Deployment is hard no matter what, toss having children into it and it gets even harder. You have little minds that don’t quite understand what is going on, you have little emotions that don’t quite know how to express themselves which can lead to tantrums and power struggles, you have frazzled emotions as the parent which can lead to our own meltdowns. Your days can go from scheduled and functional to a disarray of intense emotions all it once. It is hard to balance.
So how does one organize their mind to ease the stresses of deployment for you and your family? Here are six practical tips for Parents and Children going through a deployment.
For You the Parent:
1. Take time for yourself: Easier said than done I know. In the hustle and bustle of “Independent Parenting” find a time during each day, whether it’s first thing in the morning before the kids get up, or during nap, or in the evening when they are in bed, and have some YOU time. Relax about the stresses, plan out your TO-DOs and remember that you are strong for doing what you do. If you have a little extra time, splurge and do something nice for yourself. You deserve it.
2. It isn’t personal: Remember that deployment and distance is a strain and a change, there will be times where emotions are fried. Your significant other may be testy from being away from loved ones and the stress of their job, you may be testy from day to day hustle and bustle, your children may be testy from the change in their family dynamics. When those occasions come up remember that it isn’t personal, don’t let those moments ruin what little time you have to communicate or change the attitude of your day. I know it can be hard but try to see the separation from one another’s point of view so that you can maximize and enjoy the time you DO have together.
3. Set Goals: Setting goals during a deployment will not only help keep you organized and motivated, but it will help the time apart go by quicker. Set goals for yourself, for your family. Where you are now, things you want to accomplish Before the end of the deployment, things you want to do After deployment is over, where you want to be financially, etc. Write those goals down and every time you meet one cross it off, SEEING what you are accomplishing will continue to keep you motivated. Let your children set goals for themselves as well.
For the Children:
1. Talk about it: Don’t let deployment be the “Elephant in the Room”, talk about it with your children. Even if they are infants talking to them about how mommy or daddy are away, but how much they still love them and miss them will help bring comfort to children in uncertain situations. Let them talk about it and share their concerns, validate their feelings and let them be upset about it. It’s a hard change, and not something that children can fully wrap their heads around so approach the situation openly. There is no right or wrong way for your child or you to feel about the separation. If you have multiple children be prepared for different ways of coping.
2. Do Projects: Art projects, photographs, and letters sent to the child’s parent can help them feel no so far away. Set a time every day that is “project time”, in that time make something for Daddy or Mommy that is deployed. Talk about why the deployed parent would enjoy it, what it represents. That time together will be a bonding time for those left at home as well a memory time for the one that is away. Then make it a family event to box it all up and send a care package. Doing that as a family will help the children feel like their parent hasn’t just vanished but is reachable. For the little mind that can be a huge sense of comfort.
3. Embrace Technology: Technology is a huge part of our life now and is something that has made deployments easier in many regards than they were years ago when all we relied on was “snail mail.” Use that technology to your advantage, and let your kids too. Have Skype or Face-time dates whenever you can. Giving your children (and yourself) the chance to see your loved one and know that they are alright will be a blessing for your family and will open up more discussion topics for you to cover at home. Use the technology to make your children Daddy/Mommy Dolls so that they can “have” their loved one with them all the time. It can be huge sense of comfort and they are pretty cute.
There are so many things we can do as a family to ease the strain of deployment and these six things are a great start to making that time apart a little less challenging.