When I married my husband, Bob — an F-117a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force — he said we’d see the world. Turns out, this meant moving our home 11 times in 13 years. We also grew our family to seven children.
When Bob was deployed, he spent many days away from family. It was stressful for all of us, but the kids especially had a hard time living a normal life, knowing their dad was off in some distant, dangerous place. Eventually, we found some effective strategies for getting through my husband’s deployments. Here are a few ways to manage the stress of a separated family:
Limit younger kids’ exposure to the news. The sometimes violent imagery can cause excessive stress.
Plug into community
Friends, neighbors and military support groups can give critical assistance during those times of separation. It’s important to connect your kids with a community of friends who are experiencing the same stress and who can offer comfort and camaraderie.
Bring teachers onboard
Let your school know that a parent has deployed so the teachers can be aware of the stress that may manifest itself in the classroom. Work with the teachers to mitigate emotions that sometimes accompany long separations.
Have a deployed parent help with schoolwork over Skype. Or, prior to deployment, make a video recording of the parent reading favorite stories that can be played at bedtime.
Stick to routines
Keep the family schedule as normal as possible in order to create security. It’s especially important to enforce standard rules so your children have the safety net of boundaries even though Mom or Dad is gone.
Model positive thinking
If an infant can pick up on a mother’s negative attitude, how much more can a tween or teen detect it? Keep a positive attitude in front of your kids and speak words of encouragement about the absent parent’s safety. When you vent to a friend or family member, make sure your children cannot hear you.
Keep time together
Before a parent deploys, get matching watches or clocks and decide on a time each day when the alarm will go off for both the child and the parent. It’s comforting for kids to know that they and their parent are thinking of each other at the same time.