Back in 2017, in Scotland, my Hubby and I had a tough decision to make. He had just had a meeting with his Career Manager about his next posting and we had basically been given two options: he would accept a job in London starting in the following January; or he would accept a job in Pennsylvania, USA, starting the following August, but (and this was a massive BUT) if he took the job in Pennsylvania he would have to do a 6 month op tour in Dubai first. Alone. Leaving me and two very young kids (3 and 1) in Scotland.
The London job would have had a lot of advantages but in the end – spoiler alert – we went for the second option! It wasn’t an easy decision though – he hadn’t done an op tour since he was single, he had never been away from us for more than 6 weeks and we had never had to move our family so no matter what we chose, it was a leap into the unknown. One of our biggest concerns was how it would affect the kids. Partly, how they would deal with Daddy being away for 6 months and partly, how they would then deal with being away from the rest of the family when we moved to the States. We were prepared (sort of) for an emotional rollercoaster but I don’t think we were prepared for how long the ride would last.
Those 6 months were the longest of my life. You can read more about how we coped, or didn’t, in Go Big or Go Home. We got through the day to day, in no small part because of the support of our family and friends but my daughter (then 3) was at a tricky age. She felt some pretty big emotions for a 3-year-old but she didn’t really have the skills to handle them or even the words to articulate them properly. She expressed these emotions through tantrums over (seemingly) nothing, shouting and fits of rage. The red mist really descended… I don’t know where she gets that from!
I tried my best to help her navigate them but I was also feeling them too so there were times we cried together but there were also times we shouted at each other too. I’m not proud of that and now I would try much harder to handle it differently but I was also exhausted, mentally and physically, so I wasn’t on my best form.
We talked together about missing Daddy and we thought up ways to let him know we were thinking of him. We sent him parcels, drew him pictures, etc. We also found some great tools through Little Troopers, a UK-based charity supporting military children, and we counted down the days until Daddy came home.
My son was only 15 months when Daddy left so he wasn’t as aware of what was happening. He mostly expressed his sadness by refusing to sleep through the night until Daddy returned. Thanks for that. I know he felt it on some level though because he was clearly overjoyed when Daddy did come back, early! See The Homecoming.
I had been a bit worried about how we would all adjust to ‘normal family life’ again but we just clicked right back into place. The kids were beyond happy and so was I. We also had the small matter of moving to the USA a month later so that was a bit of a distraction to say the least!
I, naively, thought that the emotions that we had all felt while he was away would disappear now that we were all back together again but I wasn’t prepared for them to reappear every time Hubby has to go away for a few nights. We are very settled here in Pennsylvania and we feel very lucky to have this opportunity but there are occasions when Hubby has to travel for work. It is usually a Mon-Fri trip but whenever he goes, it brings back memories of those 6 months we were without him, even now – 16 months after he returned.
I talked a little about these emotional work trips (Unexpected Emotions) after Hubby’s first trip in the States and things are a little better than then but emotions are still a bit raw. Usually on the first night, the kids are ok-ish. We talk about how long Daddy will be away for and how many ‘sleeps’ until he comes home but it is never long until the tantrums and the tears return and get progressively worse the longer he is away. It often seems to be over nothing but when we talk about it, it comes down to missing Daddy. We know he won’t be away for as long but we just all remember that time too vividly.
That said, with my older/wiser head I know it is only a short time so I handle it a lot better than that first deployment. There is much less shouting (on my part) and a lot more hugs and understanding. I knew it would be an emotional time when he was deployed but I didn’t have any idea how long lasting the effects would be. Military children often have a lot to deal with from a young age. They didn’t choose this life but I hope it helps shape them into stronger, more resilient adults. In the meantime, hugs all round!
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