We send books to Forces families all year round to enjoy sharing, whether a family is together at home or separated by deployment or training. But with Christmas fast approaching, we’re especially thinking about families who will have a loved one away from home on Christmas day and through the holiday season. Over this festive period, we’re aiming to send around 1,000 books to help families just that little bit.
Here, four mums share their situations and thoughts on Christmas in the military and how books and sharing stories across the miles can help…
Sian and four year old daughter Amelie are preparing for their first Christmas without husband and dad, Ryan. He is in the RAF and on a four-month deployment to the Falklands.
“Amelie is a real daddy’s girl and while she’s used to Ryan being away for short periods of time, this longer stint has been much more of an emotional rollercoaster. The closer we get to Christmas – the more she misses him.
We usually get three 10-minute calls a week but factor in the time difference and the attention span of a four-year-old and Ryan can easily spend the whole call looking at the back of Amelie’s head if she’s tired and not particularly engaged.
We plan to use the Reading Force storybook and scrapbook to give her and Ryan something special to share this Christmas. Amelie loves reading and so the idea of sharing stories and thoughts about stories with Daddy over FaceTime is brilliant for us. The scrapbook will also be a welcome distraction for Amelie. She enjoys making and doing things, so this should help keep her mind off missing Daddy.
It will feel very strange not having Ryan here. We’ll just have to keep busy. We’ll keep going and make the best of everything. But we can’t wait for him to come home in January!”
Perri and her two children Polly (6) and Harry (4) said goodbye to RAF dad Martin in November, when he set off for his deployment in Cyprus.
“We’re used to Martin going away but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier, especially when we know we won’t see him till after Christmas and Polly’s birthday in January.
Polly and Harry have been quite emotional. I’m trying to keep them distracted and in some ways Christmas is really good for that. There are lots of things to do and organise. We’ve made Martin a special shoebox and we’re filling it with homemade cards.
We like the idea of Reading Force and this will be our first year trying it out. Anything that helps the children deal with the separation is good. The fact they get a surprise book present in the post is lovely for them too.
When Martin’s home he will often do bath time and bedtime including stories so I’m sure he’ll enjoy hearing about what we’ve been reading. And hopefully it will give the children something a bit simpler to talk about on the phone with him.”
Nicky is looking forward to having Naval husband and dad to three daughters home this Christmas, but the family know what it’s like to have him away for Christmas.
“Christmas 2016 Daniel was on a nine-month deployment. The year before he had to leave on Christmas Eve for a week and a similar thing happened in 2014. We’ve moved ‘Christmas Day’ around before so Daniel could be there. It’s often been disrupted.
When you have children, Christmas has to go on. As hard as it is for the parent who is deployed, it’s also hard for the parent left behind who has to put a smile on and keep going. You want your children to enjoy themselves as much as they can, so even if you feel sad on the inside, you try and make the best of it.
We use books and stories for comfort too. When Daniel went on his last major deployment, Olivia became angry and confused when he called home and she refused to speak to him. That’s when we started doing Reading Force. Olivia and I started reading Mr Stink by David Walliams and she talked about this with her dad when he called. It gave her something very tangible to talk about and helped her get over her fear. She’d then go on to talk about other things, like what she’d done at school too.
We don’t need to read for quite the same reasons this Christmas. But sharing stories will still very much be part of our family festivities.”
Joanne and daughters Niamh (11), Anya (9) and Olivia (7) are experiencing the uncertainty of Forces life, as husband and dad Anton may be deployed at the last minute and be away at Christmas.
“Our youngest daughter is really struggling at the moment. The other two are not overly happy but they understand we just have to get on with it. All the children love reading, so we love the idea of doing Reading Force this Christmas. Anton is due to be deployed on a submarine, so we won’t be able to talk to him. But the book and scrapbook activities will give the children something to focus on and distract them from missing their dad.
The idea that Anton might take the same book with him and we could all be reading the same thing is really comforting too. We can all talk about it when it comes home as well as that ‘re-entry’ moment can also feel awkward.”
We’d like to say a big thank you to these mums for sharing their stories.
If you have a loved one who will be away over Christmas, register to receive your free Reading Force scrapbook and book and use them as a way to stay close and connected: www.readingforce.org.uk/join-reading-force
If you know of anyone who may wish to support our crowdfunder to raise £4,000 to send books to separated Forces families this Christmas, please share this link: