My husband left for Army basic training right before our daughter turned a year old. They had an amazing bond, and one of my husband’s fears was that during his almost seven months away (almost 10 weeks of basic and 18 weeks for AIT), she would forget who he was. If you saw the two of them together, you would have never believed that little girl could forget her daddy! But because there would hardly be any communication during basic and minimal time during his AIT training, we did some simple things before he left that I truly believe helped our daughter retain a sense of her father during this time in her life where daddy was absent.
If you or your spouse have a deployment coming up, I recommend trying these out. They aren’t hard to do and certainly won’t hurt! Plus, having a bit of a plan might help alleviate some of your anxieties about the upcoming separation.
Make videos of Mommy or Daddy reading and singing.
Our daughter, from the moment she was born, loved music. It could instantly calm her and make her stop crying when upset. Music also would cause her to smile when she was already content. Since her first weeks, my husband had a special song he would sing to her every night before bed and often during the day when they had a moment together. Everyone who knew her, knew this was her favorite song. He could start singing it and she would just gaze at him transfixed until he stopped. So we knew we had to record him singing it for her. I recorded a video of him singing her special song on my laptop and on my phone. We also recorded several videos on both my phone and laptop of him reading different books to her. He and I would read her a bedtime story every night — so that is something we made sure to continue even during his absence.
Record Mommy or Daddy’s voice in specialized books.
There are many books out there now designed for long distance relationships with children in which you can record your voice to be played with the touch of a button on each page. Our daughter loved flipping through books, looking at pictures and pretending to read, so hearing her daddy’s voice as she was flipping through pages reading to her was an absolute delight — as if he were right there behind the book reading to her like he always had. Our favorite one was “If…” by Frank Boylan from the Record-A-Story series.
Show pictures or videos of Mommy or Daddy and child together.
Every day, I tried to show videos and/or pictures to our daughter of her daddy and her together. I’d ask, “Who is that?” and talk about how much daddy can’t wait to hug, kiss, and play with her again. It was important to my husband that I reiterate to her not only who he was but that he loved and missed her, and I imagine she feels it was important to her, too.
As young children do, our daughter changed rapidly while my husband was away. Before he left, she spoke three words, could only slowly crawl, and was still nursing predominantly. By the time he came back, she was running, could say multiple words together, and eating just table food and drinking from a cup.
But even though he had been gone for more than a third of her life, because of our planning and diligent reminders, she still ran right to her daddy when she saw him again, squealing, “DADA” with arms outstretched. And there is no amount of time and effort that is too great for a moment like that.