Open and frequent communication with your child can keep your connection strong during deployment. Conversations can also be difficult reminders of how far away you are from one another. Experienced mothers have shared that keeping their needs and their children's needs in mind results in more positive communications during a deployment.
Before you deploy
- Find out what communication options are available. Your unit commander may be able to tell you whether you'll have Internet access and if you can use it to email or use a webcam to communicate with your child back home. Also find out whether you'll be able to use your cell phone for calling or texting and whether you'll be able to send and receive letters and packages regularly.
- Think about bringing a digital camera and video camera. This will allow you to email personal photos and videos back home. Ask your child and other family members to email photos and videos to you, too.
- If your child is young, record yourself reading favorite storybooks, talking, or singing. Your spouse or other caregiver can play these audio or video recordings at bedtime or whenever your child wants to hear your voice or see your face.
- Write down important dates. Jot down birthdays, the first day of preschool, recitals, school plays, and the high school prom. Put all of the events that you know about ahead of time into your calendar so you can contact your child before or on the day of the occasion. You might even arrange to be there via webcam or phone during the event.
- Discuss how emergencies at home will be handled. Talk about whether you want to know about them and, if so, when it is appropriate to convey that information.
Communicating with your child
Researchers say that children of deployed parents sometimes worry that their parents no longer love them. Your child will be reassured if you stay in frequent contact, whether by phone, email, letters, or other means.
- Give your child a sense of your daily routine. Describe your deployment as much as you're permitted. Talk about everyday topics, such as what you had for breakfast, or a funny story that you heard. Keep it light.
- Let your child know you miss him. It's okay to say you wish you were together and you're looking forward to coming home. But do your best to stay positive and upbeat to avoid your child feeling at all responsible for your general mood or happiness.
- Listen without judging. Children, especially pre-teens and teenagers, often need to vent their feelings. Try to be supportive and be aware of any frustrations you may experience around not being able to be there. Don't let those frustrations color your reaction to what you child is sharing with you.
- Answer your child's questions. If your child asks questions on the phone, or even in letters or emails, address each one, and answer as best as you can. Asking and answering questions is a good way to keep the conversation going with your child and will help you both feel connected.
- Ask your child to send you special items from home. One mother had her daughters send her a favorite kind of packaged pastry and her favorite brand of coffee. Her daughters felt good about doing something special for their mother, and their mother was happy to have these reminders of home. Check with the United States Postal Service for any rules or regulations about what you can send through the mail.
- Send care packages to your child. Send home little souvenirs and gifts to your child. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate - just something your child can hold and that will remind him or her of you.
- Find other ways to communicate when conversations are too difficult. Sometimes conversations can become emotional. If speaking with you seems to make it harder for your child to adjust to your absence, or if it's too painful for you to hear about everything you're missing, write letters instead.
If there are problems at home
Life at home may not go smoothly while you're away. But it's important to recognize your own limitations. There's only so much you can do when you're far away. Being wrapped up in issues at home can distract you from your mission.
- Encourage your child to work out the problem herself. If the issue is minor - say a poor test grade at school or a dispute with a friend, let your child know that you have confidence in his or her ability to find a way of dealing with it. You might remind your child that he or she has dealt successfully with similar issues in the past.
- Trust your child's caregiver to deal appropriately with the problem. If you talked through potential emergencies and other issues before you deployed, you should feel assured that your child's caregiver is handling the situation the way that you would if you were home yourself.
- Contact the adult in charge at home for more serious problems. If there's a serious problem that you feel is not being addressed, talk to your spouse, your child's caregiver, or another trusted adult and ask that person to intervene on your behalf. Military OneSource is also available to help with non-medical counseling services and other resources. You can reach Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647.