When I was a child, my dad served in the military, and he was gone a lot. In my first year, I think I saw him only twice. And for the next 14 years, he was often away for months at a time, even on holidays and birthdays.
Back then, it was difficult to stay in touch with a frequently traveling parent. Today, technology can help tremendously in keeping families bonded, and help ease the separation and transition back into the home. I’ve done a lot research into this topic for a children’s book app I’m developing. The book app will, I hope, help children stay connected with faraway loved ones, and even help them have a sense of control by letting them personalize and customize the story to fit their situation.
Here are some tips I’ve gathered so far to help kids cope with a frequently traveling parent:
- Schedule a regular phone call and start a tradition of sharing a story together — tell a funny story about your day and ask the child to do the same.
- Instead of phone, use FaceTime (on your Apple device) or Skype video; a face-to-face conversation includes all the smiles and expressions a phone call doesn’t. Treat the video call less like a phone call and more like spending time together: read a book, play show and tell, or play a game.
- Prior to deployment or leaving on the work trip, record yourself on video reading several children’s books. Play them throughout the absence.
- Put together a photo album every 6 months or get one pre-made from a service like Shutterfly.com or Snapfish.com. Include photos of the whole family doing the things you love to do. Biking, playing, even gardening and reading. Flip through the book and play “Remember this? Tell me what happened.” This is a great tactic for faraway aunts, uncles, and grandparents too.
- Tell stories of what mom or dad did that day away from home — taught something to someone, fixed a flat tire, helped a buddy out of trouble — and draw pictures of the situation.
- For older kids, have the child keep a journal of stories to share when the parent comes home, so he or she doesn’t miss anything good.
- Use a map or globe to show where in the world you are and where the traveling parent is now. You could even use Google Maps and look at the terrain or neighborhood.
Of course, technology can not replace the warmth of being together in person, but it really can help make the absence feel shorter and less confusing and painful.