Deployments are tough on the whole family. It can be especially confusing for children who are too young to fully understand what is happening.
My son, Charlie, is 2 and these are some of the ways we keep connected with Daddy while he is gone. Most (if not all) of these ideas are appropriate for older children as well.
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Talk About It
The first thing we do when we learn my husband will be leaving for a deployment or extended training is talk about it. Children understand more than we realize! When they see a parent packing or getting together all of their gear they should know why. I am always surprised by how perceptive my son is, even at just 2 years old.
Before my husband leaves, we talk about how Daddy has to travel for work soon and will be gone for a long time. We talk about how Daddy will come back home when he’s done working.
When we wave good-bye to the big white buses we talk about how Daddy got on the bus so he can go to an airplane to fly to another country to help people. We talk about how we are going to miss him and he is going to miss us, but that it will be extra special when he comes home because we will be so excited to see each other.
During the deployment or extended training I incorporate my husband into daily conversations with my son. Here are some ways I bring him into the conversation:
- During meals – Do you know your Daddy loves that food? What do you think Daddy is eating for dinner?
- Remember when we did […] with Daddy?
- What do you want to do with Daddy when he gets home?
- Can you draw a picture of Daddy?
- Can you build a truck with those legos that looks like Daddy’s?
You get the idea. Talking about my husband keeps my son thinking about him. It’s also reminds him that even though Daddy is gone now, he will come back home.
Aren’t we so blessed to live in the era of text messaging and video chat? During deployments I constantly think about how lucky I am that I get to communicate with my husband regularly and even occasionally see his face.
We try to video chat once every couple of weeks, but it totally depends on where my husband is and the quality of internet. Sometimes we’re lucky and can get a whole hour of clear wonderful video chat. Other times we wait weeks for a call to go through only to have it drop after 10 minutes.
I try not to rely on my husband being able to call, because so often there are snags along the way like poor internet quality or a last minute meeting he has to attend. BUT those times that we do get to see his face and have a conversation are oh so special!
There are a couple of ways you can keep your deployed service member involved in story time.
One idea is to have your significant other record videos reading a few of your child’s favorite books. I have several friends who do this when prepping to leave for a deployment. When your child is missing their parent they can watch the videos and follow along with the book while they watch. This is a great way for children to see the service member any time while they are away without having to rely on an internet connection (which may or may not be available).
Another idea is to send a couple books with your deployed service member to read with your child over video chat. We have sent books in care packages for my husband to read to my son. I buy 2 copies of the book – 1 to send to my husband and 1 to keep at home for my son. That way my son can follow along with his copy while my husband reads. Charlie gets so excited to see that Daddy has the same book as him.
Get your child involved in care packages! My son loves to draw and paint pictures to send to Daddy. When my husband receives the care package he will send us pictures of my son’s artwork hanging up in his bunk. Charlie gets so proud to see his artwork on display and loves seeing pictures of my husband with the things he’s made.
My son also helps with shopping for care package items. Charlie likes to pick out a greeting card to include the package (he always picks a singing one). He also chooses what color photo album we will use to fill up with pictures to send Daddy. If we’re sending cookies or other food I’ll show him 2 choices and let him pick which one to send.
He helps me pack the boxes and take them to the post office. Through the whole process we talk about about how excited Daddy will be to receive all of the goodies we’ve gotten him. My husband sends a picture when he receives the package so Charlie can see that everything he picked out made it all the way to Daddy.
We keep family photos throughout the house and Charlie likes to point out Daddy in the pictures. We also keep small plastic photo albums from the Dollar Store with my son’s books. I fill these up with photos of Charlie and my husband together and photos that my husband sends me while he is away. Charlie loves looking at these books!
My favorite place to keep photos is on the fridge because they are at eye level for my son. I use these magnet frames from Amazon. I love them for a lot of reasons. It’s easy to switch out photos with new ones. They look nice. And my son can easily take photos off the fridge and put them back on by himself. He actually spends quite a bit of time playing with these. He will take the pictures off and talk about them, carry them around the house, bring them to me to show me, rearrange them on the fridge or just sit in front of the fridge to look at them and “talk to Daddy”.
I ask my husband to send me a new picture of him every so often while he is away so I can add a new “daddy picture” to the fridge. I also keep family pictures from before my husband left and pictures of family that live far away.
Every night when I tuck Charlie into bed I say, “Night night. I love you. Daddy loves you.” Now that he is getting older, his sweet little voice responds with, “Night night. I love you. I love Daddy.” Isn’t that so sweet!?
Whatever your bedtime routine is, there are many ways to add in a special moment for your significant other while they are away. Here are a couple more ideas:
- Say a special prayer
- Blow a goodnight kiss and send it to the service member
- Say goodnight to a photo of the service member
Whether it’s your first deployment or you have many under your belt, each separation provides new challenges for families. I hope these ideas help your child to feel connected to their parent when they are away.
And don’t forget, this is hard for you too, Mama! Keep doing your best, reach out for help when you need it and remember, you’re not alone. There are lots of us who are learning the ropes of balancing military life and motherhood. And you can totally do this!
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I want to hear from you!
What are some ways you keep your service member “present” for your kids while he/she is away?