Dad Is Deploying, How to Handle the "Good-bye's"

Updated on August 03, 2008
A.V. asks from Bothell, WA
10 answers

I'm hoping there are some fellow military mom's (current or former) that can give me some advice. My husband is leaving in just 18 short days for a year long deployment to the Middle East. This will be the second one of his that we have endured. What is so different about this one is, we now have two children. Our oldest will be 4 in October, and we have a 10 week old. Here's my hubby and our oldest son are VERY close. The longest my hubby has been away during our son's life is two weeks (for other military training). I don't even want to try and explain to our son that daddy is leaving for a year, becuase he has no idea how long that is. I just tell him, "Daddy is at work in the Army" when my hubby goes away for his shorter stints. My question is, do I include my son on the trip we take to drop off my hubby the day he leaves? He will know this is different, becuase he'll see all the other soldiers and know this is going to be a different kind of goodbye to daddy. My hubby and I don't want to put any of us thru a tearful, screaming and eventual tearing my son away from his daddy kind of goodbye. It would just be torture for all of us. Is this the right choice? We planned on just having him say goodbye to daddy at the house and I take our soon to daycare, and then I take my husband to the drop off place. Are we making the right decision here? Obviously, our youngest won't even remember this, so I'm just concerend about him remembering his daddy when he comes home. Our youngest will be about 15 months old then.

It was hard enough saying goodbye to him the first deployment...We had just learned I was pregnant with our son just days before he shipped out. Things were so different then. I will still grieve his departure, but in private and with my support system, not in front of my son. I feel I need to be the strongest parent I can, for him. I'm a big girl and can deal with it, but my heart just breaks at the thought of the hard times my son is going to have over the next coming year. Any advice will help....thank you.

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So What Happened?

Well, we are still deciding on what to do, but I think we are indeed leaning towards taking him now. We did a "test run" yesterday, when my hubby had to leave for a few days to help load up equipment that is being shipped overseas for the deployment. He was all dressed up in his digitals and sat down and told our son that he had to go to work for a few days and to be a good boy for mommy. Our son was ok, gave his daddy a big hug and told him he loved him and that he would see daddy when he got home. So, he did ok. The true test will be amongst the other soldiers and a crying mommy at the armory. But, I think we may take him now.

Thank you all so much for all the advice for other things, too. Recording daddy reading our son stories, getting a special stuffed animal for him, etc. We will be doing these things for sure. Thanks again, Ladies! Bless you all!

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answers from Seattle on


Wow, I am right there with you! I am an Army wife too. My husband is deploying at the same time, this is his second deployment. The first deployment my boys were 6 and 11 yrs old. We took them with us to say goodbye. It was hard on all of us, my mom came with us so she could drive home and I could be sad and also comfort my boys. I think that made it a little easier. This time my boys are 11 and 16 yrs old and I am a SAHM. Last time I worked full time.

I video taped my husband reading stories to the boys before he left last time and at bedtime while he was gone we would watch them as part of the bedtime routine. That was helpful for all of us to "see" daddy.

Towards the end of the last deployment we were able to video chat with Daddy. That was really great for all of us as well. We are hoping that will be possible this time too.

For the last two months of his deployment we made a paperchain to take one piece off a day until Daddy was home. That was a concrete way to show the passing of days for my litte one.

I am in the Everett area if you want to talk or get together. We army wives need to stick together. I will PM you with my phone number.


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answers from Seattle on

The best piece of advice I can give is this: It's not the goodbyes that are important. It's what you do during the time that they're away.

My dad was career Navy (36years), aka our entire childhoods and part of our adulthood. This was during 2 wars, 3 if you count the Cold War, countless operations, and periodic peacetimes. He was never gone less then 6 months out of every year. This was before our great era of communication. He was on submarines, so we were lucky to get even one letter...and if he phoned from some port, we kids never heard about it. I actually chat online with many of my friends on the front lines these the isolation isn't usually as bad as it was 20 years ago, or even 10. (I was in the USMC myself until 'I broke myself'. ;)

During the time while they're gone it's entirely how YOU react & treat their deployment that makes the big difference on how your kids react and feel about it. We saw this time and time again, especially when we were living on base overseas with thousands of other families is our exact same position. My mum, and most of our friends' mums or dads made it fun, and nonchalant. Our dads & mums were talked about, we'd tease them by having a their favorite dinner or some other thing they liked best while they were away sometimes, and we knew our mum's loved and missed them...but we were a military family...this was what daddys & mums did. Some (very few) of our other friends' parents on base made such a huge weeping deal about it that they would hide out at our houses where "Everything's not terrible over here! :) Can I stay for dinner??? Puh-leeze???" Their parents spent their days either crying or angry or just generally afraid.

There's an old quote that says "The best thing my mom ever did for me was to love my dad." We never forgot our dad, and always looked forward to seeing him because when my mom talked about him she was happy. She didn't talk about the danger he was in except to say "Oh, you know your dad, he can handle it". She DIDN'T say "Oh, I wish your daddy was here for your birthday"...she DID say "Won't you have a blast telling you dad all about this party?" It was a thousand little things just like that, everyday, that made us feel like our Dad was with us...even when he was far away. To this day I'm very close with both my parents...even though the time I actually spent with my father growing up was probably negligible compared with most people. My mom created his presence for us, not a sadness that he wasn't there.

Whenever he shipped out we typically said our goodbyes at home, but we got to come in the car every once and awhile. I was ALWAYS disappointed coming in the car because it was never the grand old party they showed in the news...and everyone was distracted and stressed out.

To remember while they're gone:

1) They're safer then we are...we have a better chance of dying in a car accident while they're gone....yay uplifting thoughts! :P

2) It's always safer to serve at war then at peace. (The average number of deaths from training accidents EACH YEAR in peacetime hovers around 100,000.) We all know the count for Iraq. And all the years of VietNam was what? 70,000? I have to admit, I don't know off the top of my head. Still better then just one year training at home...Um...if peace breaks out (and we all pray it does) just try and forget this fact!! But for now, hold on tight :)

3) If you don't have honorable people fighting wars, what HAVE you got?

4) It's better to plan for happiness then sadness. Sadness needs no help, happiness does.

Peace & Laughter & Safe Returns,

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answers from Seattle on

Hi A. -

My husband deployed five months ago and we have a 4 year old son & 6 year old daughter. I completely understand the anxiety of the coming days and will keep your family in my prayers.

I explained the deployment length to my kids in terms of holidays (Easter to Halloween) so they could get a better handle on the time frame. It took my son a few months to really grasp it though.

As far as the dreaded farewell, we opted to keep it private & at home. My husband tucked the kids in, said good-night, wiped his own tears away and then I took him to the ship (yes, he's a navy guy). I like your plan of dropping your off at daycare first and wouldn't do it any other way. There's no way I wanted my kids to see how upset I would be if I couldn't keep it together (it's bad enough the poor baby-sitter saw me fall apart upon my return).

On a lighter note, you have the opportunity to be the best spin doctor ever. I explained to my kids while Dad was gone, we were going to have amazing adventures to share with him. I put on my game face each time I described the day trips and vacations we were going to take. My daughter became so excited that she inquired if, "Dad could leave now" weeks before his departure. :)

A friend of mine tood fun pictures of her husband doing every-day things (like brusing teeth, washing dishes, reading a book, etc. etc.) and then put the pictures around the house accordingly (brushing teeth pic went in the bathroom). Anyway, there's tons of ideas if you need more. The one thing I wish we would have done before he left was video taped him reading books! It would have been sooooo much easier then him trying to do it on the ship.

Hang in there! I'm on your side. :)


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answers from Seattle on


I was in the Army from 1999 until 2002. I would take him to the drop off point and let him say good bye to Daddy there. If you take him to daycare like normal and he comes home to no Daddy, that may make it harder to get him to go back to daycare until Daddy comes back. Explain to him that Daddy is going to be gone for a loooooong time and that it will be okay for him to miss Daddy, that you will too.

My first thought is to get a special calendar, or make one on power point, mark the date of return with a star or red circle or something, and every night mark off the day with your son. That way he has a visual reference.

Other thoughts: 1) Give him a shirt of Daddy's that he can sleep with, and change it out as the smell wears away. That is often comforting. 2) Cry with your son when you both *really* miss Daddy, our kids need to see that we have the same feelings that they do. 3) Talk about Daddy and what he's doing whenever your son asks. 4) Web cams. That way your older son can talk with Daddy, and your younger one won't totally forget what Daddy looks and sounds like.

This is the hardest thing I think, sending Daddy off to duty while everyone else stays home to carry on. There is a song by Roxie Dean called Soldier's Wife, that I think every military spouse should have a copy of. It's a country song, but the lyrics are incredibly fitting.

Hope this helps,

I just found a link to the video on YouTube:

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answers from Seattle on

Hi A. -
My heart goes out to you. I am not a military wife, but have friends who have family members who are deployed. I can only imagine the pain and fear. As for your son; I think your idea is best - dropping him off at daycare. However, he needs to know up front that Daddy will be going to work in a different country and won't be coming home until... If you can give him a solid idea of when to expect him back (e.g. Christmas, Easter, birthday) then he can mark the passage of those holidays and know that his return is approaching. If your husband has time, perhaps he could write a letter for each week or month he'll be gone and you can make a special day to read the letter for that month. If your financial situation allows there could be a small gift from time to time as well (but not with EVERY letter!). And of course, with the internet and cell phones you'll be able to talk to him and send pictures back and forth. It will help your younger child as well if you have a picture of your husband always where he can see it and to talk about him frequently and show the picture (this is daddy).
It's ok to let your son see you cry too. He needs to know that you are human - that you are worried, that you miss your husband, even that you are, at times, scared. Being strong is great, but don't hide your true self from him - kids see that.
I hope this helps somewhat.

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answers from Seattle on

Oh My Goodness, your post gave me goose bumps and tears.
You will do the right thing, because only you and your dear husband know what is best for your family.
I know the military has most excellent support systems in place to support and advise in these cases have you contacted them? My neighbor is a Navy wife and ombudsman for Navy wives. I could ask her if you want to email me privately please do so.
I love the show Army Wives. Even my rough tough TX bull riding cowboy husband watches it with me now.
Our 17 year old just informed us he wants to be a Navy SEAL
My dream was that he would go to college. He got 1875 on his SAT's and he just graduated from High School.
Evidently college is not his dream now. He just told our chiropractor he got a soccer scholarship offer, I was in the room, first I'd heard of it. He did not tell his Father and I for obvious reasons, the stinker is 17 and a male.....
My father was in the Navy when I was born. He did not meet me until I was over 6 months old.
My Mom said when the men would come back off of the boat all the children would say "Daddy! Daddy!?" To every sailor who walked by, because none of us recognized our fathers.
The military is a proud and challenging lifestyle. I am thankful and proud of them, but it is not easy for the support staff and families.
God Bless you and yours.
Please tell your husband thank you. We appreciate his service and sacrifice.
Please remember to take care of yourself.
Hugs to your precious family.
When you figure out what works, please let me know.
I don't know how I will sleep at night when precious #1 son is in the service. But I know I will swallow my tears and show him strength and how proud I am of him always. May have to let a boo hoo or two sneak in, hey, I'm not perfect.
Blessings on you and yours,

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answers from Seattle on

Dear A.- So sorry to hear that you'll be home alone for so long. Take advantage of any help that is offered to you. My experience with this has been with my sister and brother-in-law. He went to Iraq 4 years ago when he had a 4 year old son, 2 year old daughter and 6 month pregnant wife. My other sister and her daughter, my husband, my daughter and I all went with her family to say good-bye. It was a long, hot day in Wisconsin, but it was a good memory, and it made us feel very special that he was standing there in rank with all those other men while the inspirational speeches and fanfare was going on. I think it would be good and helpful to your son if he is told what's going to happen and can see for himself that daddy is going with all these men and women to take care of people who need soldiers to watch over them. (That's how we explained it, anyway.) Of course he doesn't understand the time frame, but I think he'll be very confused to go to daycare like it's just another day and then come home to find his world quite empty.
Make the videos, tape recordings, photos together during these last days. Buy a webcam. Do special things so that your son knows that while daddy's gone for a while he can do (fill in the blank here) when he gets lonely for daddy. That will also help when you're feeling down. My nephew saw my sister crying one day, and he said, "Are you sad because daddy is gone?" my sister said yes and her son brought her his special pillow that dad laid on beside him while saying prayers at night and the tape recorder with him reading a book! It definitely means a lot to the kids!!!
You ultimately know what's best for your family, but I'd say use this as a strengthening and learning opportunity, rather than just letting dad go away unnoticed.

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answers from Seattle on

I am now a 68 year old grandmother of 21 and great grandmother to 2. My hubby deployed to Viet Nam twice when out children were small. The first time Ken our oldest was 3 and I was PG with Shari and he was gone 18 months. He and Ken were very close but we all went to the drop off to say good bye that time and it was not a problem, it was calm, a few tears, but I was glad we were all there. The second time was two years later and as things were winding down with the battle I went alone with him, Ken was in school that day and said his good bye at home. It is always hard but I had a good support group of friends with the same situation and I was lucky to have a wonderful family close by too. Ken also joined the military and was in Desert Storm leaving his small children while he was gone and it was not a bad experience. I have two grandsons in Iraq in the Marine Corps which was what my hubby was. My prayers are with you and your hubby in this time. L

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answers from Seattle on

-- You will be in my prayers. As a 40 years plus Mom/grandmom, preschool teacher I can promise you that in some ways your 4 year old will do better than you will-. Little guys are very much '''in the present'''.

I would encourage you ( oh, Honey this is the hard part) to share a portion of your grief with your son- becasue he needs to know that you hurt, too- otherwise he's going to think there's something wrong with how badly he'll feel. So -- If you can take another adult along that loves him - I'd take him with you. Yes, that will be terribly painful- but he needs to see and experience that this is a huge deal happening to LOTS of kids and Dads and Moms - otherwise the 4 year old will find a way to think this is about something naughty he did. NOT a good thing -. He will play- and learn and grow over the next year - and have fun and laugh and fuss - and HIS wanting Daddy back will begin to help the newborn know that the picture and the voice are VERY special . Thank God that you and the children should be able to talk to Dad ( yes, even the newborn could hear Daddys' voice - any chance you have a speaker phone so the baby can see your excitement and connect it to Dad's voice???)

My youngest daughter ( and the mother of 2 of my 3 grandchildren) has endured 3 10-month tours to Iraq on the part of her husband - my heart is with you---

Old Mom
aka- J.

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answers from Seattle on

I haven't been in your exact situation but my thought is to take him, that he might be mad later if you don't! Everytime my husband leaves town, my daughter loves to give him one of her toys, often a "fierce" one like a lion or tiger to "protect" daddy. That might help him feel better about daddy being okay. And maybe daddy can get him a special toy that he can sleep with or cuddle whenever he is thinking about and missing him.

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