Military deployments are tough on everyone involved, but can be particularly difficult for children, especially younger ones who do not understand exactly where or why one (or sometimes both) of their parents have gone, or when they will be coming home. Our family have been through numerous deployments over the years, including two that were each a year long.
Here are some tips to help you through military deployments when you have kids. Note: The first three really need to be taken care of PRIOR to deployment.
First, let’s discuss the legal obligations.
POWER OF ATTORNEY
If something should happen during the course of the deployment you need to have a special power of attorney in place to ensure that the person who will be looking after the household and children can make legal decisions including medical ones in the deployed service-members absence. Ensure that the person who is given power of attorney has access to your child’s medical records, especially if you have a child who requires medications, or has regular medical appointments.
Ensure all family members (children over 10 and spouses) have current military identification cards for the duration of the deployment. Without current ID cards, they may not be able to collect medications, or use medical facilities on a military base. Trust me, I’ve been there. My daughter was admitted to hospital with a severe asthma attack during a deployment and I had not realized that my own identification card had expired. After a lot of tears and begging I was granted an emergency card so I could get medication for her, but it should not have come to this.
Ensure there is a current Will in place for both parents. This will ensure that children are placed with family members or friends and your estate is taken care of in the event that something does happen.
Next, let’s discuss things you can do to make deployment easier on children and you before the deploying parent leaves.
Create a calendar, or paper chain so that the child knows how long their parent will be gone. Each day they can cross off the calendar, or remove a link from the chain.
Provide the deploying parent with greeting cards for any holidays or milestones that they will be missing whilst gone – such as birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving, graduation, or any other holiday your family would normally celebrate. Depending on where the deploying parent is going, it may be difficult for them to get cards for specific holidays.
Video tape the deploying parent reading bedtime stories to younger children. Maybe the child would like to watch the tape before bed each night, or designate one night a week when you can play a tape so they are spaced out a little.
Keep a map or globe out and mark where the parent will be and where you are. If the parent will be out to sea, you can update the map with their destinations as they arrive into different ports.
If your child is of school age, let their teacher know that one of the parents will be away and for how long. Maybe they can start a class project of sending letters to the deployed service-member. At the very least they will be able to let you know if your child is showing signs of separation anxiety at school.
Have the service-member get information from the command about support groups during the deployment. You may find that there are special family days organized, classes, and informative evenings.
Have the kids help put together regular care packages for their parent. Include drawings, handmade cards, letters, along with their favorite treats.
Share photographs and video as often as possible.
Daddy Dolls have been a favorite toy for our little ones during deployments.
Before the deployed parent is due to return home, set aside some time with the kids to create welcome home banners and signs to display around the home and take to the pick-up location.
Here are a couple of resources that offer invaluable information for you if you have children and one or both of the parents are going to be deployed.
militarychild.org – The Deployment Booklet
Sesame Street – Military Families Near and Far
Ensure that the person remaining behind has the following information: command/unit details, contact phone number for the family support group, and has all information required to pay bills, rent/mortgage, make medical appointments, and file insurance claims.
If you plan on traveling (particularly overseas) with children while a parent is deployed, ensure you have a letter in place authorizing you to take the child/ren out of the country, and ensure that passports will be valid for the duration of the deployment. Also check with your medical insurance provider to ensure you have contact numbers to receive authorization for medical treatments if needed whilst in another country and where copies of treatments and medical care are to be sent upon return in the event that you need to pay out-of-pocket in advance and be re-reimbursed once you return home – we have had to do this on 3 occasions whilst traveling overseas.