The joy and excitement of my children when they saw their dad for the first time after a ten-month deployment, was a priceless moment that I will never forget. They clung to him and didn’t want to let go, afraid that he was just in their imagination. It was a moment of pure happiness.
The first few weeks of my husband being home was like a fantasy world for our kids. They had their daddy back to give piggyback rides, wrestle with and to read their favorite bedtime stories. They had waited so long to have him back; they were taking full advantage of every opportunity! And my husband loved every moment of it.
While the kids settled back into their normal routines of playing and reading with their dad, there were other situations that they didn’t quite know how to deal with. For ten months, they had come to mom for every question, every argument that needed settling and every moment of comfort. I was also the one who dealt out the punishments and gave permission when needed. Now they had two parents in the house who could share those duties, but that’s not what happened. At least not right away.
While my husband was deployed, I had developed a routine and a method of discipline that worked for my “single parenting” days. By the time he came home, the kids were used to this system and knew how to deal with. Unfortunately, Daddy wasn’t and it threw the kids for a curve. They still came to me for every need and question. And when their dad disciplined, it usually ended in more tears and arguments because it wasn’t the way they were used to. While I expected to have adjustment difficulties like this, as young as they are, the kids just didn’t understand.
When you are seven and five, a lot changes in ten months, our daughter had gone from being a preschooler to being a Kindergartner and to her she was now all grown up. To her dad, she was still a baby and they both struggled with her new desire for independence. Our son had been diagnosed during the deployment with Attention Deficit Disorder and my husband had not had experience with the discipline and academic strategies that we had put in place to accommodate his needs. This was quite a challenge for both my husband and my son. When I saw my husband disciplining a different way than I would have or handling a situation in a way that I knew wouldn’t work, I would step in and try to correct what he was doing. That almost never turned out well! If I let the situation go, then inevitably someone would end up crying and frustrated. We were all becoming very frustrated!
So how do you make this transition of having two parents in the house easier on everyone involved? How do you help the kids understand that both parents are in charge now and how do you let the returning parent know how things were done in their absence without making them feel like an outsider? Patience. And lots of it! Communication is also key to making the transition easier, letting everyone know what expectations and rules are in the house now that dad is home. Also, talking to my husband about the ways the kids had changed while he was away and their new interests, as well as solutions for discipline that had been working for us helped to let him know what was effective for us, making his transition back into his parenting role a bit smoother.
I also realized after the first few failed attempts as intervening in the middle of my husband trying to handle a situation with the kids, there were times when I just needed to step back and it was OK to let him try to figure it out for himself. Both the kids and my husband needed to have time to re-learn each other and find what works for them. I could serve as a guide, but ultimately they had to connect in their own ways.
It’s important to remember that just as kids have to adjust to their parent being away during a deployment, they also have to adjust to them being home again, sometimes more than adults do! It was easy for me to forget this at times because our kids were so excited to have their dad home and at first seemed to just fall back in to their old routines. But kids are no different than the rest of us and need the benefit of time, patience and communication to help them reconnect.
What are some ways that you helped your children and spouse reconnect after a deployment?