When a military member answers the call of duty, their spouse is left to protect the homefront. Keeping things running smoothly at home is a big challenge, and this mission is even more critical for families with children. At TroopSwap and Troop ID, our sales force is composed of proud military spouses and veterans sourcing military discounts all around the country. We asked them to share their strategies for keeping families in touch when a loved one is deployed. Here are their four best tips:
1. Get Snail-Mail Ready
Help your spouse stay connected by providing him or her with cards to send home to the kids while deployed. Buy cards in advance for all events that will occur during deployment, and some extra blank “Thinking of You” style cards for the times in between. Fill out and stamp the envelopes. Add a special something to each envelope, especially for younger children.
Monika Monize, a proud Army spouse, helped her husband stay connected by doing the legwork when he was overseas. “My husband loved that I sent him a care package of things that he could send back home to our kids. It made it easy for him to stay connected to what was going on in their lives and they felt sooo loved getting packages from Daddy in the mail. I sent cards for each holiday, birthday, and social event. Each envelope had a special something extra inside (stickers, military coins, “great job” ribbons). I put pre-printed mailing labels and stamps on the envelopes, so all my husband had to do was sign his name and if he had time put a short handwritten note inside, then drop them in the mail. When my children received these letters from Daddy they felt so loved, and my husband got to feel like he was involved by the cards serving as reminders of what was going on in their lives.”
Army Veteran Jason Strickland stressed the importance of sending snail mail, “Write. No, not email. Write your kids a letter. Send them a cheesy PX/BX card. The point is that when you’re away, they will still know you’re thinking about them—even when you’re not on the phone or video conference.”
2. Create a Calendar
Prepare a wall calendar with all the important–and mundane–family events that you can think of. This way, when your spouse gets on Skype or on the phone, they’ll be able to reference what’s been going on in your children’s lives. And, each time your spouse looks at the calendar, he or she will be reminded of life at home. Take this idea to the next level by ordering a personalized calendar with pictures of the family for each month your loved one will be away.
Jason made his calendar in advance to bridge the gap: “Anticipate. You better have that calendar all filled out with their events and special days captured so you won’t forget—because you will. You’ll get caught up in a mission, you’ll be exhausted, you’ll be lonely. Having a calendar with those events (whether it’s the day report cards are issued, or a birthday, or t-ball practice) will prod you to ask about those special moments in their lives. And believe me, asking your boy about t-ball practice is sometimes more important to him than you spending 15 minutes telling him how much you miss him. T-ball was today and at the forefront of his mind; you missing him is an intangible concept that’s more difficult to grasp. By being knowledgeable about what’s going on in their lives, you can ask questions that will get them talking. It is also crucial to keep up on what’s been going on to smooth the path once you’re home: it’s a lot easier to get filled in from 80% than to start at 0% and try to get back up to speed.”
Even if you don’t know the exact dates for things, just approximate. Monika says, “I knew my boys would be starting baseball in March, but I didn’t know the exact days for games. So, I just pinned some baseball stickers on the March month and make a note at the top about the season starting. That way, when my hubby sent a March card, he could include some baseball stickers and remember to ask the boys how things were going mid-month on our calls.”
3. Make Music for Their Ears
Hearing a loved ones voice is comforting—for both kids and parents. Make recordings for the kids and for the parent facing deployment so they can always hear a friendly voice.
Monika says, “We recorded Dad’s voice, so the kids could hear it even if he could not call or Skype. Our sons had teddy bears with Dad’s voice in them (Build-A-Bear has great military bear options). Also, I would send small books for him to read into a recorder and he would read the book then send it and the recorder back to them. When we were really lucky, he would read the books on Skype and I would record it so they could watch over and over again. At night, they’d follow along as Daddy read them their favorite bedtime stories from across the globe.” The power of hearing a loving voice isn’t just for the kids. Monika sent her husband recordings of her kids voices so he could listen whenever he was lonely. “We would sing him songs, I would record the kid’s band recitals, and sometimes we would just record us having a tickle fest so he could hear the kids giggle and laugh.”
4. Bring it Back to Reality
Don’t let deployment leave your kids feeling like they are not sure where their parent actually went. For younger children, pictures or nature videos about the place where Daddy is deployed helps build context. Monika says, “Anything you can do to make your children feel like Dad (or Mom) is OK, that they are just living in a different place and not missing or “in the trenches” is a huge help.” For older kids, staying informed via the news can help them understand. “For my older boys – Josef was 12 when my husband last deployed – he wanted REAL things,” Monika recalls. “He wanted to know what exactly was happening and the truth really helped him. Even though knowing about mortars striking dads FOB was scary, it was not as bad as what his imagination could conjure up. Josef had alone time on the computer and phone with Dad so he could hear the story right from his father. I think Josef never wanted to see a news article and be blindsided, or hear other kids talking about something that happened and not be “in the know.” For older kids you need to be real and not sugar coat things, because in the tragic event that something does happen, they won’t feel as if their parents lied to them or kept secrets. Being honest about things helps older kids feel connected with the “grown ups,” and gives them a better understanding of what the stay-home parent is going through. Being able to express to my older son that I was stressed or upset sparked him to have compassion and better understand the situation, instead of rebelling because he felt left in the dark.”
Jason’s face-time with his family helped everyone stay grounded. “Be present as much as possible. I know you can’t be “there” in person, but you can be “there” via Skype or FaceTime. If you can, get your mug in front of that tiny computer camera as much as possible. It’s important for your kids to know where you are and that you are OK. Body language—even from around the world—communicates so much to your children. They need to see (as much as hear) Daddy.
We hope you can use these tips the next time your loved one is deployed—and we’d love to hear your best ideas for staying connected even when you’re far apart!
About the Authors:
Monika Monize is a proud Army military spouse and mother of 5 children. She has kept the home fires burning through three 12-month deployments, as well as 4 mini-deployments ranging from 2-8 weeks. Monika serves as Director of Community Outreach for TroopSwap’s Washington, DC and Northern Virginia markets.
Jason Strickland is a proud Army Veteran. Jason deployed to the Middle East twice for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and to Central America twice for humanitarian assistance missions. He has been married for 19 years and is the father of 7-year old twins. Jason serves as the Director of Community Outreach for TroopSwap’s Colorado market.
About TroopSwap and Troop ID: Founded by two Army Rangers, our team is dedicated to working with reputable, military-friendly businesses to bring special deals and everyday discounts to verified active service members, veterans, and their families. TroopSwap provides hand-selected daily deals and military discounts for businesses near you. Troop ID is the first technology platform that verifies military or veteran status online, enabling top brands to securely deliver benefits and discounts to the military community through e-commerce. Troop ID’s Single Sign On allows members of the military community to access discounts, veteran skill training vouchers, and government benefits safely and securely online.