The Deployment Diatribes, (News From the Commander In Chief @ Home)

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Erin is a Navy Wife and Mom to 4 boys, including one with Autism. She recently parented solo during a 20 month deployment. She writes about military family life, deployment issues, Autism, and no-nonsense parenting.

Erin is a winner of Top 25 Military Moms - 2013

What's a tip for celebrating a holiday or milestone with your kids when your partner isn't able to be there?

Holiday time can be very stressful for a military family with a deployed parent.
The deployed parent often feels empty and alone and wants to be home. He (or she) wishes he could be home to share in the celebrations, but also to help with the preparations and work involved.
The at-home spouse struggles with the absence of a partner to share in the burden of making the house festive, shopping for gifts and preparing a meal. Plus, she probably feels less than merry and may not even want to go through the trouble of decorating, baking and shopping.
It can be hard to get into the holiday spirit when you see everyone around you is joyful and in family mode, preparing for fun holiday plans and you feel completely alone in the crowd.
Getting the decorations out and setting them up is a lot of work, especially while thinking of the fact that your spouse won’t be with you to celebrate, nor will he be there after the holidays, to help put it all away, which is not a fun task under the best of circumstances.
You have to pull yourself together and do it all anyway. Despite the lack of enthusiasm, the military wife has to put a smile on her face and make the effort to make the home joyful and festive, no-matter-what.
It’s all about the kids. Sure, the kids are feeling some of the same emotions as their parents. They know it won’t be the same without mom/dad, but they still look forward to the holidays. They get excited seeing the lights and Santa/menorahs, shopping bags, decorated cookies… all the hoopla that is Thanksgiving to New Years Day.
Without a parent to lead the way to the celebration, children will feel lost and even more alone. I know this because, I’m a more than a little embarrassed to say, I let it happen the first holiday season of my husband's most recent deployment.
I never let it happen again after I saw how I ruined the holidays for the kids. The next year, I was as tired as ever, but it was different. I decorated the house the day after Thanksgiving. The boys helped and were thrilled with the anticipation the decorations ignited.
And you know what? I felt better, too. Once I got over the stress and effort of getting the decorations out of the attic and putting everything in its place, I calmed down and looked forward to the holidays as much as the boys did.
Well, not quite as much, but I didn’t dread them like I had the first year he was gone.
Sometimes acting the part is more than half the battle.
An act can transition to reality and even if it doesn’t, making the effort for the kids will probably save a bundle in therapy bills for the kids in the future.

What have you learned about parenting from living in different places?

I have learned that my parenting techniques work no matter where we are and that consistency is key. Kids look for routine and predictability at all times, especially when their familiar environment is absent.
Our kids are definitely Third Culture Kids. They are American but, having lived abroad, have internalized culture and traditions from other nations. As soon as we arrive in our new home, wherever it is, I try to make the home as familiar as possible. I always set up the boys' rooms first and get pictures and paintings up on the walls, just as they were in our previous home, in order make it recognizable.
The most important aspect to parenting, after limitless love, is consistency. Consistency of routines, encouragement and discipline are key to raising kids who grow up to be good citizens of the world.

What are your best tips for traveling with kids?

Be Prepared.
We take a 28 hour (round trip) road trip almost every summer and I often do it alone with the kids. We've flown around the world with the kids. To say I have been there and done that would be an understatement.
First, get each child his/her own backpack for the road. Each of our boys has his own knapsack for the car or airplane and, after a certain age, each child is responsible for packing it with whatever will occupy his time during travel. We bought our boys ipods long before we would normally have done had we not been looking at a 14 hour plane trip. The Ipods definitely helped to keep the boys entertained and I do not regret the purchase.
For the preschool set, I always get a new supply of coloring books, stickers, playdoh, legos, and more. The youngest of the kids gets first pick of dvds in the car. Keeping the peace is very important. Taking turns works, but starting with the youngest goes a long way toward having a smooth trip.
When we traveled by air when the kids were younger, I always dressed them alike. Our kids are well behaved but it never hurts to have them looking their cutest in case things go awry. I can't tell you how many dirty looks we got, boarding a trans Pacific flight with 4 young boys, but we had equally as many smiles and complimentary comments as we deplaned because we prepared the boys for what to expect and how to behave. You have to do whatever it takes to keep a baby or toddler happy on a plane with hundreds of other passengers. To the extent you can afford it, don't spare expenses. Buy the dvd player, buy the Nintendo DS, buy 10 boxes of bandaids for the toddler to open and stick all over you.
Plan for any eventuality, from clothing changes to snacks to activities, put it all in easy to get to bags and you'll give yourself the best chance at a successful, smooth trip.

What can you do to comfort a child who is missing a parent who is away?

Erin Rovak Henderschedt

Helping your kids stay connected with a deployed/traveling parent is very important, but it is equally critical to not dwell on the issue. If your son or daughter is missing Daddy or Mommy, validate his or her worries and help him to connect by looking at a picture, sending an email or sharing stories. One great way we stay connected is with our Daddy Dolls (https://www.daddydolls.com/store/hugahero-dolls). I ordered one for each of my sons right after my husband deployed, last December. They sit at the foot of the beds of my 11 and 13 year olds, but my 4 and 7 year olds hug their daddy every night while they sleep. It's a small way that the boys stay connected. We also have a life size flat daddy that we take with us when one of the boys has a special event that Daddy would have attended, had he been home. We take pictures and send them to Daddy by email. Also, it always prompts positive, supportive comments from onlookers who thank the boys for their Dad's service and their sacrifice, which is really nice. Finally, we fill a large bowl with Hershey's Kisses. Each evening, the boys each get a "kiss" from Daddy. As his return nears, I make sure the number of kisses is right so that the last ones are taken the day before he comes home. It's a visible reminder for the kids that homecoming is approaching. It's not easy to have a parent away from home for long stretches, but if the at home parent works at it, the absence can be managed with grace.
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What is your best tip for not losing your temper with children?

Erin Rovak Henderschedt

I realized long ago that losing my cool got me no where with my kids, so I stopped doing it. Of course, every once in a while, I start to lose it but when I remember it doesn't help at all and only makes my kids feel terrible, I stop. It's better to stay calm and try to get the kids to do as they are supposed to or, if necessary, give the consequences. Keeping a calm voice makes it easier to get the kids to follow my lead. They are great kids and don't lose their temper very often either... Except for my 4 year old, but we'll get there.
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