When embarking on this deployment I realized I was entering new territory with my two small children. For prior military separations, they were too little to understand where daddy was and he wasn’t gone this long. In preparation, I started asking my friends a few months out for their best advice and I also read as much as I could for tips on how to thrive during the deployment.
The best advice I got was from my friend Lindsey who said to never say that daddy is at work and to always refer to it as his deployment to Afghanistan. Otherwise, children might be confused and think he is just nearby like with other trainings. Knowing we would be spending all of the major holidays apart, I also looked for ideas to make the holidays special while separated.
All of this research came in handy as I am also the SFRG leader for the company and I’ve been able to share the resources I found with others in the same situation. I have taken all of the advice and made it work for me and my family and I hope sharing it will help others through their deployments.
IDEAS TO HELP KIDS THRIVE
There are many ways to help deployments be a positive time for children, and to help them stay connected to their deployed parent. Here are some things that are working for my family:
Holidays – We will be spending all of the major holidays as a split family. It is important to keep traditions going in the best way possible. This year I got both the kids and dad the same Lego Advent calendar so that they could do it together, yet apart. They take photos every day to compare, and then talk about it when they can.
Deployment Wall – I created a deployment wall and researched what things would be best to include for children under five. Our wall consists of a cubby bookcase, a world map for the wall, wall clocks, heart stickers to go on the map where loved ones are, and countdown items. I also looked into the best ways my children could communicate with dad and made a section in the cubbies where they could put pictures and mail they make for him. I checked out milspouse-owned Etsy shops for deployment wall decals, countdown jars, and other items.
Books – Books are a great way for children to visualize and relate to situations that are happening in their own lives. Months out, I bought many kids books on deployment that we could read together. Our favorite is Daddy Left with Mr. Army by Chandelle Walker. This book is age-appropriate for grade school children and helps them talk about their feelings. I ordered an extra and gave it to the kids’ daycare for their book sharing program.
Other books I purchased were recordable books. I found them on Amazon and sent them over in care packages and my husband then sends them back with the recording done. The kids love getting them and listen to the books over and over.
For Counting Down Days – My kids do not love chocolate so we do not do the Hershey kiss jar, but we do have a candy jar and I have rotated the candy options. We also have countdown blocks and I made two containers to count down with toy soldiers: one to see days left to go and the other to count days gone by. When it gets closer we will do chain links but for now we are still too far out. To celebrate each time we hit a new month we have a frozen yogurt date to celebrate another month down.
For Communication – I wanted the kids to have some autonomy over communicating and hearing from dad if possible. I found Talkies by ToyMailCo and got one for each kid. They are connected to both my phone and my husband’s phone via an app and Wi-Fi. This has worked well except for when he is in an area without any service. My older child has an easier time using it but even my younger child can manage it with some guidance.
Daddy Dolls and other stuffies – I ordered Daddy Dolls and my children asked for the seventeen-inch size which I find rather large, but the kids love this huggable size. They are too large to take to school, so for backpack pals my mother made the kids each a daddy bear that is eight inches and a perfect size to take to school. We also got photo keychains made.
Packages – We have two bins in the bottom cubbies of the deployment wall bookcase and as I get things to send for care packages I stash them there. The kids know they can add items there or in the mail slots on the side as well. We make boxes every other week to send out.
IDEAS TO HELP THE SPOUSE THRIVE
Although making sure your children thrive during a deployment is essential, it is just as important to take care of yourself too. Here are some ways to ease your burden:
Self-Care – Make sure to take time for yourself. Whether you are a working, stay-at-home, work-at-home parent, make sure you factor yourself into your list of priorities. Have a babysitter come play with the kids, hire a cleaning service, employ a landscaper, etc. If you are in a large neighborhood, see if there is a parents’ group that does a babysitter swap to take turns watching one another’s kids. Take time to do the things you love whatever they may be. For me, self-care includes regular manicures and pedicures.
Meals – If you work, save the more complex meals for the weekend and keep it simple during the week. Young kids are happy just eating together every night. I often try to cook on Sundays for the whole week and then just reheat during weeknights.
Grocery Shopping – Take advantage of the online order and pickup or delivery services offered by many stores or use Instacart. Save yourself the headache of going to the store with kids.
Activities – Try to keep the same routine as much as possible for sports and activities. On weekends that you need to tire the cherubs out, indoor trampoline parks and museums are always winners followed up with movies at home with popcorn and snacks.
Support – You may not have family close by, but you always have support from your military family which can sometimes actually be more supportive. Always reach out if you need anything. I have had amazing support for my kiddos and myself from my Army family and I couldn’t ask for more. If the day is tough, I know I can always just call in for reinforcements.
Gift for Service Member – We got my husband one of lucky penny keychains with all of our names on a penny for him to carry.
While we’ve experienced separation due to training and short deployments, this has been the longest and hardest. As military spouses, we are used to being flexible and shifting as we go along, and I have taken this base plan and just keep shifting as needed. Always remember to give yourself grace and reach out to friends and family when you need them.
Amy Williams has two lovable children and a laidback pup. She has a diverse career spanning marketing and events and currently works as the chief of advertising and public affairs for the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion. She has been a part of the InDependent community at every installation she has been stationed at. Her favorite event is the Wellness Summit each year—check it out here.
CONNECT WITH AMY