If you live in a community with active duty military families but have never been a part of the military yourself it can be difficult to know how to support them. You may want to meet their unique needs but don’t know where to begin. The military family makes unique sacrifices to defend the freedoms that we all enjoy and a little bit of effort to encourage and support them goes further than you may ever know.
So what can you do?
Here are ten ways, among many, to show your support to military families:
1. Pray for them.
Pray for God’s provision and safety and that he, the God of all comfort, will minister to them. As you pray for military families God will not only meet their needs, but will reveal in a special way other things that you can do to be a blessing to them.
2. Don’t forget them.
Even when the whole family is together and the service member is not currently deployed, military families are often far away from extended family. This makes holidays and birthdays and other “special” days difficult. Go out of your way to include them in meals and other events that they may otherwise spend with parents, grandparents, and siblings. This becomes even more important if the service member is deployed.
3. Be kind to the kids.
Mom and Dad are dealing with the unique stress of getting ready for a deployment, experiencing a deployment, or recovering from a deployment. While most marriages will deal with short times of separation, the military couple will spend months at a time separated. It is easy in the midst of all of this for the kids to get lost. Go out of your way to spend time with them. Remember their birthdays and include them in family activities. Encouraging the kids encourages the whole family!
4. Don’t try to empathize.
Unless you have experienced deployments and extended periods of separation don’t try to empathize. A spouse traveling for an extended business trip is not the same as a spouse traveling to a combat zone for as many as eighteen months. Your story is your story but don’t try to make it the equivalent of someone else’s story. Be there, listen, and encourage but don’t empathize. This tends to discourage and make the military family member feel more isolated than they already are.
5. Encourage them.
Write notes, send texts and spend time together. You do not have to do something big, just be encouraging. Let them know that you have not forgotten them, appreciate their service, and care.
6. Offer child care. During a deployment the spouse who is still at home is, for all practical purposes, a single parent. Watching the kids, even for a few hours, can give them the time and space they need to get things done or just relax for a little while. When a spouse comes home from a deployment, giving the couple some time away from the kids to re-engage can be very helpful. Make yourself available to take care of the kids.
7. Do jobs around the house.
When a spouse is deployed, things around the house still need to be done. Things break and need maintenance. If you have the ability to do odd jobs or meet specific needs around the house make yourself available. This may keep relatively small things from becoming overwhelming.
8. Don’t treat them differently.
Even though they do 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.
9. Do things regularly for them to let them know you care.
10. Include them quickly.
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!
Jeremy Stalnecker is the Director of Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs. He served as a USMC Infantry Officer in Operation Iraqi Freedom and then became a pastor when he returned to civilian life. Through Mighty Oaks, Jeremy has brought together his ministry experience and military background to serve and minister to many hurting veterans, service members and their families. Jeremy, his wife Susanne and their four children live in Central California. www.mightyoaksprograms.org
Publication date: May 21, 2015