My husband has recently had the opportunity to take a surprise trip of undetermined duration. He's been gone a couple of weeks, and email has been pretty good, but no telephone communications. I don't get many phone calls anyway and tend to leave my phone safely in my purse most of the time. This results in a somewhat humorous scramble to answer the phone on the rare occasions that it does ring.
On Saturday, the phone rang and I yelled in the general direction of the main floor, "Would someone please answer that?" I heard some mumblings and a child pitter-patted down the stairs.
"Mom? Did you need to talk to Dad?"
Um, yeah. What a great surprise! I was astonished at the lack of enthusiasm by the child. Granted, she isn't much of a phone talker under any circumstances, but still: DAD! ON THE PHONE! Whoohooo!
A few hours later, my husband's actual body came walking through the kitchen door and was greeted with the same lackluster response. Okay, maybe it was a little more excited: "Hey, Dad's here." (Not the lack of exclamation point in that exclamation.) No jumping off the sofa or putting down of books. No yelling for sisters to come welcome Dad.
What is wrong with these kids? I can't decide if I should be delighted that they are pretty laid-back when it comes to Dad's absences, or irritated that they don't recognize the gift of his being home. (Especially since this trip isn't actually over yet, he just had a little detour through our town.) Granted, he travels pretty regularly in his job, so maybe this didn't seem any different to them.
I'm curious: How do your children respond to contact from or the return of their often-absent parent? Does it change depending on the type of schedule your spouse usually keeps? Is it different for younger or older children? Do you think their exposure to current affairs and news makes any difference? I think there are larger questions here, too: Is there any larger significance to the way your child responds to the active-duty spouse and their schedule/travel issues? Does mean that they are so well-adjusted that they feel confident in their parent regardless of their presence or ability to communicate, or does it mean that they just don't care any more? Which of these things are positive, which of them are negative, which are neither, and which balance themselves out?
As I read the constant news reports about military kids and all the stress that they are supposedly facing at this point in time, I have a healthy amount of skepticism. Life has ups and downs, and military life has ups and downs. I find it hard to understand how a military child is faced with any more significant challenges than a child living in severe poverty, or a child with chronic medical issues, or the child of a oil-rig worker who is gone for big chunks of time doing a dangerous job, or a child who is parenting their own siblings at 9, or any other of the bjillion problematic situations of this world. When talking about the negative effects of military life, I often think that researchers are comparing the issues of military families to some idyllic world of perfect families and communities. In reality, very few people, military or civilian, live in a perfect world. It seems to me that telling military children that their lives are difficult exacerbates the problem by making those kids feel like victims of their parents' military service. In my opinion, it would be much more helpful to point out that all people are going to face adversity in their lives, and help develop skills to identify and combat said adversity.
Obviously, every person is different, and this probably isn't a conversation to be having with your crazed 3 year old who is banging on the computer screen trying to get Daddy to come back. However, I think that the at-home parent has the opportunity to set an example for their children by demonstrating the behaviors that we all hope to see in our children: resilience, problem-solving, personal strength, and a generally positive attitude towards dealing with life's struggles. With any luck, even the little ones will pick up on Mom or Dad's positive behavior and emulate it.
And maybe that is exactly what my kids are doing, and I should just be glad of it.