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March 15, 2004
Most of us don't want to think about deployment. After all, it means time away from those we love! But the fact is that military families do separate. And deployment can be tough when you don't prepare for it. Here are 10 great tips that can help you and your family to make it through deployment.
Good luck on a successful deployment! Americans appreciate the sacrifices that you make to defend our freedom and way of life!
1) Be Creative
Today's military offers many ways to stay connected: video and audio recordings, video conferencing, phone calls, postcards, letters, email and websites, just to name a few. Use the ones that work best for you. And use them often!
2) Put a "Message in a Bottle"
Before you leave, write as many short messages to your child as you can and put them in a large jar, can, or box. Tell your child to pull out one message a day while you're gone.
3) Draw Pictures for Your Children
Your kids will love to receive your drawings. Everyone can draw. Yes, even you! The best part is that your kids will love your artwork, even if you don't. So take a pencil, some paper, and five minutes to draw a simple picture of you and your child. Then give it to them. You will make their day.
4) Record Helpful Phone Numbers
The parent who stays home will need to know who to call in a crisis. Even when it's not a crisis, it's easier to have a phone list handy to avoid fumbling for it while the kids are screaming. Make the list before you're deployed. If you're already deployed, encourage the other parent that stays home to do it.
5) Get Your House in Order
Take care of financial, medical, and legal needs before you leave. Create a deployment spending plan for the family and decide which parent will pay the monthly bills during deployment. It might make sense to have two checking accounts, one for the parent who stays home and one for the deployed parent. Make sure your family knows how to use its medical insurance and to get legal aid from the military. Create a Family Care Plan, offered by the military. It describes how your family will want financial, medical, and legal affairs handled during deployment.
6) Prepare for Changes in Your Children
The biggest complaint many military fathers have about deployment is the changes that they will miss in their children. They might miss the first steps, or the first words, or the first birthday. One way to accept the changes is to stay connected as much as possible during deployment. That way the changes won't overwhelm you when you return.
7) Learn the Basics of Child Development
Even though your children will change while you're away, they will do so in regular and predictable ways. Take the time to learn the basics of child development. If you know what your children will be able to do and not do when you return, you will know what to expect. Suppose you return to a six-month-old daughter and expect that she can eat with a spoon. You might be disappointed when she grabs a handful of mashed carrots with her fist instead. Armed with knowledge about how children develop, you will know that it will take another six months before your princess' table manners improve.
8) Allow Your Children to Ask Questions and Express Fears
The world can be a scary place. It's your job to keep your children safe. Children not only have to deal with the boogey man and monsters in the closet, they worry about things they see on the evening news, in the paper, and in real life! War, crime, and disease seem to be the main topics these days. Deployment can also scare and worry kids. Before and after you leave, talk with your children calmly and reassure them that everything is okay. Allow them to ask questions and express fears about anything. This will comfort your children.
9) Get Help If You Need It
If you need help during deployment, it is available. There are all kinds of help for all kinds of problems. You're not alone. Do you have the blues or feel depressed? Do you need a baby-sitter because you're up to your neck in kids? Are you in a deep crisis and need guidance? There are people who can help. Check your local phone book for counselors, parenting classes, spiritual leaders, recreational outlets, swimming pools, suicide hot lines, social organizations, gyms, libraries, and more. The military has many activities for families, from outdoor events to basketball leagues to private counseling. It's all at your fingertips. If nothing else, call a relative or an old friend. Reach out for help…for your children's sake.
10) Remember Your Sacrifice for Country and Family
It's no surprise: Parents give up a lot for their children. And military parents give up more than most. They give up personal time, family time, and stable home lives. Who benefits from your sacrifice? Your family, your neighbors, and all Americans! Talk with your kids about the meaning of this sacrifice. It will make it easier for them to handle being away from you.
Reprinted from the National Fatherhood Initiative's 10 Ways to Stay Involved with Your Children During Deployment brochure.