Deployments are hard.
They become hard on a whole different level when children are involved. It is difficult for the spouses left behind to carry all the responsibilities, hard on the children who miss their parent and often aren't old enough to understand why Mom or Dad is leaving and that they are coming back. It is also hard on the deploying service member who has to leave and be away from their family.
My husband left to go back to Japan (where we were stationed at the time) when my daughter was 2 weeks old. He wasn't back living in our house until she was 6 months, and has deployed numerous times since...we now have 2 kids and here are a few of the things I have done to try and make it easier on everyone.
- Start a blog. I did this when my daughter was an infant and my husband couldn't see her and all the rapid changes that are the first 6 months of life! I posted pictures and updates and even though he wasn't able to access it most of the time, when he was able to look at it he was able to catch up on a lot of what he had missed. We still have this blog (not updated quite as frequently, lol) and it is a great scrapbook of their little lives.
- Record the service member reading to the children. You can do this with just audio but my kids love watching Daddy on the TV reading them their favorite books. Just a warning, make sure to record several... the same books over and over for weeks and months can be a little much. Variety is key!
- When my husband was gone I made a "Daddy Book" that was just a Brag Book full of pictures of Daddy, some with the kids and some just Daddy. They love to flip through the pages of this little book. Pictures are easy to slide out and update for future deployments.
- Skype! This has been the single best thing we did during deployments. It isn't always possible, but if you have the opportunity to Skype during a deployment it can make such a difference. We were very concerned about my youngest remembering Daddy over a deployment when he was under a year old. We had the opportunity to Skype quite a bit and it took my son very little time to adjust to Daddy being back home afterwards.
- Reading books about Deployment can help little ones get a better understanding of the situation. Here is a selection of Books About Deployment. We personally have a copy of Record a Story: Sesame Street, Together at Heart that my kids have listened to/read over and over again. They really like hearing their Daddy's voice and any book about Elmo is always a huge hit at our house!
Some other ideas:
- Make a paper chain, one link for each day of the deployment. I have heard of lots of different ways of doing this, some people send the links to their service member, some toss them away, some create a new chain so they can watch the progress.
- Daddy Dolls- Dolls made using a photography of the deployed service member. These can be a great comfort and a way of having the parent "close by". Some families may be eligible for a free doll through Operation Hug-A-Hero. Their eligibility criteria can be found HERE.
- Photo Puzzle- Make a puzzle out of a favorite family photograph. This can be fun for the older kids!
- Have a photo of the deployed service member scanned onto a pillow case. This can help make bedtime a little bit easier!
- Sesame Street Workshop has many resources for Military Families including families with deployed parents on their website. There is also a wonderful video that encourages kids to share their feelings about Deployments. You can watch this video HERE. There is also an Elmo video specifically about Deployments that can be ordered through MilitaryOneSource.com
- Flat Daddy/Mommy- life sized photos of deployed service members to help children cope with deployment. Sometimes these are available at no cost, you can apply for a free Flat Daddy/Mommy by clicking HERE. Thanks Kimberly for sharing this one!
I would love to hear what worked for your family, please post additional ideas in comments. Hopefully we can give some ideas to the families currently dealing with deployment!
One reason I created MyActiveChild.com was to give families a resource of things to do with the kids, and I have been to many events on our Calendar while trying to fill time during a deployment. Please share this post and our website calendar with families who may be able to use the resource while they are missing their loved one.