By Molly DeWitt, from Military Spouse Magazine
It’s a typical weekday morning for us. We’ve rushed out of the house to make it to preschool and work on time and now we’re listening to the theme song of the latest Disney movie on repeat. In the midst of the fifth go-round, our four-year-old son interrupts our singing and occasional dancing to tell me that he misses his daddy. “I want daddy to come home,” he says. Talk about a knife straight to the heart.
I knew this was coming. I figured we would have a good month or two where life would seem pretty normal. After all, over the last year my husband traveled more than he was home. So life with just mommy has become typical for our son. But I knew the realization of his dad’s extended absence would eventually set in, and I was dreading it.
We’re 76 days into a 4-6 month deployment (So of course I’ve planned for 7 months). It’s nothing we haven’t done before and yet it’s all new at the same time. With every deployment our son gets older and becomes much more cognizant of his father’s absence. During his infancy he seemed blissfully unaware of his dad’s 8-month deployment. I, on the other hand, felt like I was barely hanging on, struggling to work 40-hours a week while keeping up the house, the pets, my sanity, and of course, our son. Every time our son got sick it seemed like we ended up in the emergency room and I had many moments where I wasn’t sure we could get through the next day. So I worked to get through the next five minutes. And eventually homecoming arrived. Our family was whole again.
This deployment marks number five in our relationship of almost 14 years. Those numbers are better than some, and worse than others. I consider us lucky.
My husband and I spent the first seven years of our marriage (9 years of our relationship) child-free. I wanted to get a handle on the military life, finish my college education, and we wanted to establish our relationship and experience married life as a couple for a while before creating our family. During our child-free time we went through two deployments: a year-long deployment in Iraq and a 7-monther to Afghanistan. I kept myself busy with school and work and through the grace of God and support of family and friends I managed to make it through. So when I think about how difficult deployments are for me, as an adult, an adult who entered into this life willingly, I cannot help but feel for our son.
It tears my heart into a million pieces when my son asks me when daddy is coming home. When he cries and cries and says, “I want my daddy. Please call him and tell him to come home.” I want more than anything to say, “He’ll be home soon,” but I know there’s at least four more months until our homecoming. I’ve never felt more helpless. All I can do is pick him up, hug him, and commiserate. I tell him that I understand, that I miss daddy too, and I remind him that daddy is far away on a trip for work but he’s thinking about us, and I hopefully add that maybe we can talk to him soon. And maybe we will.
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When I married my husband I knew what I was signing up for – I mean, kind of. I doubt anyone really knows what military life entails until they’re actually living it day to day. But I understood we would move frequently, be limited in planning or scheduling things ahead of time, and of course I knew there would be extended time apart and deployments. And while none of that necessarily sounded exciting, I married him anyway. I knew I loved him. At the end of the day , I knew those aspects of life would make day-to-day living a struggle at times. But in the totality of life, it was more important to me to be walking side-by-side with my best friend and the man meant to be my husband.
Our son didn’t get that choice.
He didn’t choose to be born into a family where his father would be gone half of his life before the age of five. He didn’t choose to have to cuddle with a daddy doll every night instead of giving his father a hug before bed. He didn’t choose to enjoy “family” vacations alone with mommy or celebrate half of his birthdays without his favorite person. We made that choice for him.
And lately I’m feeling some guilt for that. Every time our son inquires about where daddy is, when daddy is coming home, or simply says that he misses him, I feel an intense pang of guilt. I am consumed with how powerless I am to take away his hurt and make it all better. After all, isn’t that my job as a mommy? Instead, I try to comfort him, I tell him daddy will be here when he finishes his work, and try to make his daily life as normal as possible. But I’m left wondering if it’s enough. Although as a mother, I guess that’s something most of us feel at one time or another during our journey – is anything we ever do for our children truly enough?
They say military children are resilient. And of this I am sure. They have no other choice. But that resiliency is built partly by coping with feelings of sadness, longing, anger and frustration, due to the absence of a parent. And when I think about the lack of choice our son has in that matter, it’s tough. At age four I can see how difficult it is for his little mind to grasp the entirety of his father’s absence and there are times when his emotions are just too big to contain.
All this to say that I’m doing the very best I can for me, for our son, and for our family. Just like every other military spouse out there. And at the end of the day that has to be enough. I know many adults who survived their youth as military children and are well-adjusted and perhaps even better for it. Those are the people I need to remember when I feel that familiar tug of guilt. Many children have gone through this before and come out the other side with immense strength, courage and yes, resilience, as a result of their upbringing. They learned to cope with uprooting their lives and making new friends, living away from family, and having a sometimes-absent parent. And it’s my job to make sure our son joins those ranks. But right now I’m taking things five-minutes at a time.