You are essentially a single parent and it can be draining. Whether it be boot camp, training, or deployment it is important to remember one thing; you will get through it.
#1. Talk to your kids prior
Before your spouse leaves, make sure to sit down and explain to your children exactly where they are going and WHY they are going. Be specific and don’t place blame unknowingly. Let them know how they can help while their mom/dad is gone and most importantly, don’t make any promises.
Phrases to avoid:
“Mommy is going far away for awhile”
Vague phrases may leave children more confused. They may not understand the specifics but it will make them feel better knowing more information.
“Daddy is leaving so he can keep you safe”
While it doesn’t sound particularly harmful, saying phrases that involves them directly may make them feel that they are the reason that their mom/dad is leaving.
“Theres nothing you can do”
Giving them some kind of task will help them feel more in control of an uncontrollable situation.
“We will talk every day”
Don’t make any promises that you can’t keep, kids remember everything and maintaining trust is important. If you promise to talk everyday, and you can’t, then you will leave those kiddos feeling disappointed and sad.
Try something like this:
“Daddy is going with the military to a country called Iraq for 12 months. He is leaving because he needs to help keep everyone in America safe. You can help while daddy is gone by keeping the house clean so mommy can focus on other things. We will talk as much as we can and I will think about you everyday.”
Be prepared to repeat yourself often. When my husband was away, his little cousins (age 4 and 5) asked where he was every single time I saw them.
#2. Make the day your spouse leaves special, instead of sad
Depending on the age of your kids, they may not understand or be sad yet. You, on the other hand, will. Making a fun day for your kids will not only help them but it will help you. Do whatever they want to do, go indoor rollerblading, go to the trampoline park, go shopping, order pizza and watch movie, make a pillow fort, keep them (and yourself) occupied. Don’t focus on mom/dad leaving right now.
Related article: Top Products To Help Your Kids Overcome Deployment
#3. Make a routine early and stick to it
This is important and will help you feel more sane, especially if you are not used to your spouse being gone and caring for your children without any help. The smoother you can make the daily routine, the easier it will be for you and your kids.
#4. Keep busy and involve them in as much as possible
Go to grandma and grandpa’s house, have them “help” make dinner, give them chores to do, play fun games and activities. While my husband was gone (between my family and his family) we were pretty much out doing something everyday. We were so busy, it made the time go by faster and kept my mind busy so I didn’t think so much about missing my husband.
#5. Give them something to look forward to
Once a week plan a day trip or some kind of adventure that they can focus on. This will keep their mind off mom/dad being away. Not only will it keep their mind busy, but it will help the time go by faster. “7 days until we go apple-picking” is easier to focus on than “165 days until mom comes home”. Then, by the time apple-picking has come, you are already one more week closer to homecoming day. Remember to take pictures so they can show them to mom/dad.
#6. Connecting and making the most of skype
Encourage them to talk about their day, show off things they have done (drawings, pictures, schoolwork, etc), and talk about what they have coming up. This will also help your spouse feel more involved. Try to plan activities they can do “together” through Skype.
Mail your spouse a coloring book and crayons so that they can color with their child via skype.
#7. Help your child keep a journal or deployment book
This benefits you, your kids, and your spouse in a few different ways.
◦ It gives you and your child something to do everyday, week, or month
◦ It helps your child communicate their feelings about mom/dad being away ◦ It will make an amazing gift for your spouse when they return
◦ This is something that all of you can cherish and look back on
#8. Communicate with your child everyday
Have them tell you how they feel. Have them talk about what they miss and what they are excited about. Let them express their feelings. Try your best to stay strong while doing this. The stronger you are, and the more you keep it together, the better your child will cope. If you do cry, tell them they are happy tears so they don’t learn to associate deployment with sadness.
#9. Plan homecoming day together
Get your kids really involved! Have them help plan a party, or help them decorate a welcome home poster for the airport. Let them pick a place to go out to eat after leaving the airport. Don’t start too early, their attention spans are not great and you may be setting yourself up for a “are we there yet” situation (if you aren’t in one already). That last month can seem like it drags on FOREVER, so this will help both of you focus on something else.
#10. A Keep-safe item
Before your spouse leaves, have them give your children something to “keep safe” while they are gone. Pick something that can remind them of your spouse and will also give them comfort. A personalized blanket or teddy bear is a great option. (Here’s our list of the absolute best products to help kids through deployment)
Hopefully, by now you have an idea of where to start with introducing deployment and helping your kids get through it. You’re next move should be to head over to our shop and get a printable a deployment keepsake journal! Easy to use and easy to print, it will definitely be the most special gift for your loved one and it gives you and the kids something to do while you are waiting (BONUS!).
P.S. Have you heard about MilSO box? If not, please go check it out- it is a monthly subscription box that delivers handpicked items to help MilSOs get through deployment (includes bath products, support products, and more)! Use code: MDSFRIENDS10 to get 10% OFF!