Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Keeping Daddy Involved When He's Not Home - Deployment Survival Techniques

Since I've started this blog I've had a lot of moms asking for ways to keep Daddy 'present' in their child's daily life. Though this list is by no means complete, and everyone does this differently, I thought I would tell you all how we keep things going in our household.

1. Make Memories

First and foremost, when we know a deployment is coming we start trying to plan a lot of family time together. Since our daughter is still young, it's unreasonable to expect her to really remember everything for long. There's a reason why we keep multiple cameras and video recorders in our house. Take lots of pictures. Lots and lots. And when you think you've taken too many, take some more. A lot of people get family pictures done as well.

This will give your child something he or she can actually look at to help remember spending time with Daddy. Don't delete the silly pictures because you're embarrassed. Those are the pictures you'll want to hang on to the most. Make sure there are lots of pictures with Daddy and the kid(s). Put these pictures up everywhere.

Kids cling to the silliest things that you wouldn't even think of. Baby Girl will sometimes walk around all day with her Daddy's expired driver's license clutched in her little hand.

Though no one likes to think about it, there are always risks with deployments. It doesn't matter where he is sent. Though I try to push it to the very back of my mind, I always wonder... Being a military spouse means facing harsh realities. What if this were the last chance you were ever going to get to take pictures of him? Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Snap away, ladies.

2. Videos Of Daddy

Last deployment I convinced Huzzy to record himself reading books. I never thought it was going to be the big deal it turned out to be. Baby Girl watched her video daily, and even at bedtime she preferred hearing the books that Daddy read to her. She was only 6 months old when he left, she had no understanding of what was going on or why Daddy was gone. But she did know that Daddy would show up in the TV and read her stories...for as long as she wanted.

You don't have to stop with just recording videos with him reading. Have your service member record messages to be played at specific time, such as:
  • Birthdays
  • Holidays
  • Graduation
  • Special school or family events

3. Security Items

Most kids have some sort of security item. It might be a blanket, a specific toy, a binky. When Daddy leaves, give them something to help remember him. There are a million different options, but here are a few I love:

  • Build-a-Bear - If you have one of these awesome stores near you, you should check it out. I'll warn you, it isn't cheap but it is so worth it. Your child can make and dress their own bear, and Daddy can record a special message to go inside of it. 
  • Operation Kid Comfort - These awesome people makes quilts for kids 6 and under that include pictures of their deployed parent.
  • Daddy Dolls - You need to have a full length picture of your service member to order one of these adorable dolls.

4. Don't Shy Away From Talking About Daddy

I know that when Huzzy leaves I kind of just want to pretend like nothing is different. The first few weeks I actively avoid phone calls from family and friends calling to see "how I'm handling it". It doesn't seem real yet. It hurts.

This is a painful time for everyone, and especially for children. Even though you are hurting too, you have to help them get through it.

Make talking about Daddy a normal and every day thing. It will help the kids to know that Daddy is still a part of their lives, even if he isn't there physically. If the children are old enough, make sure he is sending them letters or emails that are just for them. If they're too young to read on their own read it to them. When they ask questions about Daddy be as truthful as you can without scaring them. That too, will depend on how old they are.
    Some families still set a place at the table for Daddy. Some do countdowns. Everyone deals with this differently. Just make sure that your child(ren) know that they can talk about Daddy, and it's ok to miss him. Help them get excited about homecoming by thinking up fun things to do as a family once he returns.

    5. Keep Daddy Feeling Involved

    Lord knows that he isn't going to be able to help with every decision or every mini crisis you experience during deployment. Being deployed is tough. Being deployed and away from your children is heartbreaking. They know they're missing moments and memories they'll never be able to get back. They know they'll have to hear about first accomplishments through phone calls and email. It doesn't really get easier.

    One thing I like to do is ask Huzzy's opinion on a lot of stuff. That probably sounds pretty silly. I mean, we do that normally, right? If he's home sure. But how many times have you just done what you thought was best while they're gone and not had a second thought about it?

    I know a lot of the time I will have to make a decision before he can email me back. But I do it anyway. I tell him what's going on at home, I ask his opinions and I try to keep him involved in the way we run our family.

    Trust me, it may seem silly but it's much better than him feeling as if he has no real say or input for 6 months or more. It's the little things that matter.

    And like earlier, pictures. Lots of pictures. I take a picture of Baby Girl for every day he is gone. Every single day. It's a pain, but it is so worth it. I take video. A ridiculous amount of video. He may not be here for everything, but I try to catch it all on film.

    In our care packages, flash drives are the most precious thing you can get.

    This has been a pretty long post, and there's always more to add to it but hopefully this will help out those of you who were looking for help.

    To those of you who have gone through deployments with children, what would you add to the list?