Maintain Family Strength When Both Parents Deploy
As our nation continues to support military operations worldwide, many military families will face the prospect of deployment.1 And for some of these families, both parents will deploy at the same time. Military families experiencing dual parent deployment may face additional stressors, challenges and obstacles, so use the information below to proactively prepare your children — and your partner — for this transition.
Preparing Your Children When You Are Both Deploying
Deployment may take an emotional toll on the military family, but parents can take actions to ensure their children will be cared for until they return.2 Managing a dual parent deployment requires strategic planning, patience and commitment. If this is your first deployment as a family, children may have extreme feelings of discomfort and sadness. Take the following six steps to use the many available resources for support and education to manage this challenging transition.
Planning who will care for your children in your absence is essential. Think about who will care for them, discuss expectations and parenting guidelines, make sure your children are comfortable with these decisions and keep them informed throughout the process, as they will be the ones living with these decisions. Make sure you set communication, behavior, disciplinary, leisure and educational expectations.
Prepare for Emergencies
Emergencies and unplanned events may occur during deployment, so take the time to prepare for these events prior to deployment. A number of forms and documents need to be filled out prior to your departure such as Family Care Plan documents, Record of Emergency Data, beneficiary information, ID cards, Access letters, as well as making sure your will is up to date in case of an emergency.4 Warriors from every military service can access DoD’s Force Health Protection and Readiness website for detailed guidance with the pre-deployment planning process. In addition, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force each offer service specific resources.
Develop a Budget
This will help your interim care provider know how to better provide for your children financially. As a part of this budget, remember to include financial support for communication tools, such as stamps for letters and postage for packages.4 (Visit the U.S. Postal Service’s website for more information about sending mail to service members overseas.) Remember to budget money to cover expenses for school supplies, activities/hobbies, medical check-ups and vaccines, clothes and extras like movie tickets.
Talk With Your Children3
Pre-Deployment Parenting Tips
Read Preparing Children for Deployment to learn how to help your children understand the deployment cycle.
Include your children in what is happening. This will give them time to think about the deployment, begin to accept it and get used to their feelings about the separation to come. Be available when your children want and need to communicate with you prior to deployment. If possible, let your children know when you are leaving, where you are going and how long you will be gone — and make sure they know these guidelines may shift. Helpful tools for explaining deployment can be found at Sesame Street’s “Military Families Near and Far” website.
Keep Routines in the New Household3
Talk with your interim caregiver about routines, rules, interests, comfort items and special activities to help ease the transition. Keep family routines as similar as possible until the day you leave. Talk about and practice new routines that will occur during deployment such as:
- Your children may be walking home from school instead of you picking them up.
- Your children may be in charge of feeding pets while you are away.
- They may have to share a room with a sibling or live with their caregiver’s family.
- They may need to learn to live under stricter financial guidelines.
Stay in Touch With the Caregiver and Your Children3
Make plans for how to communicate with your interim caregiver and your children while you’re away. Include back-up plans in case the first choice is unavailable. Give the caregiver suggestions for talking with your children about you, your absence and your return. Maintaining regular communication will let children know that their parents are safe and thinking about them.3 The caregiver should also encourage children to talk about their parents while they're deployed. Discussing the parents’ absence can help children face any fears or sadness caused by the absence.3
Preparing Yourself for a Dual Deployment
Checklist for Dual Deployments
Use this helpful planning tool from Military OneSource [PDF 25KB] when making arrangements with your children’s caregiver.
If both parents are deployed at the same time, but to separate locations, military families may feel additional strains as continuing quality communication frequently is both difficult and at times impossible. Parents may find their dual deployment additionally challenging as they find themselves worrying about their partner’s safety and their family at home while also trying to manage their job performance. The following tips can help military families work toward building and strengthening healthy marriages and strong family units:
Set realistic expectations about the difficulty of deployment and the frequency of communication. Use letters, postcards and e-mails as a way to stay connected when phone calls become inconsistent. Keep making an effort to stay connected with your partner and your family back home.
Use the Free Resources Available to You5
Most military bases offer pre- and post-deployment marriage enrichment and family support courses. These courses provide families with communication, planning and educational tools. Resources are also available online that provide families with information, training and activities specifically designed for families managing deployments. Check out the additional resources below for more information.
Remember How It Started5
Share positive memories with your partner and children, like memories from vacations, holidays or special family rituals in your letters and postcards. These memories will remind to the entire family of happy moments shared together, as well as help them cope in your absence.
Use online news resources like Defense.gov’s news page, Stars and Stripes and Military Times to keep up-to-date on events in the region to which you are deploying. In addition, each military service offers married couples deployment readiness information, which includes tips for managing a successful deployment. The chaplain offices or family support centers on military bases often have free copies of books and workbooks available for couples and families. Plan to discuss them during phone calls or while writing e-mails or letters; this will help your partner feel involved and comforted by knowing more about where you are located.
Stay in Touch6
Care packages, letters and e-mails are great ways to stay connected during deployment. Just as children will find comfort in sending these items to you and your partner, sending packages and letters to each other will bring comfort to you as well. The frequency of communications during deployments will vary according to circumstances, so try not to judge a partner's commitment by the number of letters or e-mails that others might receive. If you are identifying a caregiver or a guardian, develop a communication plan outlining expectations for the amount and type of contact you will try to have.
Focus on the Future5
Write down and discuss your future plans with your partner and family. Planning for the future implies that you will be reunited. This process can forge a feeling of mutual security and reduce stress brought on by the distance. Make short- and long-term goals such as what kind of home you want to live in and where you would like to go on a family vacation when you return. Having a goal to work toward is a great way to make time seem to pass faster.
Educate Yourself about the Deployment Cycle5
Use the Deployment Health Clinical Center’s support resources and the Deployment Health and Family Readiness Library to learn more about the deployment cycle, which may include periods of sadness or detachment for you and your spouse. Difficult emotions can be common parts of the deployment cycle, but learning how to anticipate and address them can be helpful for you and your spouse.
Respect the Transition5
Understand that each member of your family will be changed as a result of the deployment. Some spouses may become more independent and self-confident, and your children will grow and mature. Others, however, may experience the onset of anxiety and dependency when their partner returns. Both spouses need to understand that the experience of war is an extraordinary life event for every service member. Leaving a war zone and returning home can be a difficult transition but it can be managed with proper preparation and mutual support.
Reach Out for Help to Keep Your Family Strong
Although some parents may deploy to different locations, a growing number of couples are volunteering to deploy to combat zones as a way to deploy together and avoid a lengthy separation. Whatever your situation, ensuring your children’s wellbeing and keeping your marriage strong during a dual parent deployment takes dedication, patience, trust and commitment. Fortunately, a wide array of resources are available to warriors in each military service. Start planning today by talking to a trained health resource consultant through Real Warriors Live Chat or by using the helpful resources below.
- For parents serving in the Army [PDF 3.78MB]
- For parents serving in the Navy
- For parents serving in the Air Force
- For parents serving in the Marine Corps
- For parents serving in the National Guard
- Parents serving in all military services can access Military OneSource or the National Military Family Association for additional parenting resources
- Listen to “A Family Grows When Both Parents Deploy,” National Public Radio’s report on dual deployments
- Learn about Mr. Poe and Friends, a program that provides guidance to children and family members during the stages of deployment
- Learn about “When Parents are Deployed,” a program that reveals candid and intimate moments with the parents, caregivers and children impacted by deployment.
- United Through Reading
1"Tips for Married Couples Dealing with Deployment," TwoOfUs.org. Last accessed on Feb. 5, 2013.
2"Deployment Readiness," Military OneSource. Last accessed on Feb. 5, 2013.
3“When Single Parents or Both Parents Are Deploying [PDF 25KB]," University of Missouri. Last accessed on Feb. 5, 2013.
4"Active Duty Single Parents Deployment Readiness Checklist [PDF 35KB]," Navy.mil. Last accessed on Feb. 5, 2013.
5"Tips for Married Couples Dealing With Deployment," National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. Last accessed on Feb. 5, 2013.
6"Staying In Touch When a Family Member is Deployed [PDF 65.18KB]," Iowa National Guard. Last accessed on Feb. 5, 2013.
7McLaughlin, Pfc. Matthew. "Dual Military Couples Share Deployment." American Forces Press Service. Published on Jan. 26, 2005.