When mom deploys

Bashir Jahan, a 22 year Navy veteran, has been a stay-at-home dad for almost six years now, caring for his three children. His wife is an active duty naval surface warfare officer.

Middle names of the children and some family members featured in this story have been used due to safety and privacy concerns.

(CNN)Linda Albi looks at her phone, trying to make out her daughter's face as she tilts the screen toward her 2-year-old grandson, Michael, as he sits in her lap. The sun still isn't up where Sarah is, but she's already putting on her flight suit. Michael watches his mommy as she sings to him softly so she won't disturb her flight crew as she gets ready to walk across the tarmac to her plane.

This is how Michael often starts his bedtime routine on the West Coast while his mom, a pilot in the Navy, begins her day on the other side of the world. Every free moment Sarah has, she calls her son to check in. Her husband, also a naval pilot, usually answers the phone. He staggers his deployments with Sarah's to avoid being away from Michael at the same time. But even on shore duty he can work long hours or overnight, so Michael's grandmothers pitch in to fill the gaps. This day, Linda is holding down the house.
As she helps facilitate the video call between mother and child, she puts her own motherly instincts on hold.
"I am anxious to ask how is she really doing, but I know she needs to start her day with focusing on my grandson's face, not mine," Linda writes. "As her mom, I ache to talk to her, but as part of his nightly bedtime routine I am resigned to just being the resting perch for her squirmy toddler as he sings with his mom."
    Today, women represent 16 percent of enlisted service members and 18 percent of the officer corps, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. That's increased since the end of the draft in 1973, up from 2 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
    The Air Force has traditionally had the highest percentage of women but the Navy nearly caught up in 2016. In both branches, about one in five enlisted members and officers are women.
    Bashir Jahan smiles mischievously and shows me the Valentine's Day card he has just given to his wife. "I'm So Blessed to Have You for My Husband," it says. Bashir is a full-time stay-at-home dad while his wife, A.J., serves in the Navy as a surface warfare officer. Most military spouses are women and he finds humor in the role reversal.
    Bashir retired from the Navy in 2013 after 22 years of service. He and A.J. hoped to stay in the Navy together but after their first child, a boy, was born in 2012, they were unable to "co-locate," a military term for being stationed in the same place as your spouse.
    Until their son was 7 months old, A.J. was stationed in Monterey, California, for graduate school, taking care of the baby by herself during the week. Bashir was stationed in San Diego, commuting hundreds of miles on the weekends to see his family.
    "I'd see him cooing or sitting up and doing little things I wanted to be a part of," he tells me, describing video calls during the week. "I love my wife. I love the idea of having a family."
    The distance wasn't working for the couple so they considered their options. Bashir was eligible for retirement. His wife, nine years his junior, was not and her career was on an uphill trajectory. She stayed in the Navy and he retired the following year.
    Bashir got a crash course in solo parenting with his son in Japan, where they lived while A.J. went on frequent deployments.
    "Underprepared and overwhelmed" is how he describes that time period. "Overwhelmed is probably a gentle way to put it."
    After the arrival of their second child, a girl, life at home became much more hectic.
    "In Japan the dryers don't work," Bashir laments as he recalls his frustration hanging clothes outside to dry. "Do you know the maddening process of putting out small underwears — eight, 10, 15 of them — and then socks that are this big?" he gestures, illustrating very small socks.
    "Big clothes, not a problem, but little people clothes," Bashir shudders.

    Parenting while deployed

    Parenting when you're deployed means shifting the provision of stability and support for a child to a spouse or other caregiver and trying to preserve the parent-child bond by seeing your child as often as possible.
    For Sarah that can mean a FaceTime check-in with her son both morning and night.
    "She gets up way early so she can call on our time zone," Linda says. "And I've been on the way to daycare and I have to pull over and get in the back seat so he can talk to her. When she calls me, I drop everything."
    Linda Albi helps hold down the house while her daughter and son-in-law are in the Navy. Linda has to put her own motherly instincts on hold while she helps her 2-year-old grandson video chat with his mom. 
"I know she needs to start her day with focusing on my grandson's face, not mine."
    Michael surprises his grandma, "Oma" he calls her, by his ability to adapt with ease to his mom being deployed.
    "He realizes his mom is in the phone sometimes."
    On a ship, communication is more difficult. A.J. can go a week at a time without access to email.
    She has recorded herself reading children's books, so her kids can see her often.
    "I think you recorded 25 books. You actually did one twice you were so sleep-deprived," Bashir says to his wife, laughing. "I thought, th