Deployment is the biggest struggle of being a military parent. While there is no quick and easy way to prepare your child for your deployment, and every family will be different in regards to what you need, it’s important to have a plan in mind. Being apart from your child is always difficult, but it doesn’t mean that your relationship has to suffer. With proactive communication, you can remain a steady force in your child’s life.
- Explain what is happening ASAP. When you first find out you are being deployed, it might be tempting to wait to tell them. You don’t want to cause them any distress, after all. But it’s better to tell them as soon as possible. Make sure both parents are present and that you are open and honest (in an age appropriate way). You want to explain what deployment means, what you are going to be doing, and how that is going to affect them. Be mindful of keeping your language as simple as possible, and not using words that will frighten them, such as “war.” While you want to be honest with them, using these words will confuse and frighten them, and most operations are based in security operations or nation-building at this point anyway. This is a good time to tell them where the family is going to live, how this will change the household dynamic, and whether or not the remaining parent will be working.
- Make a communication plan. Your child will need reassurance that just because you’re far away, doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to talk to you. Knowing that they will be able to email you, write letters, or Skype with you will go a long ways towards reassuring them that you aren’t gone forever. That being said, don’t make any promises you can’t keep. Of course, you will do everything you can to reach out regularly, but there will be times when you aren’t going to be available to talk. Don’t set expectations that you won’t necessarily be able to meet, such as Skyping every day.
- Involve the whole community. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, so make sure others are involved in helping your child adjust to deployment. Everyone who cares for your child, from their teachers to their babysitters to their friend’s parents, should be aware of the changes going on at home. This way, they can watch your child’s behavior and support them through the transition. Ideally, your child would also be able to talk to another military family, so if you can, connect them with someone who can understand where they are coming from.
- Keep the conversation going. With a major change such as this, it’s not going to be a one-and-done conversation. If your child has few (or no) questions when you initially talked to them, it’s probably due to shock or fear. The real conversation will happen slowly over time as they have more time alone to consider how they feel and what deployment really means. It may help to schedule a weekly family meeting where everyone can bring their questions and concerns to the table.
- Stay in touch as best you can. Once you are deployed, you will have a lot on your plate, but you want to make sure to live up to your established communication plan as closely as possible. Make sure you are setting aside time to communicate with your child, whether you have time to video chat or you can only shoot them a quick email to tell them you care.
- Understand their emotions. Even if your child seemed fine before deployment, the reality of the changes to their life are now in place. It’s normal for children to feel strong emotions about your deployment, including stress, anxiety, sadness, and anger. Validate these feelings and let them know you understand where they’re coming from. Remind your child of why you are doing what you are doing, and let them know how much you miss them, too. It won’t change the circumstances, but feeling understood and loved will help you maintain a strong relationship with your child, even from far away.
- Be present. There is a lot occupying your mind during deployment, so it can be easy to go through the motions, even when it comes to talking to your family. Make any time you get to spend together over Skype or phone call by being present in that moment. Before you make the call, take thirty seconds to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and center yourself in the present. You may not have much time to communicate with them, so make every minute count.
- Anticipate mixed emotions. While your family is going to be thrilled in anticipation of your return, it’s normal for everyone involved to have mixed emotions. As much as you have missed each other, everyone has gotten used to a “new normal,” and it can be difficult to adjust to going back to how things used to be. Change is always difficult, so don’t expect everything to be sunshine and rainbows once you get home. As exciting as it is, there are tough parts of returning from deployment.
- Recognize that things change. You may be very much looking forward to returning home, but that doesn’t mean that everything is going to be the same. On the contrary, in your absence, your family has had to adjust their way of life. Don’t be in a rush to force them to change to include you. It will take time for everyone to figure out new responsibilities and roles, so try to be flexible as everyone transitions.
- Express your feelings. Patience is important, but that doesn’t mean that you need to hide or hold back your feelings. In fact, during this emotional time, it’s crucial to not suppress how you feel. Consider talking to a counselor or another trusted confidante about how the transition is impacting you. This will help you be a better parent and spouse.
Before you’re deployed, make keeping connected with your child as easy as possible with our wireless internet hotspot. When you invest in the Sapphire MiFi device, you can feel confident that you can rely on your internet connection when you are video chatting with your family. That is why U.S. military service members are among those who use our MiFi device the most; with service in more than 100 countries, you can rely on Sapphire to keep you connected when you need it the most. Shop our international WiFi before your deployment.