2 In Deployment

Making Sense of Deployment for Kids

I’ve often wondered how to best explain A’s deployments to the McNuggets in our future and I never seem to come up with an answer I’m satisfied with. So when SpouseLink reached out to me about providing a guest post for my blog, I knew exactly what I wanted them to cover! They covered so many of my questions and I hope you all find it as helpful as I did!

Making Sense of Deployment for Kids

“When are you coming back?” or “What will it be like there?” They are simple enough questions, but they can be tough to face when you don’t know the answer.

Deployment is just part of the job for most military families. But even so, it can be tricky to explain to kids who want both Mommy and Daddy to stay at home all the time, or for the family to stay in the same house, town and school they’re in now. As with any challenging life situation that comes along, one of the most important things to keep in mind is: perspective – yours and your child’s.

How much do you remember?
When you think back on what it was like to be a kid, how many specific memories do you have of your everyday life… and how much of it is a blur? If it’s all a blur, you’re in good company. Little kids often don’t have a concept of time that helps them understand how long a minute, hour, day or month is, or when certain events actually happen. Days that seem to last forever for kids, often appear to go by in an instant for their parents. So, when dealing with a deployment, consider the fact that while a parent’s day-to-day absence may be real, obvious and tangible to you and your older children, it can also be nothing more than a passing occurrence that is “instantly forgotten” by younger ones when your loved one returns home.

Is it really that simple?
It can be. Let me give you an example: My dad was an officer in the Navy, a role he entered before I was born and continued after I graduated from college. I remember some (but not all) of the times he was away from home over the years, but I don’t actually recall how long those times lasted. And, during the times they were happening, I never experienced a feeling of dread or loss. That’s likely because, as a young child, I wasn’t old enough to process my dad’s absence as “scary” or “unusual”, and by the time I was in intermediate school, I had learned to consider his absences as “expected”. It probably didn’t hurt that when my dad came home, he had new stories to tell, or that my family focused on his returns, rather than his departures.

Likewise, moving to a new home in a different state was commonplace for my family. By the time I graduated high school, I had attended nine different schools in five states. It seemed completely normal to me at the time to live in any given location for just two to three years at a time. When I was younger, I looked at our moves as a new adventure – it was fun getting to know a new house, playing in a new backyard, seeing what other neighborhoods were like, and experiencing a new school system. I was seven years old when we moved from Florida to Michigan – I got to see snow for the first time in second grade! As I got older, I looked at our moves as a chance to step outside my comfort zone and try something new. The only downside I have ever noticed, as I’ve looked back over the years, was knowing I was entering into friendships with kids that wouldn’t last any longer than our stay in our current house. (All these years later, social networks have changed all of that!)

In short, what I can tell you is that you and your kids will get through it – and it will all be worth it when you see them grow up into well-rounded, cultured adults who can handle a variety of situations with ease. And they will, as long as you provide the support and perspective they need early on to help them cope with all of the changes.

So… how do you do that?

Here are a 5 pieces of advice to try when deployment happens to you and your family:

  1. Talk to your kids before the deployment happens. Explain to them that traveling to other places around the country and the world is a normal part of being in the military. Be honest about what the job entails, without using deep concepts that little kids may not be able to process. If you are moving, research the community online so they can see what’s ahead and start looking forward to it. Listen to their questions and pay attention to their behavior. Answer and inform them honestly – and always comfort them when they look like they need it, even if they don’t ask for it.
  2. Let your kids know that both you and their military parent are within reach, no matter where either of you go.The world is a huge place, of course, but today’s connected, online environment enables everyone to stay a lot closer. And, even without the Internet, regular mail still reaches soldiers in far-away places. So, remind your little ones that just because someone isn’t physicallyhere, doesn’t mean they are gone. That goes for the friends they move away from, as well. Encourage and help them to stay in touch with those friends, and to make new ones.
  3. Acknowledge absence, but focus on the positive. Not all deployments mean: “war”. Sometimes, they mean “training” or “duty”. Show excitement for the opportunity to travel and to see and experience a new city, country or culture. Keep a positive attitude and look toward the future. There will be a day when your military spouse’s career shifts from intermittent overseas or cross-country deployments to local, home-based functions that may feel more comfortable and secure to you and your family. Knowing that the deployments won’t last forever can help all of you stay emotionally on track.
  4. Talk about where your spouse is going. If your spouse is assigned overseas, map out the duty location and read up on it so your kids have a clear idea of what s/he will be experiencing. And remember that these kinds of work-related relocations also happen to families in the civilian working world. Your kids’ non-military friends may be able to relate – in their own way – which will give your kids an outlet for talking about such issues with their peers. If your spouse is headed into dangerous territory, stay strong and focused on the fact that s/he has trained for this type of work and that they have the skills and knowledge to get through it. Also understand that this is the same kind of trust your spouse is putting in you to keep your home and family safe and happy while they’re away.
  5. Get involved and stay involved in regular and special family activities. Keep your kids’ lives busy and their minds engaged through scouting programs, sports, dance classes, music lessons, after-school clubs, household chores and responsibilities, family outings such as hikes, biking, skating or the movies – and whatever else interests them. Encourage them to spend time playing with friends outside of your home, where they can experience new or different family environments. Let them help shop and put together care packages you may be sending. And… when they need downtime, give them that, too! Just continue to give your kids things to look forward to in the short term, until your spouse returns or your family moves again. When the family is altogether our favorite of all the family sports is hunting! That time together is unbelievably special!

Home really is where the heart is.

Being in the military is a serious responsibility that your kids will grow to understand throughout their lives, the same way you are making it part of your life. It places demands on your family that many others may never have to deal with, but if you can focus on the here-and-now and take advantage of opportunities to stay close across the globe, you can help make the absence of family members less noticeable – especially if you and your family treat your spouse’s military career moves as standard, job-related, short-term activities. The bottom line: Make your family life as “normal” and reliable for your kids as possible, no matter where you are.

This post was provided by SpouseLink. SpouseLink is a free website for Military Spouses that was created to support, inform and inspire users with a variety of content–anything from pop culture to important Military information. SpouseLink.org was created by AAFMAA, a non-profit, membership association that supports the American Armed Forces community with affordable insurance and widow survivor assistance services.

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