OneOp brings you a unique interview with a mom who was in the military. We are grateful for her willingness to share her experiences and knowledge with us. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What were the ages of your children when you were deployed? Please also share if you have any children with disabilities and, to the extent to which you are comfortable, what those disabilities are.
When I deployed to Afghanistan in 2005-2006, my children were three and six years old.
What were some things you did to prepare yourself for being separated from your children prior to your deployment?
In order to prepare myself, I printed several pictures of them to carry with me. I also arranged for family members to care for them. I was a single mother with two children, so I did little to prepare myself. In fact, due to not having any real advice or counsel before I left, I called and wrote my children for their sake, but internally I disconnected so that I could shut off my emotions.
What were some things you did to prepare your children for your deployment?
I had age-appropriate conversations with both of them about where I was going. We also counted the days we had left before I deployed. I did not want them to wake up and find out Mom was leaving them. I also let them know I would call, they could write me, and that I would be coming home to take care of them as soon as all of the people who I was helping got what they needed. I was a combat medic.
Please describe conversations you had with your children’s father or other caregivers prior to your deployment in regards to supporting your children
My ex-husband was in Korea at the time I deployed and did not share time with the children. This left me to bear the responsibility alone with my children.
What were some of your main fears and/or concerns regarding your children’s well being when you were deployed?
The main concern I had for my children during my deployment was that they would be emotionally scarred. They already had a father who was not active in their lives, making me the only constant adult in their life. I also feared that in the event I did not make it back, they would be parentless. My son was 3 years old and had just finished potty-training shortly before his 3rd birthday. He reverted back to using diapers until I came home. My daughter and son were very close to me, and my style of raising children was considerably different than my Dad and stepmother’s style. Since they were staying with them, it concerned me that they would not get the abundance of love and affection they received from me. I paid for them both to go to private school while I was gone. I knew it would be smaller and more intimate than a larger public school.
What were some ways you were able to stay connected with your children when you were deployed?
I kept in contact with my children during my deployment by calling when I was near a phone on the main military base. This happened at least once a week. I also wrote them. They really looked forward to those letters in the mail every other week.
Please describe your transition back home. Did you do anything to prepare yourself and/or your children? Were there any challenges?
My transition back home was difficult, in my opinion. When I arrived home everyone but me had their families there to greet them. I stayed in a local hotel as I out processed from the deployment and just slept. It was a week before I headed back home. Upon returning, I was handed my children, the keys to my home and my checkbook. I needed time to decompress from the deployment, but what I got was more of a “Here are your kids. Have a great day.” This was difficult on all of us. I was tired, but had to “be mom” right away, so I felt very isolated. No one asked any questions. It was almost as if the only ones who realized I had even left were me and my children. My son was no longer potty trained, my children would not let me out of their sight, and we had to reintegrate all alone.