I never wanted to go through deployment with a baby and toddler, but I did it. TWICE.
When I had my second baby, I mastered the art of holding the baby with one hand while doing everything else with the other. Every mom eventually figures this out, and feels like Super Woman as she develops the unique skill of doing everything one-handed.
I could cook, vacuum, read a book, complete homework assignments, or push the toddler on the swing, all while holding the little one (who was a particularly clingy and fussy infant.) My husband deployed to Afghanistan just two weeks after the little guy was born, so I was essentially on my own with my hands very full for the next seven months.
And then we had a third baby. This time, my husband deployed before the baby was born. I gave birth during the deployment and instantly became a solo mom to three kids under three. Now my kids outnumbered my hands. I felt like an ER nurse, constantly making “triage” choices to take care of whichever one was crying loudest.
And it felt like someone was always crying.
That was not an easy year. I was tired, stressed, and overwhelmed most of the time. I pulled through with help from family, friends, and other moms. Many incredible people offered encouragement, advice, and practical support. I will never forget the challenges of those deployments, or the lessons I learned along the way. Here are some of the strategies that helped us all survive deployment with a baby and toddler.
Tips for handling deployment with a baby and toddler
Find free, simple activities
When you’re a mom of multiple kids, it can take an hour just to get everyone into the car! I get it. But sometimes you need to get out of the house! We took advantage of free local activities that were kid-friendly. This added structure to our days, helped break up the monotony of being a stay-at-home mom, and connected me to wonderful friends!
My favorites were the local Moms playdate group, MOPS at church, library story time, lunch at the USO, and Blue Star Museums (which let military families attend for free).
Spend time with the big kid
When you have a baby, it’s easy for the infant to steal all your time and attention. But if you are the only parent at home, the other kids need your attention too! As much as I wanted to catch up on chores when the baby napped, I made the effort to spend one-on-one time with the toddler or older kids.
The baby’s naptime was a chance to do arts and craft projects that were too messy for baby, or just to snuggle up and read a book together. My oldest looked forward to Mommy time during the deployment, and I think it helped her cope with Dad’s absence.
Bottle-train the baby
Even though I breastfed all my kids, I quickly realized that I needed to introduce them to a bottle too. Without bottle training, you cannot ever be away from your baby for more than two hours. When you go through deployment with a baby and toddler, it’s impossible to go away from the baby until they are bottle fed. To do simple things like go to a doctor’s appointment or enjoy an occasional dinner out with friends, make the effort to bottle train. I had friends and family who were sometimes willing to watch the baby, as long as I left them with a bottle.
You can get a breast pump from Tricare at no cost through The Breastfeeding Shop and use it to pump and store milk for bottles. Once baby gets used to the bottle, try to offer it once a day so they stay adjusted. Pump in the evening when the kids are sleeping. If you pump during the day, use snacks, coloring books, electronics, or library books to entertain the older child while you pump and feed the baby.
Streamline your chores
Moms can’t do everything, especially when you have two little ones on your hands. It’s ok to take some temporary shortcuts after adding a new baby to the house. Use paper plates or disposable diapers to save you time. Try out freezer cooking or a grocery delivery service to make meals easier. If you can afford it, hire temporary help like a lawn care service.
When we had baby #4, I hired a maid to come clean the house for a few hours each week. It was worth it to know that the basic sanitation of the floors and bathrooms was under control, when I was up to my ears in laundry!
Deployment with a baby and toddler is tough, and getting through it with little ones is especially challenging. But mama, you are strong and you can do this! Use these tips to regain your sanity and make deployment go a little smoother for everyone!