she may be embarrassed to admit it (or afraid it’s going to hurt everyone’s feelings) — that she just wants to be left alone. To get into a routine. To get her stuff done and mark off the days on a calendar. Be especially generous about this if she is mothering small children.
Ask her what she needs, and allow yourself to be OK with her answer, even if it is totally different than what you think you’d want.
Give her lots of space.
Keep in mind that introverts recharge their energy by being alone – and many introverted mamas don’t get the opportunity to decompress when they spend all day interacting with their kiddos. Your friend may really want to connect with you, but she also may not have the energy now that she is solo parenting all day and all night. Some of us don’t like answering our phones or even texting back right away because doing so actually drains some of our social energy. Talking with a dear friend may sound like a good idea, but half the time we’ll leave ours phones sitting on the nightstand while we catch up on Netflix or vent all our feelings into a journal. Trust that once she’s had the time to process her thoughts and feelings on her own, she’ll reach out to you. In the meantime, send her messages to let her know you’re thinking of her — no strings attached.
Give her notice before stopping by.
No, but seriously, do not just drop in on your introverted friend. If you’re in the neighborhood and want to say hi, great! Just text her first before you knock. As an introvert who has been known on occasion to hide from the mailman, I can tell you: if you don’t warn your friend, she may not answer her door. Even if you see her car in the driveway. And her eyes peeking through the blinds. We energy-savers often need time to prepare for socialization, so unless you are as close as a sister (and even then, for the love of all things good, you should know us by now), please do not drop in unannounced.
Send her a care package.
Or a card. Or a bouquet of flowers. Anything to let her know you’re thinking about her. Chances are, she is stopping by the post office every other week to mail off a carefully selected assortment of gifts for her deployed spouse, who may not have the ability to send things home to her and to the kids. When many of her friends and family are reaching out to only ask about him and forgetting to check in on how she’s doing, take this opportunity to remind her that she’s not forgotten. Several friends sent me small gifts throughout the course of deployment and these care packages truly lifted my spirits. My favorite gift was a necklace that came with a note, explaining its design was to remind me I wasn’t alone. Other favorites were books, coloring pages, tea, and chocolate. (Pro Tip: extroverts like care packages, too.)
Invite her to do things with you.
Want to grab cocktails? Ask her! Want to bring her wine and watch The Bachelor? Ask her! But if she says “No, thanks,” don’t take it personally. When my husband was gone, the evenings when my kids went to bed were bittersweet. Bitter, because I hated the moment I entered our bedroom and faced the reality he wouldn’t be returning to me any time soon. Sweet, because between the kids’ bedtime and mine, I had a world of opportunity awaiting me. I wrote. I sent messages to friends. I watched all the romantic comedies and documentaries. Sometimes I’d invite a friend over, which was wonderfully connecting. But mostly I would just relish the quietness of the house, the space to think and to dream and to plan. At the same time, knowing I had people who wanted to spend time with me — even when I couldn’t muster the energy — made me feel so loved.
Eventually, I’d come out of social hibernation, and it was encouraging to know there would be friends waiting for me when I did.
Remember that while deployment may increase an introvert’s tendency to withdraw from friends and family, she needs you now more than ever. Be gentle with your friend and remind her you’ll be there for her for a quiet walk or a rowdy night of Karaoke – when she’s ready.
*To the introverted: Take heart. You do not need to accept help/company/advice if it doesn’t serve you or your family at this time. Let go of the guilt. Your job during deployment is to take exquisite care of yourself and your family. Period. The end. Speak your needs and get it done, girl.