So, you all came through with great ideas!! I mean, really great. There are a few that I definitely want to employ that I never would have thought of without your input. And I’m sure there are even more ideas out there. Here are the ones that you supplied on Facebook. I posted in a few places, so I’m combining all the information here. Thanks again for brainstorming with me!
For churches and volunteer groups:
1. Adopt-a-Military Family: This program can be whatever you want it to be, but basically, a non-military family “adopts” a military family to help with whatever needs that family might have. You’ll need a POC (point of contact), advertisement/communication and some ROE (rules of engagement, come on, you knew that one!), so that everyone involved knows what to expect. The non-military family is the go-to for babysitting, lawn mowing, whatever. It can be just during deployments, which is fine, or for as long as you’re at your duty station… wouldn’t it be great to have a local family that you can connect with for your whole tour? Fun.
2. Groups of local volunteers who serve once a month on base or off base military neighborhoods (ex. Lincoln Military Housing): This idea was new to me, and I think it’s great. So, for example, if a group wants to help with yard care one day during the month, they could contact a point person on the base or in the neighborhood to get out the date and time to folks, and have them sign up with their address. Preference, of course, for the deployed service members families. Maybe the next month is washing cars… pick your theme. It could even be just random task day. Some times you just need that extra hand to scrub that crayon off the wall, because you’ve been looking at it for weeks, but forget about it every time you leave the room. The ideas are endless, and can be combined with any listed below.
3. Parent’s Night Out: Find a volunteer with a large house or an available church Sunday school room, and take on some kids so that single parent can have a night out! This is best for elementary aged kids with later bedtimes.
4. List of Babysitters: Churches or even FFSC could help by providing a list of trusted sitters. I know Sittercity.com is free to military families, but for some reason, I haven’t opted to use that yet. I prefer to get my sitters via word-of-mouth from a trusted friend… so for me a list of teens or young adults, heck even adults, or grandmas for that matter, from church would be awesome.
5. List of Mother’s Helpers: Same idea as above, but this is the unpaid volunteer version. A list of people that would help out families while mom or dad is at home (cooking dinner, taking a shower, cleaning up the mess that is a house with three small kids, etc…) This could possibly count toward the quota for community service hours that some high schools require.
So here are some ideas for what individuals can actually do to help as volunteer or adoptive family.
1. Evening Help: Bed time routine (baths, pjs, brushing teeth, reading books, etc) and/or cleaning up dinner dishes/kitchen)
2. Morning Help: Morning routine (dressed, fed and out the door for school and/or cleaning up breakfast dishes/kitchen)
3. Meals Delivered: Breakfast or dinner would be a great help. For me, dinner is the hardest. (Great website: www.takethemameal.com)
4. Babysitting/Mother’s Helper: The key here is regularity, whether paid or volunteer, if I leave or stay, I want to be able to count on having a certain time every week that I know I will have help. (Thanks AH!)
5. Yard Care: Mowing, weeding, mulching, planting… I would love to do all of these. My mom has a green thumb, and I’ve always wanted to see if she passed it on to me. I know gardening would be a stress reliever but… K says I kill plants. I just have a little trouble remembering to water them with all the other little people wanting my attention. I can’t love the yard too. Good thing we don’t have a pet.
6. Car Cleaning: Washing and/or vacuuming… You know how necessary this is with little ones. Gross.
7. House Cleaning: Maybe just the kitchen or a bathroom or the floors, or that gross refrigerator smell that you can't seem to find! Even take up a collection for a house cleaning service. What a treat!
8. Carpool: To or from an activity or school… Putting everyone in car seats is a pain… how nice it would be to just send my little guy out the door with a friend’s mom or just have him show up at the door for lunch at noon. I might be drooling over this one.
9. Run Small Errands (post office, returns, etc..): Again, it’s so not worth it to have to get multiple kids in and out of car seats just to return that one item that you knew you didn’t need, but bought it anyway. (I’ve never experienced buyer’s remorse. No, never.) Or, maybe you just need milk and eggs… and wine and chocolate...
10. Evening Adult Conversation: Ahhh… kids are in bed, you’re ready to watch your show on Netflix, you’ve got your wine and chocolate… and no one to talk to. Bummer. Once a week would be enough for me!
11. Fold Laundry: Just one basket! Please?
12. Take Out the Trash: Awe. Some. You could even collect it all from inside and take the cans to the street! Diaper trash and all. Just one extra task that I dislike doing, that K always takes care of when he’s home. When I take it out while he’s gone, I always think of him I miss him even more.
13. Crafts: Organize and buy supplies for kids to do at home, and maybe actually come over and do the craft with them!
14. Baby-sitting Co-op: This can be as lax or strict as you desire, but basically, moms take turns watching the kids while the other moms go do whatever for a few hours. We had about six moms in our group in Norfolk, VA. We rotated houses, and the host mom stayed along with one other mom to watch about seven or eight kids. We started at one year old, so that no one was trying to feed infants while trying to pay attention to the toddlers. There is a site called www.babysitterexchange.com that has a free online organization service. It's even searchable for groups by zip code.
15. Dinner Swap: Parents take turns hosting dinner/playdate… this can be fun and crazy sometimes!
16. Tutoring/Homework Help: Helping kids with homework while the parent is tending to other littler children or making dinner would be amazing. (Or you could help with little ones, while the parent helps with schoolwork.)
17. Man Time: Asking a trusted male friend to help “fill in” for Dad (or vice versa). Just a simple conversation where the kids feel heard, ten minutes spent throwing a ball with them or teaching them to ride their bikes, any kind of quality interaction with a caring man is invaluable. Maybe you could set up play dates with a trusted male family friend who is tasked with focusing his time/energy specifically towards the military children. (This is pretty much verbatim from a close friend of mine. She did this, and it was just what her kids needed. Thanks WC!)
I think the last one is my favorite. I had my dad and father-in-law here a lot during the last deployment, and that was great for my kids. They threw the ball around, built train tracks, went swimming, wrestled, read books, built puzzles… just what the kids needed. This time around, they won’t be here as often, and it’s a longer deployment, so looks like I’m going to have to find a friend!
I hope this helps you find some relief during deployment. Maybe you can find a church, a neighbor, or a family that wants to support military families, but just doesn’t know how to connect or what is needed. Take these ideas and run with them. Remember that you are allowed to ask for help… even if it’s just one-on-one with a friend. Tell them your needs, and let them serve you. Take care of yourself too. We military spouses tend to give of ourselves to everyone else, and forget about our own needs. It’s important that you don’t lose your mind. Really, your kids will thank you.