Parenting through Business Trips, Military Deployment, and Other Extended Separations

By Amber Lewis, staff writer for The Attached Family

AP during extended separationsEvery child and each parent is different, and family situations differ just as much as the people in them, making each situation unique with successes and challenges all their own. In my family, I’m the parent who works full-time outside the home while my husband stays at home with our daughter. In addition, I am in the military — and that means my work sometimes can take me on extended travel or deployment.

When a parent must be away from her family for a long time, as in the case of business travel or military deployment, it’s important to realize that this can be very hard on children and that these extended separations must be prepared for. One resource I recommend to military families is SurvivingDeployment.com.

A key concept to keep in mind is that children often act-out more during these extended separations as a way of coping. The parent at home can help prepare the environment for this by talking with teachers, friends’ parents, and family members about what to expect and to prepare them for providing support.

Here are some ideas about how to help your child deal with your or your spouse’s extended separation:

  • Keep everyone connected and communicate often – Before deployment, don’t keep it a secret, but you don’t have to make a big deal about it either. During the extended separation, make recordings for each other, send lots of letters and packages back and forth, and put in lots of pictures. Also, the parent at home needs to be sure to talk to the child often about his feelings toward the separation. After the parent returns home, she owes everyone some one-on-one attention and reassurance.
  • Make friends – For both parents and the kids, making friends who have been through or are going through a similar experience will help everyone.
  • Establish the home boss – Remember the parent at home is the one in charge; the other parent should never try to undermine the spouse’s authority while away.

Most of these tips are more about raising the child through an extended separation from a parent rather than what to do when your child acts out because that is a big part of what discipline is. If you’re looking for specific discipline techniques for specific situations, what works best for separations is also what works during times when the family is together: positive discipline done in a loving, compassionate, nurturing, and empathic way.

For more information on practicing positive discipline, look forward to the upcoming Fall 2009 annual Growing Child “Positive Discipline” issue of The Attached Family magazine.

3 thoughts on “Parenting through Business Trips, Military Deployment, and Other Extended Separations”

  1. I just found out I will be deployed for 4 months when my baby is only 7.5 months old. I have no way to communicate to her what is going on. Will this separation damage her? I am freaking out! I’m the mom, my husband will be taking care of her.

  2. Hi Melissa,

    You feelings are completely understandable. We encourage you to visit the API Forums at http://www.attachmentparenting.org/forums/. On the Consistent and Loving Care forum, you will have an opportunity to share your situation and receive support from an API Leader and other parents who have been in similar situations. Instructions on how to obtain a login are available on the site.

    Editor,
    TheAttachedFamily.com

  3. Hi Melissa!
    As an API staff member who was once AD and now married to AD, I completely understand your concerns! We had two children, the first who went through her first 7 months without her father being around and the second who was 5.5 months when her dad left and 1 yr when he returned, and in our experience, while at that age they noticed at first that the person was gone, it was not damaging. We found that pictures, pre-recorded books or videos, and skyping whenever possible was a BIG help. While my husband was gone, we also talked a lot about daddy. “Daddy loves you, Daddy misses you…” etc. Both times when my husband first saw my children after being gone, they recognized him immediately and didn’t have any trouble re-assimilating to him.

    I hope this helps. You can email me at media(at)attachmentparenting (dot) org if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone who understands.

    -Kit

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