Life in the military doesn’t just apply to the individual wearing the uniform. Military life affects spouses, parents and children of our country’s service members. Each family’s situation is unique when it comes to a loved one being deployed. Chances are good there is at least one military family living in your neighborhood, whose children attend school with yours or even attend church or participate in an activity or organization with you.
So how can you offer your support to the military family in your life? Here are ten great suggestions and ways to offer your support.
- Consider adopting a family going through a deployment and check in with them periodically. Sometimes something simple like offering to help shuttle the kids to different activities or offering to grab an item or two while doing your own errands can be a big help to a family in the throes of trying to cope with missing their loved one in deployment.
- Send or contribute to a care package to someone who is deployed. Ask to find out what they really want so that you’re not sending them their 200th new package of t-shirts. Baked goods can be a great choice and they can actually ship well depending on the recipe and how you pack them. Consider gifting the service member’s spouse or children with a care package as well. Even small items like coffee gift cards, a new box of crayons or a spare phone charger can brighten someone’s day.
- Extend a personal invitation to a military family. Many times military families live far from home and extended family. It isn’t always feasible for them to be with them at times like the holiday season. But it doesn’t need to be a special occasion or holiday. Extend an invitation to a local event, over for a cup of coffee or lunch or to accompany you to worship services if you feel they might be open to it. Even if the invitation is declined, chances are good the gesture will go a long way to lessen their loneliness and help them feel like they are part of the community.
- Volunteer your time with an organization that serves the military community. There are plenty of amazing groups and they are almost always in need of helping hands. Find one that speaks to you and your interests and lend a hand. Ideas include the USO, The Wounded Warrior’s Foundation, The Fisher House Foundation just to name a few.
- Hire a military spouse (or working age child). If you aren’t in the position of hiring for your place of work, pass along the resume or vouch for them to someone in that role. Many times picking up and moving multiple times makes it harder for a military spouse to obtain employment in each new place of residence. And sometimes that one new connection to help them can make all the difference.
- Support the business of a military family. Many military spouses are entrepreneurs and have figured out how to make the technology of the 21st century work for them. Seek out and support their small businesses whether online or in “brick and mortar” form. Be sure to give them a shout out on your social media, even if you can’t afford to make a purchase in the moment. They will appreciate the support in that form just as much.
- Avoid asking prying, even well meaning, questions about emotional topics. Be a listening ear and supportive friend. They may not be seeking advice and answers but just need someone to sit with them and let them “get it out” when they need to.
- If you are involved in a school, either as an employee or parent volunteer, especially one near a military base, find ways to make the school community welcoming to military families. Remember that even young children may have moved multiple times and be in their third school before they hit “double digits” in age. Suggest adding a “New Family Liaison” to PTA/PTO boards. Invite military families to meetings for volunteer opportunities. This is a great way to help them get acquainted with the families in the school and familiar with the community.
- Even if you don’t personally know any military families or don’t feel comfortable directly offering them your support there are ways to help them or their deployed loved ones.
- Write a letter of thanks to a military family, those currently in the service or a veteran through Operation Appreciation and Blue Star Families. This organization was founded to connect the civilian population with military families as a bridge to help make military life more sustainable.
- Volunteer to foster a pet. Dogs on Deployment arranges foster care for the pets of the military when they are deployed, during basic training or if they are unable to care for them. Contact them if you are able to provide a temporary home for a beloved pet.
- Soldiers’ Angels is a global network of volunteers whose mission is to make sure no soldier goes unloved.The site offers many ways to get involved with supporting active duty military, veterans and families.
- Is your wedding dress just taking up space in your closet? Brides Across America accepts clean and gently used wedding gowns and veils/bridal accessories to give to military brides to ease the financial burden of wedding planning. They ask that gowns be under three years old.
- Treat them with kindness but don’t treat them differently. Even though they may have unique needs, the military family does not want to be isolated because of their service. Often, military families spend all of their time with other military families because others have a hard time relating to them. Recognize the unique nature of what they do but include them as you would anyone else. This means inviting them to your neighborhood barbeque, and sitting down to talk to them like any other friend. Encourage your children to play with their children. Help them to feel comfortable in a place where they might not stay long
Military families are typically only in the same place for a few years. By the time they start to make friends and build relationships it is time to move. Include them quickly into groups and gatherings so that they can build relationships with enough time to enjoy them. Go out of your way to pull them in and don’t make them wait to be accepted.
A little encouragement can go a long way in showing the military family just how thankful we are for their service to our country!