For those scheduled for deployment, parents and children experience a wide range of emotions. If you are divorced, there are additional challenges to being away for extended periods of time. Rest assured that there are things you can do to maintain connection, even if you have a baby or toddler.
Before you leave: prepare
You want to make sure you remain emotionally available for your child while you are away. The steps you take before you go will set the stage. For babies and toddlers, use the five senses for reference when creating strategies to maintain connection: Sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
- Discuss how you would like to approach this time with your ex. Express your willingness to remain involved and supportive, and give examples of how you want to accomplish it.
- Encourage your ex to reach out during times of illness or stress in child’s life.
- Explain to your child that you are leaving because of your job so they do not blame themselves.
- Spend quality one on one time with your child before leaving.
- Record videos of you reading a book together, or a special message to your child to access when they miss you, or create videos of you and your child carrying out normal routine activities to watch later.
- Write letters to be opened on holidays, birthdays, last day of school or father’s day.
- Photographs: Shutterfly books of you together, with lots of pictures inside.
- Use a stuffed animal, doll or puppet to discuss feelings about the separation.
- Leave an item of your worn clothing, pillow or blanket. Spray with your cologne if you usually wear it.
- Enjoy your favorite food with your child, and vice versa. Tell them that when you eat it while you are gone that you will remember this time and think of them.
- Give your child or ex a sticker chart and calendar so your child can mark off the days until you return.
Explaining the absence and being emotionally present during play and moments of affection will create happy feelings of love and security for your child while you are gone.
Connecting during deployment
It is important not to shut down while away. Maintain regular communication by agreeing that you will call at a certain time or day every week. Use Skype or FaceTime so you can visually interact with your child.
- Create a video bedtime routine, read a bedtime story or wish your child good night.
- Share photos or videos of your surroundings so the child feels connected to you.
- When you do talk to your child, comment on what they are doing or showing you to engage with them.
- Discuss fun times in the past, make plans for future events upon your return.
- Ask detailed questions, instead of “How was your day?” Ask: “Did you play outside today at daycare?”
- Maintain positive interaction with your child and ex.
Despite the challenges of a deployment, you can still create and maintain a deep, meaningful bond with your child. There are many online resources that can provide you with ideas to stay connected.