5 creative ways to celebrate your kid’s birthday when a parent is deployed

By Lizann Lightfoot

Even though we have four children, all born in different years, my husband has never seen any of their second birthdays. Somehow, the military has required him to be deployed every time someone was about to turn two. In fact, he has probably missed about half of each child’s birthdays.

When a military kid realizes that their parent will miss their birthday during deployment, that can be a painful moment. My kids didn’t mind Dad being gone too much when they were toddlers, but as they get older, they are keenly aware of every celebration he misses.

If an upcoming deployment will cause your spouse to miss a child’s birthday, you can decide as a family how and when to celebrate. Military families are always able to come up with creative solutions to deployment problems. Use one of these ideas to celebrate your kid’s birthday if a parent will be deployed.

Use these creative ways to celebrate a kid’s birthday during deployment

  1. Celebrate the half-birthday instead. If the service member wants to share in a celebration they will miss because of deployment, then you might have to change the date. You can’t move the deployment, but you can move the birthday. Consider having a half-birthday party six months before or after the child’s birthday. There are tons of fun games and food ideas for this on Pinterest. A half-birthday is also a fun chance for the child to celebrate their birthday in a different season than usual. The January birthday kid might be thrilled to have a summertime pool party!
  2. Have an un-birthday party. Sometimes you just have to celebrate when you can. Whether it is right after a deployment or just before a PCS, military kids can plan an un-birthday party when they need to celebrate their birthday on a more convenient date. You can use an Alice in Wonderland theme or make up your own fun ideas. The important thing is that you all get together and honor the birthday kid. They won’t really mind what day it is.
  3. Celebrate with family members. Depending on your kid’s age and how far you live from family, it can be fun to take a trip to the grandparents’ house during deployment. The birthday kid can have fun planning a party that their aunts, uncles, and cousins can attend. This is a particularly good idea for a military child who doesn’t have many friends at their current duty station. If you aren’t able to travel to the family, consider inviting the grandparents to fly in for a visit at your house.
  4. Give special gifts from the service member. When my husband was deployed to Afghanistan, he didn’t have any internet access or a way to send gifts to the kids on their birthdays. I know it bothered him that he couldn’t be there with them, so I covered for him. I purchased gifts and wrapped them. Then, during nap time I placed them on the front porch. When my kids woke up, they had a “surprise from Daddy” waiting for them! They were so thrilled with the gifts, even if it was just stickers from the dollar store. Dad got a lot of credit and a lot of smiles for that, which made it worth it for me. If the deployed parent has a traditional gift they usually give their child, make sure that tradition continues, even during deployment.
  5. Connect with technology. Some service members have internet access during deployment or can plan when they will be able to call home. If that is the case for your spouse, then try to plan a good time for them to Skype or call on their child’s birthday. (During a birthday party is not the best time, since there is a lot of noise and distractions. But you could save a cupcake so they can blow their candles out with their parent during a video call.) If Skype won’t be possible, have the service member send an email that the child can open up and read on the morning of their birthday. These are great ways to remind the kid that their deployed parent is thinking of them and missing them that day.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at