Separation from an active duty parent is not easy. This is a fact that all military families know. We try to be prepared. We gather books, resources, read every blog we can, but the reality is that each child is different and will respond differently to each plan differently. While these resources may not work for every child, they worked for my oldest on this deployment. Having these resources did not negate the bad nights, the occasional fights or angry words. The resources did provide an outlet for communication and comfort, which is what any parent desires for their child during uncertain times.
Operation Kid Comfort quilts is a wonderful resource if your local ASYMCA participates. If you have not received a quilt for your child with a previous deployment, you will be able to get a quilt made for your child. You will need for donate $5, but for the hours and love that the volunteers pour into these quilts, it is worth so much more than that. Many nights were spent peering over the pictures that were on the quilt (you send in your choice of photos), reviewing the memories attached to these photos, often falling asleep while talking. Deployment doesn’t mean you forget or don’t talk about the active duty parent that is deployed, they are there in your memory and heart. Children 6 and under receive a quilt, and children 7 and up receive a pillow. We did reach out to our local ASYMCA to ask if a child that had a quilt in the past could receive a pillow in the future and will update when we hear back.
Comfort Crew: This Texas-based non-profit company offers free boxes of support geared for children ages 6-12. The Dealing with Deployment box provides a journal, a specific DVD, “ammo can” box and bear with all the accessories to provide proper motivation. It was a lot of fun dressing up the bear, and the most thoughtful item in this box was the journal. The prompts in the journal allowed for my school-age child to respond to the prompts in her time and in privacy. We would discuss them later and found it was a great way to discuss how she was feeling. Requests open on their site if there are enough donations or boxes, so check their website often. Oftentimes, boxes are packed specifically for units so if your family is experiencing a unit deployment, check with your Deployment Readiness Coordinator (or your services equivalent) to see if your unit has already requested them.
My Letter to Daddy Book
Military spouse Renee Walker wrote the book My Letter to Daddy when she could not find a non-specific military branch or non-MOS specific book. The story shares the expressions of a boy and a girl missing their deployed parent through writing a letter to their deployed parent. The sweet message resonated with my school-age child. It is not branch specific which applies to any military family – from National Guard to Marines. The muted colors in the book are reflective on the mood felt when your active duty member is far away. This is not what is expected with a children’s book – bright captivating colors. Instead these muted colors are a great representation of the feelings that the story evokes and what the children (and parent!) feel while reading it. Renee shared that she added yellow hearts in each page as well demonstrating that there is still the love of the deployed parent felt, but they are gone. The yellow color is represented of the yellow ribbon put up on trees or windows representing a deployed family member. While this book is new, I suspect it will be on every military family’s shelves in the coming years as a way to discuss and share the feelings felt when deployment occurs. Support a small business and military spouse all while helping your child navigate feelings and emotions they may not be able to express.
While Daddy Dolls may seem geared toward younger children, having the comforting voice of the deployment parent on the recorder of the Daddy Doll is comforting for any age (let’s be honest, including me). The number of times that simple message of “Daddy Love You So Much” was played is enumerable. For the next deployment, he plans on recording a longer, more personal message. The Daddy Dolls came everywhere with us – road trips, trips to the park, the grocery store, staring at the rain…it was an extension of the deployed Daddy. Don’t let the name fool you – they can be Mommy Dolls, Uncle Dolls, etc as the custom image you upload is what makes the doll.
Lulu Jr. Illustory: School age children are developmentally at many different levels. Some want to talk about their feelings, others want privacy. One way to allow them to express themselves as they see fit is through the Illustory kit. This kit provides prompts and assistance for your child to write a book and a way to send the book in to be “published.” This kit was actually gifted to us by a family member. The note made perfect sense – “So you can write your story to share with Dad when he gets back”. Deployment doesn’t mean that you put your life on hold, it means you live your life and make memories – and then share them with the deployed family member upon their return. The ability for our kiddo to write a story, share her thoughts in story manner, or perhaps just share memories, allowed for open expression of feelings with the bonus of sharing the story when the active duty member returns.
START program from Blue Star Families
S.T.A.R.T. from Blue Star Families: If your 6-12 year old child is a lover of books, this program is for them. Blue Star Families started this program in 2019 implementing them at many of their programs across the country. START stands for Serving, Thriving And Reading Together, and it provides just that. This FREE program is a six-week program where military and civilian families come together for dinner, read a couple of books, discuss them and build relationships. The beauty of the program is that it is community based but the same stories are read each time so while the San Diego Blue Star Families START program may have different discussion than the START program at Jacksonville, the books and mission are the same – to build communities. We did this program during deployment as a way to continue to build community, foster relationships and continue to build on our love of reading and it was a hit. We have met up with families we met through the program afterwards continue to build on those relationships. An added bonus was that each family got a bag of books at the end to continue the reading journey. The books were donated by Disney Books and were geared toward older age groups than we have in our household currently which encouraged our oldest reader to want to read more to “understand the bigger books”. Check with your local chapter for when they are starting.
United Through Reading
United Through Reading: This program was such a godsend during deployment. United Through Reading programs are located on bases and ships allowing the deployed service member to record themselves reading a book, and then send that book and the video of themselves reading it to their loved ones. The first book reading we got from my husband led to the youngest sleeping through the night for the first time in weeks. It was a source of comfort and fun. Each month, the milkids would watch the mailbox waiting for another video and book. They enjoyed guessing if there would be a theme to the books or who would be the character featured (Captain Marvel, Mickey Mouse, Sofia?) and the videos that our active duty Dad recorded were watched over and over and over again. Each base that a military member is sent to is set up differently, but once a deployment is part of the future ask if there is a United Through Reading program available.
This resource list is for helping young military children through separation.
This is not an inclusive list of everything out there, but these resources helped us prepare for, discuss and navigate the inevitable ups and downs of deployment and separation. We hope that this list will be helpful for you and your family as well.
Is there a resource you would add? Let us know!