Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Helping Kids Handle Deployment

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I didn't share much while it was happening for personal reasons, but at this time last year, we were preparing for my husband to go on a 6 month deployment.  Helping my kids handle their dad's deployment was something that was tough.  But what we did worked well for our family, so I thought I'd share with you how we made it work....
Be Honest
A conversation such as this is guaranteed to elicit questions from little ones.  My best and greatest piece of advice is to be honest.  Bear was 4 yrs old, so the info we gave him was limited.  But for Pip, who was 16, it was a different story.  We told her where Daddy was going, what the political climate was like, and what the risks were.  I think that for older children, it's better to give them some information because then there are less unknowns that they have to be afraid of.
Keep in Touch
We were blessed to be able to Skype or talk on the phone virtually every day that my husband was gone.  If your family isn't able to do this, do whatever works best for you.  Time differences can be problematic, especially if your kiddos are in school.  So if "face time" isn't always possible, there are other fun ways to communicate.  You can handwrite letters or small notes, send emails, or make silly videos.  Snapchat and Instagram are both great apps for making short videos to share with people.
Swap a Special Something
Before he left, my husband gave Pip one of his tshirts and Bear a very special blanket .  These were special items that were theirs to hang onto, snuggle with, or just go to for comfort while their daddy was gone.  The blanket was from the amazing organization called Project Linus, an organization that donates blankets to children who are going through crisis or rough times.  Our local chapter hands them out to the children of deployed soldiers.   
Send a Piece of Home Overseas
One of the toughest part of the hubs' deployment was that he was gone during almost everyone's birthdays, thanksgiving, and Christmas. I think that Christmas was probably the hardest on all of us.  To help create a more festive environment in his room, we sent him a teeny, tiny tree with a set of plug in lights.  Aside from that, we sent monthly care packages filled with snacks, notes, and little things we found.  Bear loved helping to pack the boxes up and take them to the post office.  If you're shipping overseas, I recommend the flat rate priority boxes.  You can fill them as full as possible (weight doesn't matter) for a fixed price.
Create Their Presence at Home
To make sure we kept a piece of Daddy around the house, we made a paper doll with his face on it.  "Flat Daddy" went with us when we went to do special things, out to dinner, or even just when we read books before bedtime.   
Build a Support Network
It's important to keep family and friends in the loop about the changes happening in your family.  Though we didn't broadcast the news too far on Facebook for my home security reasons, I did make sure that I talked with Bear's teachers and our youth leaders at church to let them know where my husband was so that they could handle any related conversations or comments that might come up in regards to it.  We also have a few close friends that checked in on us often either through text, Facebook, or by just showing up. 
Learn How to Handle Worries and Fears
This started with me.  I tried to address all of my worries and concerns as quietly as I could, because I didn't want them to pick up on things and make their emotions worse.  Plus!  If they were doing fine, I didn't want Momma to bring them down..  Kids will surprise you, that's for sure.  I was amazed at the resilience and adaptations the kids made after my husband left.  It's not that they didn't miss him or want him home, but I think that a lot of it had to do with how I composed myself and how we addressed it as a family through our faith. 
Make a Countdown
Six months can be a long time to countdown.  So to make it simple on ourselves, we counted down by week.  I got two packs of those plastic shower curtain rings and linked them together to form a long chain. Every Monday, the kids and I would take Flat Daddy out to dinner for Chinese.  And when we came home, we'd take down a ring off of chain. 
Don't Promise
As hard as it is, I wouldn't suggest promising that Daddy/Mommy/whoever will be safe, or will come home.  There are those heartbreaking situations where a return just doesn't happen, or the service member returns with injuries.  And all to often, deployments are lengthened, and return dates are changed.  I guess, the bottom line was, that I didn't promise the kids these things because I knew that I honestly couldn't ensure that they'd happen.  Instead, I told the kids that we'd pray that God would bring Daddy home safe. 

So that's how we helped our kids deal with deployment.  I know that our ways may not be the best ways for all families, but they are what worked for us to make the time easier.  If you've written a post on helping children deal with deployment, please leave your link in the comments and I'll add it to the bottom of this post for readers to check out.

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