Helping Families When Parents Are Deployed
Supporting Your Infant During Deployment
Attachment and Young Babies
Attachment describes the developing relationship between you or a close caregiver and your baby. Your baby is born ready for relationships. It is more important that someone is head over heels in love with your baby than whether both mom and dad are present. Usually, before babies are five months old, they do not cry when a special person leaves. After 5 months, separation is harder and many babies cry when left by a loved one. A one-year-old may be very upset when parents leave. At eighteen months, a baby may show fear when approached by any stranger.
Babies are learning who loves them. Your baby learns the world is safe and caring if they are picked up when crying, fed when hungry, played with when alert, and helped to sleep when tired.
All babies cry. Young babies are often difficult to comfort. It is impossible to spoil a young baby. Babies who are picked up when they cry, cry less as they get older.
While it is very hard for you to leave your young baby, the baby is resilient. You will be missed, but it is more important that someone who loves the baby cares for your child. You have years to create a loving relationship.
Before You Leave
Spend time with your baby. You may feel sad. You were just getting to know this wonderful human being. It is hard to leave your baby so make a special effort to spend time with your baby before you go.
Your baby knows the world through touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, and smelling. To help your baby remember you while you are gone, take pictures of you and the baby just being together. Try leaving a tape recording of you saying simple rhymes like “This Little Piggy went to Market” or singing a silly love song to your baby. Leave some things that smell like you, a T-shirt or towel. Your baby can sleep with those.
Baby-proof the house so it is safe for your baby. This is something both parents can do together. There are excellent lists of things to make the house safe. Dangerous chemicals and medicines must be locked up out of your baby’s reach. Doing this will help the family after deployment, when only one parent is around to supervise your children.
While the Military Parent is Away
Start a baby book for the absent parent to see when they return. Save memories. Put in pictures of your baby in the bathtub or crawling in the living room; or you can write a sentence, “Today baby tried applesauce, more got on baby than in baby.” Put a date on the things you save.
Create a new bedtime ritual. Hold your baby and look at a picture of the military parent, say goodnight or blow a kiss. If you pray out loud with your baby, include the military parent in your prayers.
Talk to your baby every day about the deployed parent. Tell them how much they look alike, how they have their eyes or mouth or laugh.
Simply your life. Eat simple meals. It is more important to be calm and enjoy your baby than have a clean house or fancy meal.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Caring for a young baby is very hard. If it is too much, ask for help. This is especially true if you want to yell or hit the baby - or if you feel deep sadness that lasts more than two weeks.
Talk to your baby. Tell your baby how much the parent who is away loves them and, while they are gone for now, they will come home.
When you return, you and your baby need time to get to know each other again. Your baby may not want to be held by you and may cry and cling to the other parent. As painful as this is, it is a sign of healthy development. Give your baby time to ‘warm up’. You have a lifetime to be together and to love each other.
When your baby is coming to you with ease, the two of you can do things together. By feeding, bathing, and changing diapers, you enter into your baby’s daily life. These tasks are a way to say ‘I love you’ to your baby.
Praise the parent who was home; it is not easy being alone with a baby. Be honest with yourself if you feel a bit jealous. These feelings are natural and a sign of how much you love your baby.
Including the whole family
The parent who was deployed needs praise. It is heroic to leave a young family and do your duty when you have a young baby.
The home-front parent may need to learn to include the returning parent in decision making, especially if this is your first baby.
If the baby is an only child, the baby will have to get used to sharing. As parents, you will have to get used to sharing your time together, too.