As military spouses, we get what we signed up for. We’ve learned that workdays often frequently start before 9 a.m. and blow right by 5 p.m. We understand that training exercises mean anywhere from six to 12 weeks away from home. We know it’s on us to create some sense of normalcy at home during deployment. We plan for the stages of separation. But, two pink lines on a plastic stick mean a new challenge: We have to learn how to keep a military parent connected during baby’s first year.
Yes, the journey you and your partner started together as two now includes another little human, but the frequent feedings, diaper changes, and spit-ups won’t always be shared tasks. You can handle that, right? The harder part becomes handling the first-year milestones alone, and that will be hard for both you and your spouse.
During the first year of life, a child’s brain will double in size. A child will start to respond to familiar faces and voices. While it may be easy for you to create close connections to your new little one, it may be harder for your spouse in uniform. We have four tips to keep them connected.
Swaddle in Your Sweetie’s Shirt
We associate a specific cologne, detergent, or even deodorant with our spouse, and our baby does the same. The sense of smell is processed by a part of the brain that also controls memory. Your baby will form strong associations between scents and the experiences attached to them. When you cuddle your baby and you can smell each other’s scent, both of you experience higher levels of the hormone oxytocin — also known as the love hormone — which helps with the bonding process.
Before your spouse leaves for a time, have him to stock up on that Old Spice. Throw on his t-shirt for a day while you’re spending time with your baby or spray a small amount of mom’s perfume onto a swaddle blanket a few days before wrapping your baby up for the night. Since infants have a highly sensitive sense of smell, you don’t want the scent to overpower the fabric.
Hang Reminders in the Nursery
As your infant starts to associate emotions with images, facial expressions, and toys it’s important to make sure she can develop a relationship with her military parent while they’re apart. Hang pictures of your family by the crib or changing table. The frequent visits to these areas and talking about your spouse with animated facial expressions will help develop positive feelings with your spouse’s image. You can also create a cardboard picture book with different photos of her family members for her to play with during diaper changes!
Have Dad Read at Bedtime
Once your little one passes the newborn phase and you’re able to develop a bedtime routine, be sure to include a few books mom or dad was able to read and record before leaving. Hearing that familiar voice will create comfort just before bedtime. Recordable storybooks make sure that parents aren’t missed at bedtime, no matter how far away they are.
Also, consider having your spouse record a few lullabies onto your smartphone voice memos. By 12 months, your little one will have favorite songs — wouldn’t it be sweet if one of those became a favorite?
Connect as Much as You Can
How lucky are we that technology has completely transformed in the last 10 years and we now have easy ways to see, speak, and record our loved ones? FaceTime, Skype, and Google Hangouts are all easy ways to schedule a playdate with a military parent when they can’t be home.
If internet connections are hairy or time differences don’t make for the most comfortable planning, Skype video messages or pre-recorded videos you can play repeatedly make it easy for baby to see mom or dad when it’s most convenient for everyone. Your baby will enjoy seeing and hearing your spouse, and your kiddo may even pick up on identifying features, like that high-and-tight haircut!