My daughter asks me to sing her Daddy’s song every night as I tuck her into bed. As I sing the John Denver lyrics, it takes strength some nights for my voice not to falter or for me to show any sadness, “I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again. Oh, babe I hate to go…”. Despite making me emotional, I am glad she closely associates nuances in her daily life with her father. It helps her cope with his absence and will hopefully make reintegration a smoother process.
My spouse and I tried to plan (as best we could) for him to stay connected with our two young girls (ages three and one). This is our first deployment experience with children, so we leaned heavily on advice from family and friends who had been through it before.
Here are some of my suggestions to keep connected with your children during a deployment:
- Prepare for the separation in advance
- Record videos of you reading books (I recorded my spouse reading- focusing on the pages, but I wish I had some that just showed his face). My girls love to watch videos of just him and I don’t have many). I uploaded our videos to a private YouTube channel so they wouldn’t max out the storage on my phone (and we can watch them anywhere)
- Put a map on the wall and explain where you are and where you will be. (Bonus: your kids get a geography lesson. I admit I needed to brush up on my geography skills as well!)
- Take your child to work to show them what you will be doing while you are far from home. This will help them understand a bit more about what you do at work.
- Take the time to put together a half-way night box or special treat/gift for each child to open later.
- Take pictures of you doing your job (this helps the kids remember what an important role you are playing)
- Print photos and put them into cheap plastic photo book for each to keep
- Photo gifts like Daddy Dolls®, a photo pillow case or blanket will be cherished by your kids while you are away
- Schedule a family photo shoot so you and your kids have a recent picture to display. This is especially important for young children who may take some time to warm up to you when you return.
- Encourage family involvement in care packages. Let your kids paint the boxes, add art projects and treasures (my daughter added a few rocks and leaves she thought were neat). Here are a few ideas for great care packages (Easter, Mother’s Day, Christmas, Valentine’s Day)
- Create a unique Countdown- This will help your family conceptualize the time you will spend away, and help them get more excited about the homecoming date as it approaches. Pick which method suites your family’s tastes, like a kiss jar, paper chain or a calendar.
How do you stay connected with your children while you are deployed?
About the Blogger: Briana Hartzell is a Navy spouse, mother to two beautiful girls (3 years and 1 year), a former full time USAA employee and a graduate of Texas A&M University. Briana writes at Being Briana, a blog focused on the joys that military life and parenthood can bring.