“See you later alligator. After while crocodile.”, is my toddlers current favorite phrase. It is so fitting as we head into another season where my husband will be gone for a while. For military families, deployments and long distance trainings are just apart of life. Those months apart become a little more difficult when you add children to the mix. Depending on your child’s age, here are some tips we use keep everything running as smoothly as possible.
A Daddy Doll
When I first saw the Daddy dolls I wasn’t sure my son would be interested. He never liked stuffed animals or any other doll, but I gave it a chance. I am so happy that I did! During my husbands last deployment his Daddy doll came to story-time, watched movies with him, and was in his bed every night. Even when my husband returned, the doll didn’t leave his side. Now that we have two kiddos, we will be ordering my daughter her own.
Keep on a Routine
A routine and keeping busy makes it harder to worry about your spouse being gone and it makes a world of difference for your kiddos. School, sports, playdates, story-time, day trips around town and seasonal activities, like the pumpkin patch or holiday activities, can fill you days and pass the time without it dragging on. Regardless of where you are, there is always something you can do to pass the time.
Deployments are hard, even more so with kiddos. But, deployments don’t have to be terrible. Building a routine and finding things to do, will help pass the days and even have some fun.
There are many different ways to create a countdown, from a Hershey “kiss” each night to a paper chain for each day. For us, our countdown is weekly. Each week has a fun activity attached to it. Some of these activities are super simple, like build a fort. Others, may be visit grandma and grandpa. Every Sunday, my son is excited to see what we are doing that week. It makes counting down not so much about getting to number one, but about the experiences along the way.
Talking to your kiddos about their parent leaving for an extended amount of time can be a challenging topic. Thank goodness, there are books to help us navigate this difficult topic. Fly-in Fly- out Dad is one of our favorites. Also, they now make these amazing books where your spouse can record the story and your kiddo can listen to it whenever they want. Sometimes when Facetime or Skype isn’t available, just listening to their voice can help bring our kiddos mind at ease.
A Homecoming Trip
We all look forward to that magical moment where after months of being apart your family is finally whole again. But, what people sometimes don’t realize is that homecomings come with an adjustment period. For us, we like to take a trip to be together away from the daily responsibilities and stressors. Planning the trip is also a fun way to keep busy and an extra bonus to look forward to.
Old Fashioned Letters
Don’t forget about the magic of handwritten letters. If you can’t send them back and forth frequently because of location or assignment, write them ahead of time. Have your military member write a letter for each month they will be gone so that your child can open at the start of the new month. If you CAN write back and forth during deployment, even better. Checking the mailbox is a fun chore for toddlers, especially if they might get their own mail!
Make a Care Package Together
Sending a special box overseas (or to their long-term training location) is just a win-win. I have the best time picking out fun, seasonal things to include and decorating the box, even without kids! Have your kids help you shop, pack, decorate, and mail it off. Get creative! Include photos, hand-drawn pictures, and little tastes of life back home. We made birthday cake in a jar to mail off too, and what toddlers doesn’t like helping make a cake?
Record Those Memories
This activity is more for mom. It’s hard, making so many memories without an important piece of your family puzzle. How can it not be? It’s important we keep busy too, and I want to make sure my husband doesn’t feel like he’s missing out. During my husband’s first deployment our first child was 3 months old, so I made a custom e-mail account just for stories and pictures to be sent so they didn’t get lost in the mix, and he could always go back to them. You can also make a phonebook, professional or DIY, to give them when they return, capturing birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions they missed. Scrapbooks can be fun for kids to help with too if you have that kind of talent!
If you have any more tips or tricks, please let us know!
XO Kate & Elizabeth