Note: Families can take many forms. For the purpose of this handbook, "family" is a service member parent and his or her child.
Making family memories
Many families plan trips, vacations, or other activities that they can do together before the service member leaves. Creating family memories before the service member departs may add to the hectic pace leading up to the deployment, but it is well worth the effort.
"We make sure we celebrate birthdays before Daddy deploys so they have that special day." —National Guard spouse
"I take lots of pictures and have him in every room in the house. I gather things for the kids to keep in their rooms that connect them to their dad." —Army spouse
And remember, these activities don't have to be elaborate. The time together can be as simple as taking hikes or long walks, or creating a "family date night" to watch movies, play board games, get frozen yogurt, or have a picnic. The important thing is to set specific time aside to spend it together. Asking children for their preferences about family activities is vital to empowering and involving them during this very vulnerable and potentially frightening time.
"This most recent deployment, my husband and three boys practice[d] Skyping with each other from separate floors of the house; the boys loved it." —Marine spouse
If you can, use a video camera to document your togethertime so that you have something to look back on when you're separated. You can also use the camera for pre-recording messages from your service member for the children to watch while she is deployed. This is particularly helpful on holidays and special events such as birthdays so the child can feelmore connected to his or her deployed parent.
"I create videos for my daughter to have connections to her daddy in case he's deployed to an area with limited Internet and phone access." —Army spouse
Encourage your service member to exchange something of importance with his child, such as a recordable book, dog tag, or a special doll featuring his photograph, often called a Daddy or Mommy Doll. Your service member should also spend some alone time with his child to create memories for the child to hold onto while the service member is away.
"He spends a little one-on-one time with each child and gives them a small trinket they can keep in their pocket while he is gone." —Navy spouse
"My husband made Build-a-Bears for both my kids with his voice recorded so they can hug it and hear him say 'I love you' even when he is gone." —Army spouse
Tip: Create Videos for Your Newborn
When fathers deploy knowing a baby will be born while they're away, some create a series of videos of their face at close distances from the camera lens, making appropriate sounds and gestures. Studies have shown that infants are much more likely to know their father immediately upon return—rather than showing attachment anxiety—when this program is put in place at birth.
Visit the website of Early Moments Matter (www.earlymomentsmatter.org), the This Emotional Life attachment toolkit, to learn more about helping your infant create secure attachments.
This excerpt is provided courtesy of the acclaimed free digital resource "Everyone Serves". Download your free copy with additional media content today at everyoneservesbook.com.