Last Updated on June 26, 2018 by OCF Communications
by Beverley Moritz
Bane or Blessing — The Choice Is Yours
So you and your husband have a separation coming up! And you’re anxious. you’ve heard all the horror stories about the things that go wrong when your husband leaves. Well, I’m not about to tell you that everything is going to be just great!
There will be problems to solve and adjustments to be made, but it doesn’t have to be all bad either. I’ve found separations to be something you simply go through, or something you grow through. The choice is yours.
I’d like you to meet a couple of people. The first is Wendy Woeful. Wendy’s husband has just left for a six month cruise, and nothing is going right for Wendy.
The kids have turned into monsters; the household appliances have mutinied — breaking down left and right; the neighbors have all turned sour, and even the dog has left home! Weeping Wendy can’t understand it. Why isn’t her husband at her side where he belongs! Then all her troubles would be over!
The other person I’d like you to meet is Sally Sunshine. Sally’s husband is also away for six months. But Sally’s doing very nicely, thank you! Oh, there have been a few problems. The washing machine got stuck on the rinse cycle for six hours, one of the children had to have his tonsils out, and the family cat had seven kittens. But a kindly neighbor straightened out the washing machine. Junior is recovering nicely, and she found a home for all but three of the kittens. Otherwise everything is just fine!
What explains the difference between these two experiences? Does Wendy love her husband more than Sally loves hers? Is Sally luckier? Or could it be that there is a basic difference in their attitudes?
Separations are an inescapable part of service life. No one looks forward to them, but basically separations are what you make them! Your attitude is the all-important key.
If you anticipate that everything will go wrong, it will. If you expect to be miserable and lonely, you will be. If you dwell upon all you think you are missing out on, naturally you will be resentful and angry. Worst of all, if you have children, your attitude will rub off on them, and they will be miserable too.
Edwin Markham expresses this idea in his poem, “The Right Kind of People.” In the poem, a traveler asks a prophet in the town he is entering what kind of people are there. The prophet asks the traveler what kind of people were in the town he just left. When the traveler replies that they were knaves and fools, the prophet tells him that this town has the same kind of people. Later in the day, another traveler asks the same question, and the prophet again asks what kind of people were in the town he left. This person replies that they were good, true, and wise, and the wise man smilingly informs him that the people in this town are exactly the same!
“That’s great,” you say. “But how do I develop this wonderful positive attitude?”
A verse I often remind myself of is Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (New Living Translation). This doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is good! I don’t think any of us would jump for joy when the washing machine breaks down, or break into a song of thanksgiving when our child comes down with the chicken pox! We may not feel like thanking God for the irritating things that happen to us, but we can thank Him for walking alongside us no matter what may come our way and for the knowledge that His love and direction is always with us.
God can use all of our experiences for good in our lives and in the lives of our spouses. If they are Christians, then their duty station is precisely where God wants them. It follows, then, that times of separation are part of God’s will for our lives and must be accepted as such.
Commit not only your own life, but also that of your husband into the loving hands of your heavenly Father, accepting whatever His will may be. If you can get past that point, the rest is easy.
When my husband, Jerry, once went to war I had the normal thoughts in the back of my mind What if something happens to him? What if he’s killed? It would have been nice to reason that since he was a chaplain in the Lord’s service, God would surely put a lovely, protective bubble around him so that nothing could touch him! I knew, however, that chaplains, priests, ministers and missionaries get killed too, for whatever purposes God in His wisdom allows.
And I knew that he would be in the field with Marines where the fighting would be heaviest. But I thought I had that all pretty well settled with God. If He wanted to take him home at this point in time, I could trust Him and accept it, no matter how hard it might seem.
Then one night I read a magazine that had pictures and graphic descriptions of men who had come back alive, but were little more than vegetables. It told of others who had been captured, or who were simply missing. For some reason these options hadn’t occurred to me. Yet they were the hardest to accept.
Was I really willing for this too, if it was God’s will? I discovered I wasn’t, but I knew that, as a child of God, I had to be willing. I knew also that the year to come would be infinitely more difficult if I could not yield this to God.
During that long night of tears, prayer, and inward battles, a thought kept coming back to me. It was something I had read in Beyond Ourselves, by Catherine Marshall. She spoke of the danger of a tightened fist–that sometimes we Christians close our fists, as it were, around our loved ones, almost daring God or anyone else to take them from us. But that can’t stop God! Our possessiveness only means that our fingers must be pried open, bent back until our grip is broken, and that involves pain. But if we gladly, freely hold that person on the open palm of our hand, surrendering him up to God, then even though God might still take that one, we could rest in the peace of knowing He is in control.
Finally, with God’s help and strength, I loosened my grip. I was able to hold my husband, my children, all that were dear to me, on the opened palm of my hand–for God to take or leave as He deemed best. And then the peace–His wonderful peace flooded over me! I realized more and more as the year of absence went on that God had been good in forcing me to face up to this at the beginning. No longer was this a battle to be feared and fought daily. Because I had settled this matter early, I had peace. Nothing more could touch me! Someone made the statement, “in acceptance lies peace.” How true! When we can accept whatever God has for us and our loved ones, then we can really know peace.
How Can I Be A Wife To An Absent Husband?
You may well ask this question. Perhaps the task seems difficult. But it can be done. One of the most important things is to let your husband know clearly, firmly, and often, that you do support him in the career to which God has led him. Reassure him that while you don’t enjoy being separated any more than he does, you realize this is a part of his work and you gladly accept it. How many careers and marriages have we all seen go on the rocks, simply because wives could not or would not adjust to the demands of their husbands’ jobs?
Encourage your husband. Remind him that you are praying for him, that he will be a testimony to others in the way he does his job, as well as in personal witness. Let him know you appreciate the difficulties he is undergoing. From your perspective at home, it is all too easy to think only of the glamorous ports he may be seeing and the faraway places he gets to visit, but that’s actually a very small part of his job. Most of it is just plain hard work.
Don’t forget, husbands get lonely too! In some respects the husband may find it harder than the wife. She still has the same home. If they have children, they are there to keep her company. She may be continuing in a familiar job; her friends and neighborhood all remain the same. By contrast, her husband has neither his wife nor children around; and, he’s in an unfamiliar part of the world.
When it comes to communicating, one of the best investments you can make is in an inexpensive cassette tape recorder for each of you. This is especially invaluable if you have young children. Most children hate to write letters, and of course very small ones can’t anyhow, but it’s amazing how much they can find to share with Daddy on a tape! And hearing Daddy’s voice talking to them is an even bigger thrill. Our family has found tape letters invaluable in keeping communication channels open during separation.
When our youngest son, Kyle, was five months old, Jerry went on a cruise, and in due course we received a tape from him. Kyle was lying on the floor on his stomach when I turned on the tape recorder. The result was amazing! As soon as he heard his father’s voice, his little head flew up and he looked all around him, first to one side and then the other. There was no doubt that he had instantly recognized his Daddy’s voice and was trying to discover where it was coming from.
The last time Jerry was at sea our oldest son, Mark, was seventeen–an age not particularly noted for being communicative! When my husband was home, the conversation between them went something like this:
“How did school go today?”
“Anything much happen?”
“Oh, not much, Dad. Well, I guess I’ll go out, see you later.”
And that was about it for the day.
But an amazing thing happened when Jerry went to sea. This same boy would sit down at the tape recorder for a solid half hour or more and talk in detail about everything that went on that day! Frequently I had to remind him to leave room on the tape for the rest of the family! The communication that developed through these tapes fostered a closeness and a bond that has remained. Your teen may not necessarily respond to a tape recorder in the same way–but it’s worth a try.
Depending on where your husband is stationed, he may have access to e-mail or even a VCR. E-mail can be a marvelous way to keep in touch if you each have computer access. Videos are fabulous if you have this capability! Dad can see that little guy take his first steps, or see his little girl in her new party dress! If you don’t have a video camera of your own, ask your friends if they have one you can borrow, or perhaps they might even be willing to shoot some footage for you every now and again. Make this wonderful technology work for you!
One word of caution–try to be as positive as possible! Don’t share just the problems, but the good news, too. Unless it is something that you feel your husband can do something about on the other end–which is usually not the case–try to withhold bad news until there is some sign of solution or at least improvement. For instance, you’ve just mailed a letter to your husband telling him one of the kids has all the symptoms of appendicitis, the washing machine doesn’t work, the checkbook is overdrawn and Junior’s teacher has called you in for a conference. By the next day you discover the ailing child merely ate too much candy, the washing machine was accidentally unplugged, the checkbook had been added up incorrectly, and Junior’s teacher only wanted to let you know what a great job he was doing! But then the mail is delayed, and by the time your husband gets your second letter, two weeks later, he has developed three new ulcers and chewed off all his fingernails.
Military wives often joke that everything waits to go wrong until the moment Dad leaves. I recall one time when Jerry had to leave, this time only for a week, but no sooner had he left than our eight-year-old son, Kevin, came down with an upset stomach. The next morning I took him to the base hospital where the diagnosis was acute appendicitis. He was taken into emergency surgery almost immediately. I considered calling Jerry as soon as I had the diagnosis, but I knew that there was really nothing he could do about it, except probably be frustrated because he could not be present. When I did call after the surgery was completed, I could tell him everything had gone well and Kevin was recovering nicely.
Do all you can to reassure your husband that he is still a vital part of the family. Tell him about the baby’s latest accomplishment. Share the home run Billy got in the Little League game. Let him know of friends who have asked about him. Send snapshots, newspaper clippings, cartoons, postcards, the children’s schoolwork–anything that will tell him, “We miss you! We’re thinking of you!”
Remember, too, that mail delivery can be sporadic. Many a wife, frustrated and anxious because she hasn’t heard from her husband for some time, has fired off a letter of recriminations and complaints, only to receive several letters from him the next day, which had been held up along the way. Or she discovers he hasn’t written because of illness or a work schedule that allows only a few hours of sleep a night as it is. In other words, if you don’t hear from your husband as often as you’d like, give him the benefit of the doubt! There may be a legitimate reason.
Must I Be Both Mother And Father?
No! Often well-meaning friends will remark to the wife whose husband is gone, “My, it must really be hard having to be both mother and father!” I’ll say it’s hard! In fact, it’s impossible. There is just no way you can step in and suddenly become a “father” to your children. That’s a position that only one person can fill–your husband. But you can try to be the best possible mother!
This does not mean necessarily that you must spend more time with your children. The very fact that your husband is gone and you have the full load of their care may make it all the more imperative for you to have time to yourself and to experience the company of other adults. We all know we’ll be better mothers to our children if we can get away from them once in a while! Even the most stable mother can become slightly batty if she has no one over the age of eight to talk to, day after day!
What is important is that we improve the quality of the time we do spend with our children. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not enough just to be physically present. If we’re there, but we’re too wrapped up in keeping the floors polished and the windows clean to pay attention to our children, we might as well not be there at all. We must discipline ourselves to listen–really listen–when they want to talk, and to involve ourselves in the things that are important to them. Make sure that when you spend time with your children, you really are with them and they have your attention.
Plan activities that will be stimulating to you as well as to them: go to the local museums, visit sites of historical interest, or develop new hobbies together, such as rock hounding or painting. Make an effort to include your children in social activities. I’ve always been grateful for the many friends who, when Jerry was gone, made an effort to include me and my children in many of their activities. You cannot replace their father, but children (especially boys) can benefit from the contact and friendship of other Christian men. Sunday school and church programs can often help in this area.
Be sure the father remains the central authority figure in your home. Major decisions, unless there is a time element involved, should always be referred to your husband, even though you may feel sure you know his feelings in the matter. Even if you can’t do this in all matters, you can still bring him into the situation. For example, instead of granting a request by simply saying, “Well, I suppose you can do it,” say, “Your father and I trust you, so yes, you may do it.”
Do not let down on discipline. It’s easy to rationalize that their father is gone, ‘poor things’, so you’ll be a little easier on them! It’s not fair to father or to the children. They have no consistency of rules to guide them, and when father does return he has to crack down extra hard at a time when he least wants to.
If you haven’t already, do establish family devotions on a daily basis. Discuss with the children the ways in which their Daddy is doing God’s will where he is, remind them of God’s care and faithfulness to them while their father is away, and encourage each of them to pray daily for their father.
If you have a very young child who can’t comprehend why Daddy is gone, you might encourage your husband to select and gift wrap a number of inexpensive trinkets before he leaves, and these can be given out from time to time to reassure the child that Daddy is thinking of him. If your husband can correlate the giving of these gifts with appropriate comments on a tape or video at the same time, it will be even more effective.
One father bought duplicate copies of children’s books for his small son. He left one with the mother, and then from time to time he would read a story on tape from the duplicate book he had with him. This way his son could turn the pages and follow along as his father read the story.
Our daughter Becky was three when her Daddy was at sea, and between the little gifts which he left for her and tapes, I don’t believe she ever doubted that he was thinking of her and missing her.
You might want to help the children plan a special project as a surprise for Dad when he returns. Depending on the ages and abilities of the children, this could range anywhere from a specially framed painting or picture, to some needed object for his desk or office.
Once again–your own attitude is vitally important! It sets the tone as to how your children will react. If they see Mom happy and cheerful, coping with everything and looking forward to Dad’s return, they will do the same.
What About My Needs?
As I’ve talked to military wives who have experienced separations, the one thing they overwhelmingly emphasized as being invaluable–aside from their own personal walk with Jesus Christ–was Christian fellowship. Again and again they said, “I couldn’t have made it without my Christian friends and their fellowship.” I wholeheartedly agree. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
I don’t think it’s enough just to attend a local church or chapel. You need the close intimate fellowship that only comes from a small group. It may be a prayer and fellowship group from church or chapel, such as your local chapter of Protestant Women of the Chapel (contact your chaplain’s office for PWOC information). It may be from the local Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF) group, or Christian Military Fellowship (CMF) group. It may be from some Christian friends on the same street.
In my case, OCF was the one place I could go by myself and not feel like a fifth wheel! If I was discouraged and frustrated (and no one is immune from this) OCF was the place where I could unload my troubles. Since Ididn’t work outside the home, I appreciated the opportunity for adult conversation and fellowship. Kyle was born while Jerry was on a Mediterranean cruise. It was an OCF friend who drove me to the hospital and OCF people who brought me meals and did my laundry. Two other OCF families kept the two older boys until I got home again.
But whether it is OCF or a similar small group, do try to get established in one, preferably before your husband leaves. Cultivate one or two especially good friends upon whom you feel free to call and with whom you can share problems. One woman told me how much it meant to her when a friend told her, “My time is God’s time. Just call me anytime, even if it’s two o’clock in the morning!”
“I never had to call her at that time,” she said, “but it meant everything to me, just to know I could if I needed to. And I did call her many other times!”
Look upon this time of separation as an opportunity to cultivate an even closer walk with the Lord. Dig into the Bible a little deeper–get involved in some intensive Bible study on your own.
Don’t overlook the possibilities in the wives’ groups. Seek out other wives in the same situation. Get them over for coffee, or a meal. Let your children get to know each other. If they know the Lord, you’ve found added fellowship. If they don’t, your own life and attitude can be a testimony to them of the sustaining power of God.
One wife, when asked what was the hardest thing about separations, replied, “The physical work!” If you have one of those marvelous help-out-around-the-house husbands, the extra responsibilities when he is gone can be considerable. If the budget can possibly stand it, this might be the time to hire some help, possibly on a once a week basis. You might offer to cut back in some other areas to make it possible. During one tour we were able to manage this on a bimonthly basis. It was heavenly!
You may also discover ways in which you can cut back and make things easier around the house. For one thing, your entertaining will probably be less, at least the more formal part of it. But don’t forego all entertaining just because your husband is gone. Just stick to simple meals, or even the “you bring the dessert and I’ll fix the casserole” shared meals. When there’s just you and the kids, go simpler still. Fortunately most kids enjoy the easy-to-fix items. Forget about the china–use paper plates! Cut housekeeping to a minimum. If you leave the beds unmade to take the crew to the zoo or on a picnic, who’s to know or care?
Turning the Inevitable to an Asset
If God has led your husband to a career in the military, separations will inevitably be a part of it. But they don’t have to be destructive to your marriage, in fact, there is a sense in which they can be actually constructive. The same sun that melts the butter also hardens the clay. A separation that might break up one marriage (probably a shaky marriage to begin with) can strengthen another. Accept separations as a challenge! Don’t let them work against you; make them work for you!
Marriages can grow even though husband and wife are separated by distance. If nothing else, separations force you to focus on the major good qualities of your mate, rather than his minor idiosyncrasies. When you are with a person all the time, little things like socks on the floor or newspapers scattered all over become progressively irritating. It’s easy to start taking each other for granted. Sometimes a few weeks of separation help to get perspectives back in focus as to what is really important!
Once we were visiting the home of friends who had left the service a few years earlier. They were having some mild disagreements at the time. Later, after the husband had left the room, the wife turned to me and said somewhat jokingly, “I guess what we need right now is another tour of sea duty!” Other couples have testified that separations resulting from the career had helped to keep their marriages fresh and alive.
Communication need not suffer because you and your husband are apart. It can even improve. I’ve already mentioned the value of tapes, e-mail or videos. Many have found that they tended to share and discuss things, both spiritual and otherwise, in greater depth on tapes than they did face to face. For one thing, how else can you talk to your mate for a full hour and have his undivided attention without fear of interruption!
Recently a friend was sharing with a small group her experience with tapes: “When my husband just wrote letters,” she said, “they were always so short and even impersonal, ‘nothing much happening today,’ that sort of thing. Then we started sending tapes instead. He’d carry his tape recorder and talk into it as he walked around the flight deck, and he just started opening up! He shared his thoughts and feelings, all the little details of things that had happened that day. The difference in our communication was unbelievable–just like night and day!”
Not everyone can feel this free with a tape recorder, and some admit they have never been able to use one. If you find your husband has a block when it comes to tapes, don’t force the issue. Just make your letters the best they can be!
It can be a growing time for you, also. It’s easy at times to lean on our husbands too much, to depend on them for too many of our needs. As wives, we need to grow–to stretch to our utmost potential. Learning to handle finances, dealing with repairmen, buying or selling a house–all of these can be growing experiences. In his poem, “Good Timber” Douglas Malloch expresses a similar idea:
Good timber does not grow in ease;
The stronger wind, the tougher trees;
The farther sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength…
Don’t dwell on all the things you think are missing because of your husband’s absence. Concentrate instead on special activities that his absence makes possible. It is not uncommon to hear married women say, “Oh, if I were single again, the things I’d do!” Well, here’s your chance to do at least some of them! One woman I know went back to school full time for the year her husband was gone and completed requirements for her teaching certificate. Another went to school and got her real estate license.
Naturally, if you have children, some things will be out of the question. Still, there are literally hundreds of marvelous possibilities. Learn a foreign language–French, or maybe even Greek! Study upholstering. Discover photography. Take a Bible course. Go on a trip! One time I packed up the kids, threw in our two cats, and took off. We visited grandparents and friends all over the eastern half of the United States, had a delightful time and put 4,000 miles on the car! Brush up on your sewing skills. Read–or even write–the Great American Novel. In short, do all those things you’ve been saying for years you would do if you only had the time! Above all, don’t stagnate. Remember–don’t just go through this separation, seek to grow through it!
He’s Coming Home–And I’m Worried
This is the day you’ve longed and waited for–the day you’ve lain awake at nights thinking about. It’s the day you’ve finally reached as you tediously marked off the calendar one day at a time. Now it’s almost here–and suddenly you’re frightened.
What if he’s changed? What if I’ve changed? What if we don’t have anything in common anymore? What if he doesn’t approve of the way I’ve handled the money, or taken care of the house, or disciplined the children?
Then you start worrying because you’re worried! What’s the matter with you anyway, you wonder?
Once when I was preparing to speak to a group of wives on the problems of service separations. Jean, a young wife whose husband was away on his first long deployment, sought me out.
“I hope you’re planning on talking about the problems of coming home again,” she said. “I’m really uptight about Jim coming back.” I knew her and Jim as committed Christians who had a good marriage relationship, so I asked her specifically what was worrying her. She sensed from his letters and tapes that he had changed in many respects, and she felt he was growing away from her. Her distress and apprehension were very real, and they continued to increase as his arrival drew nearer.
Jean is not alone in this. Almost every wife I have talked to has felt this same concern to some degree. If you listen to the “experts,” there is indeed cause for concern.
Counselors who work with military families say that few couples can resume their marriages after a lengthy separation without some problems. Other counselors go even further and say that a separation is always a crisis in marriage.
Studies done by the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego during and after Navy men had nine months of sea duty showed, “the initial two months away from home were critical, but it was the first two months back that were even more critical.”
Why? What problems can arise? And can they be prevented?
One of the most obvious problems concerns the flip-flops that occur in the wife’s role. Her husband goes to sea, and suddenly she is forced to become independent. She must make important decisions by herself She must take the responsibility of handling the family finances. If there are children, the full burden of their care is thrust upon her. She must perform all the chores and resolve all the crises. As a result, her confidence and independence increase. Then her husband comes home, and she must revert to being properly dependent! She attempts to relinquish the authority and responsibility she took on when he left. And just when she thinks she is finally getting the knack of it, he leaves again!
The wife may have come to enjoy having the leadership role and may be reluctant to give it up again. Or the husband may demand it back too abruptly and cause resentment on the part of his wife. Some men may even feel threatened on their return to learn how competently their wives have coped without them. They may interpret this as meaning that their wives don’t need them or love them as much as before. This is where a sensitive wife must help her husband to understand that being able to get along without him is very different from wanting to get along without him!
Those who work with military families say that the more separations a couple goes through, the more independent the wife becomes. Problems arise if the husband comes home and expects his wife to be exactly the same person she was when he left. This just doesn’t happen. The wife may be able to curb some of her independence, but counselors stress that she must help her husband recognize that it’s the very nature of his job that’s changing his sweet, dependent bride into a competent, independent woman.
But the husband too has undoubtedly changed, although perhaps not so dramatically. This is where good communication during the separation helps. Discuss your anxieties with your husband. Let him know you expect to find him changed in some ways. Remind him that he will probably find changes in you as well, but stress the fact that you feel these changes have been for the better (let’s hope they have been!) and that you are trusting the Lord to make the adjustment as easy as possible. After all, who wants to remain static and stagnant all their lives!
“But what if he disapproves of the way I’ve handled the money?” “What will he say when he finds out I couldn’t get the checkbook to balance and overdrew our account by $533?” “What if he doesn’t like the purple velvet loveseat that the salesman said was such a steal for only $2,000?”
Back to square one–communication! Let him know what’s been going on. These are not the kind of “surprises” he is looking for when he comes home!
Your husband may also feel left out regarding friends you’ve made. You and your new friend, Hildegard, may have enjoyed a very special rapport while he was away, but if you discover her husband and yours are poles apart in hobbies, tastes, and interests, don’t push a foursome. Enjoy Hildegard’s company during the day if you wish, but reserve evenings for couples you mutually enjoy. Anyway, when he first gets home, you’ll be the main one he’s interested in spending time with.
If you have children, there are other problems to be considered. When a husband is gone for a while, changes gradually evolve in the family’s routine. Ways of doing things may differ from the way they were done when father was around. Then Dad comes home and tries to change everything back to ‘normal’! Not only may his wife resent it–after all, it worked perfectly well for her–but the children may resent it, too. Ideally of course, the mother should try to maintain the same policies and routines as much as possible, but some change seems to be inevitable. One wife expressed it this way:
“After the initial reunion I find it hard getting used to each other again. I feel possessive of the house and the way our life has been, and then he steps in again and everything revolves around him. I have trouble relinquishing my authority.”
In at least one situation I know of, the husband withdrew instead of taking over, almost as though he no longer felt a part of the family. In this case the wife sensed what was happening and made a concerted effort to draw him back into the family routine.
The transfer of authority is made doubly hard when children are involved. When Jerry came back from destroyer duty, our boys were just little fellows. Naturally it had become a matter of habit while he was gone for them to direct their questions or requests for various things to me. The problem arose when he came home and they continued this! For instance, we would be driving in the car and they would turn to me to ask, “Hey, Mom, can we stop and get some ice cream?” I, in turn, was so used to being the only parent around that I automatically answered them. Ididn’t realize how this affected Jerry until one day he said, “Look boys, I’m home now, and I’m the one who happens to be driving, so how about asking me?” I got the point! I began reminding the boys to direct their questions to Daddy, and at the same time I tried to reassure Daddy there was no intentional snub intended toward him. The boys were acting out of habit, and a habit built up over several months couldn’t be broken overnight without a few reminders.
When Jerry came back from a year’s tour the boys were older and more conscious of the need to make Daddy feel truly welcome. Our four year old son, Kyle, having noticed my husband’s very military hair cut, said, “You sure got funny hair, Daddy!” Then, having somehow sensed that this wasn’t quite the thing to say, and having also noticed my husband’s somewhat receding hairline, he tried to make amends. Patting my husband on the top of his head, he added, “But you don’t have much funny hair!”
Other problems can develop when a father who has been looking forward eagerly to a reunion with his children comes home and discovers that they are hostile and resentful over him leaving them in the first place. Some child psychologists say that all children, even those who appear genuinely happy to see their fathers again, have both good and bad feelings toward the parent. Negative feelings can be expressed in many ways. The child may not let the father get near him emotionally for fear of being hurt again. Some try to repress their feelings, only to have them show up later as discipline problems. Other children may cling to the father, not wanting to let him out of their sight. The child may be jealous, feeling that he had his mother’s full attention while his father was gone, but now that Dad has returned he’s back in the number two spot. The child may resent this semi-stranger, who he feels has replaced him in his mother’s affections.
If you and your husband have made the separation a matter of daily prayer before the Lord, and the father has kept in touch with each child through individual letters and tapes, these problems should be minimal. Still, don’t take this for granted. If a child seems withdrawn or distant, encourage your husband to talk with him, in an attempt to get the child to open up and share his feelings. The father might ask the child, “Are you feeling angry because I left you? I understand how you might. Could you talk to me about it?”
The first week to ten days at home is a crucial time. It is also the time when many couples plan to get a baby sitter and take off for a few days by themselves. But if a youngster is already feeling resentful at being displaced from his mother’s favor, you can imagine how this makes him feel! So, if at all possible, try to postpone your getaway weekend for a couple of weeks. You’ll enjoy it just as much a little later, and in the meantime the child will have a chance to slip back into the routine of having father home.
For the first week, it is also wise to keep to yourselves as a family. Tell the relatives you’ll be delighted to see them in a couple of weeks–after you’ve come back from your own time together! Tell the neighbors and other couples who invite you over for dinner that you’d love to take a rain check. Children need to see the family structure reestablished. In addition, encourage your husband to spend time with each child individually. Perhaps he can take one for a walk, or another to the ice cream parlor, or maybe just sit down and play a game in a quiet corner.
Separations aren’t easy–for the parents or for the children. Don’t assume there will be no readjustment problems, but on the other hand don’t expect the worst either! As a Christian family, you have a lot going for you that the world doesn’t! If you’ve kept up good communications throughout the separation, if you’ve committed each aspect of the separation to the Lord, if you yourself have shown an accepting and uncomplaining attitude, you should not fear the homecoming.
Separations will never be fun. But neither do they have to be a disaster. The keys to survival are simple. Cultivate the right attitude in the light of God’s Word. Be supportive of your husband. Keep father before the children daily, and plan together for his return. Seek out Christian fellowship and a closer walk with the Lord. Let this separation make your marriage even better! Grow through it! Allow the Lord to use this time to make both you and your marriage even better and stronger!
Being separated from family members is part of military service. How your family adjusts is important!
Are You Expecting Orders?
OCF has a useful resource just for you!
Thriving Not Just Surviving contains articles on military family separations. It is designed to help you as you face separations due to military assignments.
In this book, military family members reveal how they have learned to cope with service separations. Order this OCF book now – and join others who have received help and encouragement from reading it. Contact the OCF home office at: [email protected] or 800.424.1984
Beverley Moritz is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and has written for Moody Monthly, Command and Power. Her husband, Jerry, is a retired Navy chaplain.