Imagine you were going away for several months and, upon returning, realize that your own child doesn’t remember you. Imagine that the baby you held, rocked, hugged and kissed before you left turned into a toddler who shies away from you as though you are a stranger. Imagine how it would feel to desperately want to console your child, yet he or she only runs away, scared of this new person in the house? As gut-wrenching as this sounds, this is what many soldiers fear prior to and during deployments.
One of my husband’s primary concerns when embarking on each of his deployments was that our young children would forget him while he was away. He worried that their inability to interact with him at such an impressionable age would cause them to slowly filter him out of their little memory banks until they didn’t really remember him at all. As he posed his concern, I realized that part of my duty on the home front would be to make sure this didn’t happen.
Through three deployments, I placed the emphasis of my kids’ daily lives on daddy. I talked about him often. I constantly told them how much he loves them and missed them. I included a prayer for his safety when we sat down for dinner. I kept a picture book in their toy box of them with daddy and a framed picture of him in his uniform at their level so they could pick it up and give him a kiss.
For the second and third deployments, they each had a Daddy Doll® which they slept next to and carried with them when we traveled. I scheduled our days around when daddy was going to call or Skype. When we did Skype, I made a big deal about getting to see him. I regularly played the home videos of daddy reading books and the DVD slide show of pictures my husband had made after his first deployment.
Every day, I did my best to keep daddy present in their minds and to show them what a special person he was. Even though he was not physically present, my goal was to have our lives revolve around him. I hoped and prayed that these efforts would be enough for my young children to remember their daddy.
They were, it brought me joy on the homecoming days to see that nothing had changed in the relationship between my husband and each of our kids. For all three deployments, the reintegration process went very smoothly and the kids acted as though he had never left.
I have learned through these deployments that the minds of babies and small children are incredible. It only takes a little bit of effort to make a big impression. Simple things like talking to them about a deployed parent, showing them pictures, and hearing the parent’s voice help to reinforce the feeling of connection that children have for their mommies or daddies. Such efforts made at home help reassure us that when homecoming day arrives, our children won’t see a stranger but rather a comforting face that lets them know their family is once again complete.