My husband is leaving home for an unknown period of time, at least 18 months. We’ve told our children this would happen. They’ve known ever since we moved here 15+ months ago.
Now, though, we have a departure date and reality has begun to set in. My way of handling this with the boys is to make sure that they are kept “in the know” but also that we don’t dwell on it. We tell them things as we learn them but then drop the subject unless they have questions.
About two weeks ago we learned that Horatio would be departing at the start of December, so we shared this information in a matter-of-fact way. I dropped it into our afternoon banter after the boys returned from school.
“Do you want a snack?”
“May I have popcorn?”
“OK, sure. Oh, by the way, today we found out that Daddy will be leaving on deployment on December 3rd. I just wanted to let you know.”
“Oh. OK. Why does he have to go? I don’t want him to go.”
“Well, it is a part of his job. He does not want to leave us, but the Navy has asked him to do this very important job, so he has to. But as soon as he can, he’s going to come home.”
And, life went on… Snack, Homework, Dinner, Bike riding, Basketball, Bedtime.
All was quiet on the subject for a week or so and then Horatio brought up an idea to the boys. We were going through the bedtime routine, the three older boys were tucked into their bunk beds. I was reading Harry Potter to the 6 year old when Horatio walked in to say good night.
He told the boys he had come up with an idea of a way to make the deployment a more exciting time for the boys. He said he would let each of them choose a new Lego figure (HUGE Lego fans in our house.) He will take the four Lego figures with him and every time he goes somewhere new and exciting, he will take a picture of the Lego guys on location. Then he will email the photos home and the boys can share the experience with him.
The next morning, the 9 year old was crying when he woke up and came downstairs. He said, “Why does Dad have to leave? I don’t want him to go.”
Not a great start to a day. It took me a while to realize what had prompted the sadness. I’d forgotten that the last thing he heard before he went to bed was a foretelling of his Dad’s long absence. I tend to block out the sadness and focus on the logistics of being a single parent. It might not be the healthiest way to deal with it but it works for me. It may be cliche, but I have to be strong for the kids, and in reality, strong for Horatio, too. It would not be good if everyone in the house dissolved into tears whenever the subject of Horatio’s departure came up.
So, I arm myself with all the minute details. I deal with the boys’ tears, grumpiness and confusion as it comes and try to be a supportive wife in the weeks leading up to the departure.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no martyr. I have my moments of feeling sorry for myself but I try to keep them to a minimum. We have a good support network set up here and I know it helps Horatio to know he’s leaving us in good hands. We will both deal with the home-front fallout of the deployment as it comes and look forward to the happy reunion down the road.