My husband was home for a measly five weeks when he got orders for his next deployment. That marked four deployments within six years. Our world would be flipped upside down, once again.
I was already constructing the conversations in my head that we would have to have with our sweet boys (ages 3 and 5). We had done it before; we would AND could do it again.
Preparing for deployment is an overwhelming time for anyone. Throw kids into the mix, and it is downright daunting. Children can sense energy and anticipation, so it’s crucial to help them feel secure in the weeks and days leading up to the deployment.
Here are 5 ways to help guide your children and your family through this adjustment period:
This will depend on how old your kiddos are, but give your kids plenty of time to absorb the news and information about the deployment. If they are school-aged, it may be best to have conversations as early as possible. This will allow them plenty of time to talk about it with you. Younger children don’t really have a concept of time, so waiting until a few weeks before deployment may be best to prevent confusion. Let them ask questions, really listen to their thoughts, and be honest with them in a way they can comprehend.
Talk about the WHERE and WHY
Be open with them about where dad or mom is going and why their job is taking them there (again, age-appropriate). I recommend getting a big world map that they will see every day. You can mark where you live and where dad or mom will be while they are deployed! It really helps them visualize and provides a smidge of comfort. It might even turn into a comforting routine for your child.
Talk about what events and holidays will be happening during the deployment – then celebrate them early! I think one of the most difficult parts of having a parent on the other side of the world is the big days and moments that are missed. Find ways to put a twist on making up for future missed moments.
Eat the birthday cake now! Dress up in costumes and indulge in candy! Put up the Christmas tree and watch The Grinch! Even if it seems silly, it can only end in laughter, happy memories, and possibly (no definitely) cake.
Designate a Special Item
Decide on a special item for each of your kids to cherish while the deployed parent is away. For older kids, this gift could be a favorite picture of them together or a coin from the country they’ll be in. For younger kids, you could gift a special book or voice recorded stuffed animal. Think sentimental- something they can cling to while dad or mom is away.
Create a Homecoming Countdown System
No, we never know the exact amount of days the deployment will last. But we typically have a ballpark. Take time before the deployment to set up a countdown system!
Get creative together with this project! Some ideas might be “250 chocolate kisses in a jar for the 250 days you’re away.” Your kids can eat one every day and watch them disappear with the days. The importance of a countdown is that your kiddos can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It will provide them with comfort and a reminder that mom or dad will not be gone forever and will be coming home soon.
Deployments are heavy for everyone in the family. But our kids truly bank on our lead and strength. As long as you communicate with your little humans and prepare the best you can, you will all be better prepared for the transition and the time apart.
Deployments are tough but so are military families. We are resilient!