What About The Kids?

My mailbox is jammed with back-to-school catalogs and it got me thinking about one of my Army families. Dad is deploying soon after the school year starts. Last time his son was an infant. Now the boy is starting preschool and they also have a two-year-old girl. Along with backpacks and crayons, I wondered what was on their to-do list as they prepped the kids for the year ahead?

I found many sites with long articles and early childhood development-type strategies that sounded smart. But I kinda just wanted to know, mom-to-mom, what the deal was. So I called the wife and asked. Elle* was kind enough answer a few questions and share a few tips (*all names changed for privacy.)

Questions

ME: Last time, you were a new mom, your son was a newborn and your husband John missed the first year. Is it harder this time or easier?

ELLE: It’s harder now. Last time, Jake was a baby. John missed milestones. Now he’ll be missing Jake expressing his imagination and the person he’s becoming.

ME: What’s the most important thing you want to do right now?

ELLE: I want to make sure both kids have the best relationship possible and make great memories with John. The impression John leaves now is what they’ll have left to hold onto and that I’ll reinforce. So I’ve been doing a lot more of the disciplining. Being more of the “bad guy” and letting John be the “good guy.” 

ME: What’s one of the harder parts?

ELLE: You don’t want to scare the kids but, other kids talk. They hear the news. You can’t control what your kids will hear. And bedtime. That’s when they miss John most. During the day, they’re busy and he’s usually at work so, they don’t expect to see him then. 

ME: What’s a wish-for? What one thing could a civilian do to be supportive at this time?

ELLE: I think it would be nice to be invited to things without the invitation being all about John’s absence. So it feels normal and not overly dramatic. So we just feel included. It is a big deal for us that he’s gone, but I want to give my kids as much normal as possible. Dad’s just at work. Dad will be back.

Tips

A big thing is maintaining a routine (good for all kids!) You also want them to feel connected to the deployed parent and help them visualize the passage of time. Below are some tips from Elle. I also spoke to an Air Force wife, Christina, who has a teenaged daughter. Of course, these tips work whether it’s daddy or mommy that’s deployed.

Take one of Daddy’s shirts, sew the arms and bottom closed, then stuff it with batting and sew the neck closed so kids can snuggle with it. They also make plush daddy dolls that have a picture of the soldier.

Help them keep a journal each night of the exciting things they did that day so they can remember and tell Daddy.

Start a deployment chain where you either make the paper chain and take one link off each day as a count down. Or add a link for each day they’re gone. Or put a penny in a jar for each day, then use that money to buy Daddy something or go shopping with Daddy. Or you add jelly beans to a jar for each day.

Jelly Bean Countdown

For most deployments, you’d need more jelly beans than I have here. But as the jar fills up, it’s easy to see that means Dad or Mom is closer to coming home.

~Make a Daddy Map. We put up a world map and then added tacks for where we were and where Daddy was. Then we used yarn to attach each point. Every stop he made along the way to Afghanistan, we added another tack and more yarn. So we were always connected. We only took off yarn with each stop on his way home. 

Record Daddy reading bedtimes stories. Skype whenever you can.

Let my daughter “take care”of something that belonged to Daddy. Always just something small, but she was in charge of it and got to give it back to him.

Let your child make a life-sized drawing of themselves and then mail it to their deployed parent.

Take lots of fun picture of them together, laminate them and let the kids play with them.

-There are some awesome ideas on Pinterest too.

Every child is different

Even if you make awesome routines, follow tips and do everything, “right,” every child is different. I knew one boy that was having a hard time so I called in the FDNY to give me a hand. I’m hoping Elle and John’s kids do well. But I will keep them in mind and from time to time I’ll consult my Child Expert; my 8-year-old daughter Sofia. She’s full of great ideas on how to make someone smile in any situation.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

19 thoughts on “What About The Kids?

  1. Gina,
    Great post! It is so hard on the kids when we deploy. My son might do well with the jelly bean idea (if he doesn’t eat them all). They need something tangible, something to focus on to help them get through and see an end. They just want their Dad (or Mom) back. I think the deployments are longest for them.

    • I love all the ways these Moms found to help their kids feel more connected to their Dads. Christina told me how her daughter would touch the yarn when he called on the phone. As you say, something tangible. And yes, the jelly bean idea does have that one flaw…it may not survive deployment 🙂

  2. There are tons of great countdown ideas on pinterest and ideas for deployment too. Your blog is great and it is encouraging to know that someone has “left the mall”. The ASYMCA offers some great things for kids over deployment. I worked for Operation Hero which was a free after school program to help the kids acclimate academically and socially (deal with deployment and military lifestyle). My favorite thing was volunteering making quilts for the children of deployed soldiers while my husband was deployed. The kids love them and they have 9 pictures of the kid with the deployed parent.

    • Thanks for reading and for sharing the info on ASYMCA! I like to know what programs and charities my readers have had positive experiences with. I will add this link to the Reader Reco’s in the Ways To Make A Difference page.

      I think the quilt with a pictures is a wonderful idea. For a kid to be able to wrap themselves up in this kind of hug seems especially comforting. Doing this while your husband was deployed….well, I can see how that adds meaning for both you and the kids. Thank you for everything you and your husband do. On the home front and everywhere else.

    • I didn’t realize till I had Sofia how true this is. Visualization was the only way I could “prove” to her that Sunday was NOT two days long and end some nightmare Monday mornings. If she had to grasp this much greater period of time, I’d head straight to the craft store.

  3. It is hard on parents too. My daughter has been gone since March. She is in the Navy and is in the middle east right now. I put an x on the calendar for every day she is gone and her nieces and nephew have been helping send her things. I love the jelly bean idea for them and may try it although I think the boy may sneak eat them.

    • I’ve spoken to a few parents and written posts about what they’ve shared with me. It’s clear that the whole family serves. I thank your daughter and entire family for all you do.

      I hope your daughter is doing well where she is. You’ve got quite a few x’s on that calendar by now so I hope you’ve passed the halfway mark or gone well beyond it! As for the jelly beans… they are hard to resist. The paper chain may be the safer option 🙂

  4. It gets harder for the kids as they get older. By my 4th deployment in five years my oldest son (then ten years old) understood why his dad was gone all the time, and he hated it. Time passes and things get better, but your tips will really help to make things as good as they can be during deployments!

    • Mike, as always, appreciate your perspective. 4x in 5 years…spanning half your son’s life, I can completely understand your son’s feelings. Once again, it’s easy to see that the entire family serves and sacrifices.

      I do hope the tips are helpful for families facing deployment. I also hope they create a little more understanding for what military kids go through.

  5. Great Post! I love the ideas. This gave me a real sense of the loss experienced by army wives and kids, to be honest, it’s not something that I think about it since my country is not at war. I’m sure that this will help a lot of persons to cope with the situation.

    • Thank you! In the U.S., about 1% of the population is Active Duty. That means most of us here are protected and benefit from the service of a very small group. I think it’s important to know and (hopefully) care about what that service truly entails. And I’m very happy your country is not at war. As I like to say, I keep hoping for an outbreak of world peace.

  6. Some wonderful suggestions, Gina. I especially like the penny in a jar idea. I can see how that’d really appeal to a young kid. Being able to buy a present for Daddy when he comes home. I think it’s wonderful how much more aware people in the military are these days of these kind of issues. How they’re striving as best they can to reduce their impact.

    • NP, you bring up a very good point about awareness. In the past, kids were often expected to tough it out (as were their parents) Also, technical options such as skype didn’t exist. I’m glad there is more understanding, support, and communication options for today’s military children. And that something as simple as a jar and some pennies can be worth so much.

  7. Sometimes it’s only when you read things like this that it brings home how hard it is for families of those that are deployed around the world.
    You’ve given some brilliant ideas but I also know that it might not work for everyone so it’s good to have the tips coming in regular from those who do know.
    You’re doing such a good job here Gina and helping so many people. Keep it up mate.

    • RPD,
      You touched on one of the reasons I do this, which is to increase understanding. I think the more civilians understand, the less chance there is that our military families will feel like they’re in this alone. Hopefully, helping to share their tips will aid other families facing the same situation. Thank you for reading. And thank you for the kind words 🙂

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