The Sailor has been in the Coast Guard since 2000. He's been on 3 boats, 1 deployable maritime security unit, a station with rotating duty, and 9 months at a land job that included semi-frequent travel. His current job is the first that has him home nights and weekends. The twins are used to him being gone, and have a very close relationship with him. Anna barely knew him until this past summer, and while she still prefers me, she warmed up to him pretty quickly. He missed the first few months of Margo's life, but she's basically an extension of him at this point - if he's within 20 feet of her, she knows it and she expects to be in his arms.
I think because my children were born into this lifestyle it feels very normal to them. There was never a big scene, or meltdown when he'd leave. I probably had a harder time with it than they did, because I was lonely and exhausted when he'd leave for months at a time. Every child is different in how they handle these things, but I think it's important as a parent to downplay the situation. We never talk about what a bummer it is in front of them before he leaves. There are no tears - in fact they were rarely around when we'd say goodbye. There are many ways to deal with Daddy being gone, but here are some of the things we did to make deployment easier:
1. The routine never changes, whether he's gone or not. Consistency is important for children, and it's hard to come by for military families.
2. The day he leaves I do something special - not big, but I'll make a special dessert, take them out to eat, or rent a new movie to watch before bed. It's a distraction and ends the day on a high note, instead of the nagging feeling that something is missing.
3. For long deployments, we don't count down the days; primarily because exact movement dates shouldn't be discussed, but also because the disappointment of counting down 84 days, and then finding out that he's been delayed 3 more is hard for the wife, and very hard for the kids. We keep return dates general and often surprise them with his actual arrival.
4. We keep a large world map in the house, and discuss where Daddy has been. We look up the country in Africa, talk about food in South America, pull out the quilt from Iraq, and figure out flight time from Australia. I tell them what his days are like on the ship. My few years in the Coast Guard gave me the added bonus of knowing details about ship life, and I tell them about Daddy's sleeping quarters and what his schedule might be like. All of this includes them in his adventure, and excites them.
5. For jobs that don't involve significant travel, simply long work hours and duty nights: it becomes habit, and they adapt. Children are wonderfully adaptable, and they take cues from their parents. It's normal and pleasant for us, so it's that way for them as well. And we always make the most of his time at home, with family meals, special outings, and quality time.
The biggest reason our children do well with the Sailor being gone so much is that he's incredibly engaged when he's home. He's one of the most involved, attached, dedicated father's I've ever seen. It's not as common for men to be heavily involved with daughters, compared to sons. I'm going to step up on the soapbox for a minute, so I apologize in advance: there is nothing more unattractive than a man that thinks bringing in a paycheck and going to the athletic events is all he's required to contribute. There is nothing more unattractive than a man that spends his evenings at the bar with his friends, instead of at the dinner table with his children. Raising a family is hard. It's the hardest thing I've ever done, and it's a daily, hourly challenge. Everyone has roles and responsibilities within their household, but it is not one persons job to kiss booboos, change diapers, watch Disney movies, cut sandwiches into shapes, tie princess tutu's, or help with homework. There's no gender line when it comes to being a parent to young children. If my husband ever said to me seriously "you're the mom, you do it", it might be the last words out of his sexy little mouth. Our success as a family is heavily reliant on my husband's contribution to our children's most minor daily wants and needs, and he's a big enough man to cater to those needs without ever questioning his role as the head of our home.
The truth is, it's a challenging lifestyle to raise children in. The divorce rate is high. Kids don't have a "home", geographically speaking. There's no extended family cushion. And you often have to play Mom and Dad. It also gives children a colorful upbringing, with a variety of experiences that teach them tolerance, adventure, and perspective. It never gets easier when your spouse is away, but it is manageable and can still be a great life.
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