The harshest reality about serving in the military is that you will have to spend time away from your family. It's tough on service members, and even tougher on the young kids they leave behind. More often than not, the parent or caregiver who holds down the fort at home is left with one haunting question, How do you keep kids connected to parents who are so very far away?  

Flat Daddies may just be the answer. The Flat Daddy idea came from Sgt. 1st Class Barbara Claudel of the Maine National Guard who was looking for a way to help families stay connected to their loved ones serving in Iraq. It's an idea that is taking off with military families around the country.

What is a Flat Daddy? It's a life-sized, two-dimensional poster printed on a rollable adhesive-backed material that can be mounted to cardboard, foam, wood, or any other surface to serve as a reminder to children of absent parents that they love them dearly.

Marissa Stewart of Seattle, Wash., ordered a Flat Daddy (or Flat Jared, in her case) of her husband, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jared Stewart, for her three children when Jared deployed two years ago. She even started a blog, A Year With Flat Daddy, to chronicle her family's adventures with their two-dimensional stand-in.

As Marissa explains on her site, "With an 8-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a 3-year-old in the house, there's a lot of stuff to keep us busy. We wouldn't want to leave Daddy out, so we flattened him! Now we take him all the cool (and boring) places we go and snap pictures to keep him, and you, up to date on all the happenings."

Check out FlatDaddies.com to learn more or to donate a Flat Daddy or Mommy to the family of a deployed service member.