Dear Mr. Dad: You’ve written a lot about dads in the military, but I’m in the opposite situation—my wife is a deployed Marine, and I’m at home with the kids. I’m feeling completely overwhelmed. What can I do to support her and keep myself—and the kids–sane?

A: First of all, thank you both for your service. With women making up about 11 percent of deployed servicememebers, you’re not alone. Here are a few ideas that may help.

  • Don’t fill your e-mails or phone calls with complaints or tell her about problems she can’t do anything to resolve. You’ll just frustrate her. But don’t paint an overly rosy picture either—she’ll get suspicious that you’re covering something up.

  • Care packages—treats, reading material, and drawings from the kid—are great. Include a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger before he got fat and became governor of California, but Photoshop your face on to Arnold’s neck.
  • I hate to bring up gender stereotypes, but men often do have a harder time asking for help than women. Get over it. Spouses who stay informed and have a solid support network cope better than those who don’t. The base Family Readiness Group (FRG)/Key Volunteer Network/Ombudsman program/Key Spouse program will have workshops on various deployment-related issues, and social activities for parents and kids. It won’t be easy getting welcomed into the network of military wives, but don’t give up. You’ll eventually be adopted by a group of women, many of whom will insist on mothering you. Enjoy it, but not too much. If you’re near Fort Bragg, NC, check out a group called Rear D Dads, a volunteer-run organization designed to help guys with deployed wives. And while you’re reversing stereotypes, bake some cookies for your spouses’ group.
  • Keep handy contact names and phone numbers for the family support group and your wife’s unit’s rear deployment people. Also have a hard copy of her deployment orders and most recent leave and earnings statement (LES).
  • Kids crave routines, so help them—and yourself—by getting on a schedule. Tuesday night is Vietnamese takeout, Friday, it’s pizza and a movie, Saturdays are field trips to museums, parks, zoos, etc. Sunday nights you get a sitter and go hang with your buddies.
  • Volunteer at the family support group. Helping other at-home dads will do you and them a world of good. You may also get a line on some terrific babysitters.
  • Help her celebrate. There’s an excellent chance that your wife’s going to miss some major holidays. So as the big days approach, grab your camera. Take pictures of the kids’ special school projects. If you’re making something at home, film that too. If possible, include the finished product in your next care package along with any holiday-related paraphernalia you can stuff in—a mini Christmas tree, Hanukkah candles, a Halloween costume, or whatever.
  • In 2008, when Air Force doctor Ginger Bohl’s son was six months old, she was deployed to Afghanistan. Not one to let little things like war, 8,000 miles, and ten time zones get in her way, Ginger took along a breast pump, and every other week couriered home 30-40 pounds of frozen breastmilk. Bohl’s husband then filled the cooler up with goodies and sent it back. The customs guys in New York initially thought the Bohls were running some kind of elaborate smuggling ring. Clearly, this approach isn’t for everyone, but it just goes to show how far people will go to stay connected with their family.

Semper Fi!