The Competent Parent: When Dad’s At War



Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Off to Baghdad

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My husband left on a one-year deployment today.  We have two young children – they’ll be 4 and 2 this fall.  He’ll be in training for a while in Kansas, then off to Baghdad.  We’ve used webcams to keep in touch for past separations, and expect to keep communication going as much as possible while he’s away.  Hopefully he’ll get home for Christmas.  Both children will be in preschool at our church which will keep some stability and rhythm to our lives.  But what should I tell them about where Daddy is?

Single-Momming It for My Country

Dear Single Momming It,

War is not easy to understand nor explain.  Children under the age of five cannot comprehend the finality of death, nor the confusing notion that hurting others is somehow a good thing to do.   It’s probably best to use vague generalities – “Daddy is far away, but we can see him on the computer.”  “Daddy is at work.”  “Daddy is with (name some of his buddies) doing their jobs”  If there are aspects of his work that would make sense to your children – writing reports, driving trucks – then this is what you tell them.     You might also remind them that he brushes his teeth.  They need to picture him doing things that are familiar to them.

When you talk with him, the children would probably appreciate the mundane details of his day such as what the weather is like and what he had for breakfast.  You can help them to prepare for calls by making pictures and gathering other items – a new pair of shoes for school – to show Daddy.  And between calls, keeping him in your daily conversations will keep his presence in the family.

For support specific to your family situation, check out these websites:


Dr. Debbie

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]