When my daughter was four weeks old, my husband left for a nine-month deployment. He left a tiny, fresh newborn learning how to be earth-side and will come home to a babbling, crawling infant. The baby he left and the baby he will come home to are not the same. Though our daughter will not remember the fact that her dad missed her first smile, learning how to sit up, trying real foods, or becoming a confident mobile baby, those nine months of bonding are irreplaceable. My own dad was in the Army for 22 years, and as a family we endured our own share of deployments. As both the child and now mom to a baby of a deployed parent, I’ve learned there are a few ways to ensure children maintain a healthy relationship with their distant loved one.
- There are never enough photos and videos. Share an album from your phone in which photos are automatically uploaded. Your loved one will always be able to access the content without you needing to remember to send it.
- Record your service member reading books before they leave. Every night as part of our bedtime routine, we “read a book with dad.” I flip the pages of the book and we read along. This is an easy way to ensure our baby hears her dad’s voice every night, so when he’s home she recognizes it instantly.
- Special video call dates with time for each child to be with their parent. If/when your loved one is able to chat on video, let each child have special alone time on the call instead of always sharing. This can even be done with a small baby. When my daughter is having “tummy time” I’ll leave my phone propped up for my husband to talk to her while I am in the next room. Allowing the two of them to have their own special time mimics what they would be having if he were home.
- Get everyone involved in sending care packages. Creating crafts, writing letters and finding holiday-themed gifts feels like you are all still celebrating together. The holidays celebrated as a family extend much further into the year than just Christmas. My daughter and I just mailed my husband a St. Patrick’s Day-themed care package because it is a day that we would normally have celebrated as a family.
My husband will miss the first nine months of our daughter’s life and all the “firsts” that come along with them. This is a scenario that numerous families face as it is part of the sacrifices of being a military family. I now live with my phone in my hand ready to record a video or take a photo, so my husband feels like he is still with us to witness these moments. Technology will never replace human connection no matter how advanced it becomes. It can, however, help our children and their deployed parent remain close and even strengthen their connection.