Do You Know?

Did You Know?

Ways to support military children and families

by Sarah Nichols

Growing up, I thought I could never marry someone in the military. I didn’t like the idea of constantly moving or uprooting my future family. My nine-year-old self was devastated when my dad took a job in Arizona and moved our family across the country from upstate New York. Plus, being separated from my future husband for long periods did not sound romantic.

I met my husband in high school when young love was full of dreams and blinded from reality. Maybe Brent’s blue eyes and humor had something to do with it. I knew he had plans to join the Air Force. His dad had recently retired from the military, and he planned on following in his footsteps. We were young and plans changed. I thought this one would too, but we got married a few years out of high school, and shortly after, I was bleeding blue.

My introduction to military life was abrupt. One day I was swelling with pride as I attended his graduation ceremony, and a few months later, grieving him as he missed the birth of our firstborn while he was away serving our country.

Those first years were a blur, full of new life and assignments. There aren’t many who understand what we go through. Some even insinuate we knew what we were getting ourselves into, that we “chose this life, so grin and bear it.” When in reality, I had no idea.

Others were kinder, telling me they didn’t know how I did it and that I was so strong. I never felt strong when he was gone. I constantly felt like I was failing, especially when it came to being a parent.

I felt sorry for myself, and I felt sorry for our kids.

I remember his last deployment. Hand in hand, we headed to the airport.The silence hung between us. We were both in our heads, trying to prepare for the goodbye. Goodbyes are never easy; deployment goodbyes are awaited and dreaded at the same time.

It seems weird that we can also await something so dreaded. But once the deployment comes, we can finally start the countdown. It’s the one all military wives have the moment he leaves. We wait for the homecoming like we wait for the mailman.

We stopped at some benches before we got to the gate, sat down, prayed together for what was ahead, and the tears came. I wish I had someone standing by to capture that moment. I wondered what the surrounding travelers thought.

  • Did they know he was about to leave on a deployment?
  • Did they know we had three kids at home who would wake up and realize that Dad would be absent from their lives for more than half a year? And that we didn’t know when we would see him again?
  • Did they know that men and women do this every day?
  • Did they know that daily, men and women who serve our country miss the births of their children, birthdays, anniversaries, soccer games, first steps, first words …?
  • Did they know that the kids would act out and I (like all the other military parents) were left alone to discipline?
  • Did they know the guilt Dad would feel because he wasn’t there to help but couldn’t dwell on because of the mission?
  • Did they know that everything breaks when he is gone? Garage doors, microwaves, air conditioners, cars, you name it.
  • Did they know how alone it feels after the kids go to bed as I look over to that empty pillow, realizing I’m doing life by myself?
  • Do they see the fear that creeps in when we haven’t heard from him by a specific time, and we thought we would?
  • Do they know the connection wasn’t even that great when we finally heard from him?
  • Do they know I had to console those kids who missed him just as much as I did but didn’t know how to express their emotions?
  • Did they know how often we checked the mail and savored a letter?
  • Did they know that whenever we heard the National Anthem when he was away, that alone could send us into full-blown waterworks? Or that we repeatedly invited those same tears by watching homecoming videos on YouTube?

Military life is unique. It’s a crazy life but an honor as well.

When my husband joined the Air Force, I knew I was stepping into service even though I didn’t know what I was getting into. But I didn’t realize our future kids would be too.

It’s so powerful to military families to experience support, even if you don’t fully understand. If you are a military family, thank you for your sacrifice. Here are a few ways to support military families:

  1. Create Care Packages for Military Children

Often, military spouses and children create care packages to send to their loved ones during deployments. Creating a package specifically for the children to receive, just like the ones they make for their parents, is a fun way to celebrate them. I know our kids would have loved a box of goodies.

2. Show Up

When my husband was deployed, friends always said, “Just let me know if you need anything while he is gone.” While I know this came from a good place, it felt like one more thing on my to-do list – to ask someone for help. Instead, simply drop by with a meal or coffee; pick a kid up for a playdate or drop off a DVD, candy and popcorn for an impromptu movie night.

3. Pray

More than anything, pray for our military families. Pray for families to stay united through the countless moves, temporary duty assignments (living in the in-between) and the dreaded deployments. Pray for their marriages. Marriage can be challenging, and military families face even more obstacles.

Even though I thought I could never marry someone in the military, God had other plans. He’s funny that way. Military life is part of what made me who I am today; I’ve grown. When he is gone, I somehow find a way to open that pickle jar or get the giant spider out of our house. And I believe this life grows our children well too. Here’s to each and every one of them!

Sarah Nichols is a writer who loves encouraging women by sharing hope-filled stories that point others to Jesus. She lives in Tucson, AZ, with her husband and four kids. You can find more from Sarah at