By Monica K. Guthrie
My husband recently had to go to out-of-town training and left our family (to include two boys) for two months. On the day he left, I’m not ashamed to say it, I cried. A lot. But then I had to put on my big girl pants and get to work.
Turns out I had all this time to prepare and I did nothing. I didn’t even do the normal things I do like make a meal plan or go grocery shopping. I just self-imploded – maybe that was good for me, maybe not – but either way it meant I had a lot of work to do once he left and little idea of where to start.
My situation isn’t unique. Many families experience some sort of temporary separation whether it’s due to training or shifts or just the nature of the job. When I started to look for resources I went immediately to the group of people that perhaps most frequently are exposed to separations: deployed military families. Additionally, I asked some single-parent friends what they did day-to-day. Here are the combined bits of information I learned:
This is what I wish I’d done before my husband left. Meal prep a few freezer meals (and lunches and breakfasts), get groceries done, go ahead and wash the laundry and get the dishes washed (and if you’re me, go ahead and pick up a pack of disposable plates for those nights you’re just not feeling like doing anything). Take care of small maintenance issues for your home and vehicles so that (hopefully) it’s one less thing to worry about.
My husband takes care of maintenance issues in our home, he handles most of our children’s school efforts and he takes out the trash. These are just a few of the things I had to learn – in addition to troubleshooting internet problems.
Tell the kids
We told both of our children about the upcoming changes to our family, and then reminded them frequently. When it was time for him to go, they were sad but ready. They knew dad was coming back.
By taking care of the first plan, you’ll be able to maintain routines which will make the change at home more manageable. If you have to change your plans (like I did) let them know and answer any questions. Then do your best to stick to them and keep them informed of any other changes. By letting them in on schedule changes, they are able to adapt their expectations as well.
Cry in the shower
This is something I read Angeline Jolie said and I thought it was good advice – not necessarily because I don’t want to show weakness, but more because I didn’t want my children (particularly my youngest who is especially sensitive) to think that something bad happened or things were out of control. If I’m confident, so is he (full disclosure: He did catch me tearing up the first night and got really worried, but I told him I just didn’t feel so good – not a lie).
Expect emotional changes/have a discipline plan
We set up expectations for our children with appropriate discipline actions (and rewards too). But we talked about how emotions may flare in the days and weeks following their dad’s departure. Explaining to them how they may feel and talking through some appropriate ways to handle their emotions can help them. Sometimes too they just don’t know what is going on – that’s when a trip to a trampoline park or a junk food and movie night can help provide an outlet (or distraction) from how they are feeling. Additionally, discipline was enforced. Knowing that their emotions don’t give them a blank check to act out helped maintain respect in the house. Keep in mind some children may need specific help. A quick Google search can lead you to professionals in your area that can help them.
Ask for/Accept help
This might be the most difficult tip to follow through with. Sometimes it’s just hard to know how to ask for help or what to ask for. I learned to ask for babysitting favors quickly – it was just so much easier to run errands without children, just for an hour or two. I learned to ask for help mailing things off, or picking up an extra item at the grocery store when a friend was going. It was awkward at first but then my friends took the initiative to ask – that evolution was the best. And now asking each other how we can help one another is part of our friendship’s lifestyle.
Make time for you
I take it back - THIS might be the most difficult tip to follow. It was hard for me to say “okay, today I’m going to spoil myself” but taking time for you is important to do. Pick up a dessert at the store, grab a bath bomb, open a bottle of wine, put the kids to bed early and read a book – do whatever it is you need to do in order to rest and relax on occasion.
Monica K. Guthrie is an Army brat, an Army veteran (Rock of the Marne!) and now an Army spouse with two boys. She is currently the media relations officer for the public affairs office at Fort Sill, Okla., and writes a weekly column called the Okie Bucket List. She also has a photography and graphic design business, Pro Deo Creations, that she maintains between potty training and kissing scraped knees.
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