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Editor’s Note: While not every deployed couple has children at home, the themes and applications in this writing are common in long-distance relationships. And on this Father’s Day, we hope some of these principles might be worthwhile suggestions for your time apart from family. You all are our heroes!
Behold, children are a gift of the LORD. . . . —Psalm 127:3
“I’m not there! What can I do about it?” If you’ve ever heard those words from a deployed service member, you know the frustration they offer up to the one at home having to deal with the troubling situation. If the situation regards the rearing of children, then the frustration can reach epic proportions. None of us wants that, right? So here are some thoughts to help—they’re so simple we call them the “ABCs” of long-distance parenting.
“A” is for “Ask Good Questions!” I’ve heard the excuse, “I don’t know what questions to ask!” Having a good parenting talk with your spouse at home while you are deployed means starting simple . . . . something like “How are you doing today?” or “What happened with the children today?” Bible teacher, John MacArthur, says in his essay, on “Peter: A Lesson in Leadership,”
“Now what is the raw material looked for in a leader? First of all, does he ask questions? . . . . People who don’t ask questions don’t wind up as leaders because they’re not concerned about problems and solutions. If you want to find a leader, look for somebody who asks questions.”
Are you concerned about what is happening at home? Ask your spouse questions! Please . . . please . . . please don’t just “assume” that things are such-and-such, ASK! Parents are leaders in their homes—they lead their children in every aspect of life—so show leadership by asking how they are doing! And don’t forget those all-important questions of your spouse at home—“What can I do to help you?” and “How can I pray for you?”
“B” is for “Be Prepared.” There are things which you and your spouse can talk about ahead of time, anticipate and plan for so that the deployment can go more smoothly. In regards to the children, talk about which school activities you want them to participate in; talk about trips to take; talk about their developing friendships—which to promote and which to discourage; talk about their educational progress and what each child needs help with; talk about their spiritual growth and how you each can be intentional about taking steady steps of growth during deployment; talk about how you want to be included in holidays, even though you’re far away; talk about the importance of keeping a regular schedule—a must for children experiencing deployment; talk about finances which are going to be spent on the children while you’re gone—like orthodontics, or summer camp; talk about what service project the kids can do while you are apart—something to take the focus off themselves and onto the needs of others; talk about consistency in discipline—making sure that the kids know who is the boss; talk about your commitment to support each other in doing what is best for the children.
Be sure you have this talk about your parenting concerns before the deployment. Don’t leave home without it! (But even if deployed, it’s never too late!)
“C” is for “Communicate with the Children.” Communicating with your spouse is great, but don’t forget to communicate with your children—regularly, if possible. Send a card, send an email, send a gift, send anything. I remember talking with a soldier who said that he tried to send his kids something every week, even if it was something really simple like a note saying, “Daddy loves you!” One week he didn’t know what to send, so he took the little wooden spoon that came with his cup of ice cream, wrote “Daddy misses you” and mailed it in a small envelope. Get creative—kids just want to know that they’re loved and missed. Let them know that they’re part of the mission, too—that you couldn’t do what you are doing without their help at home. Encourage them in their schooling, their chores at home, their behavior . . . . and if you have chosen a Scripture verse to memorize together while you’re away, encourage them with that.
Another good reminder is to answer an emotion with an emotion . . . . children (and adults) need that. If your child says, “I miss you so much” make sure you say “I miss you so much, too—you are so special to me.” Going from an emotional statement to an intellectual statement without that emotional connection does not make for good communication at the “heart” level. So if your child says, “I miss you so much,” try not to minimize their feelings with a response like “You’ll be okay—just stay busy.” There will be time for that encouragement, but start by validating their feelings.
Teenagers especially need to hear from their deployed parents—to know that they’re appreciated and prayed for. Stay up-to-date with their social and school concerns so that you can ask good questions. There’s that letter “A” again—asking good questions! And make sure you listen for the answers . . . . which will then generate more questions. Much like a tennis game where one lobs the ball back and forth, good communication can be a series of good questions and answers which lead to more good questions.
We’ve heard it said that writing letters to children, especially teenagers, during deployment—hand-written letters that they can take out from time-to-time and think over—is a wonderful way to stay in touch. And the best way to stay in touch with your older children is to ask “How can I pray for you?” If you have the chance to Skype, or talk on the cell phone, pray with them on the phone. Encourage them to pray out loud, first by picking out two things to be grateful for and one thing they are concerned about—that’s a great place to start.
Those are the “ABCs” of long-distance parenting (will differ with those at sea—which really requires prior planning in parenting!) . . . but there’s also a “D” for “Don’t be passive!” Just because you are away does not mean that you have given up your responsibility as a parent. There is work to be done, whether by maintaining good communication with your spouse or with your children, in whatever way you possibly can knowing that the demands of war differ from person to person. Seizing, not neglecting, the opportunity to prepare your family, to pray for your family, and to lead your family throughout this deployment will yield blessings which you cannot even imagine right now—but will be evident in the security and peace within your family in years to come.
Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon on “Peter: A Lesson in Leadership” is found on his ministry website http://www.gty.org/Resources/Print/Sermons/2271
Questions to Share:
1. In what ways did you prepare your family for this deployment?
2. Take this opportunity to discuss with your spouse any unmet parenting needs which you feel should be addressed.