April is the Month of the Military Child, and I wanted to find a way to show my children that the sacrifices they make on a daily basis during their father’s current deployment don’t pass unnoticed. I’m well aware of how my husband’s deployment is affecting me, but it’s easy to forget that my children bear the brunt of their father’s absence as well.
What could I do beyond what I was already doing? Since my husband’s departure, I’ve been the ambassador of hugs, I’ve been more tantrum-tolerant, and I’ve made mountains of Play Doh pizzas and Lego configurations. But I had yet to carve out time to talk.
Simple? Yes. Trivial. Absolutely not. With a pad of paper and pen in hand, I interviewed my 6-year-old son to catch a glimpse of military life from the eyes of a military brat.
MOM: How do you feel about Dad being gone a lot?
BRAT: Kind of good and kind of bad.
MOM: How is it good?
BRAT: Because sometimes I get to have sleepovers with you. And I get to talk to Dad on the phone.
MOM: How is it bad?
BRAT: The bad thing is that I miss him.
MOM: How are things different when Dad is gone?
BRAT: We don’t get to talk to each other a lot. We don’t get to play games together. He can’t read books to me. We can’t play Wii or ride on the John Deere. We can’t go camping or golfing. We can’t have Boys’ Days. But when he’s gone, I’m the man of the house.
MOM: What do you do as the man of the house?
BRAT: I take showers by myself and get aftershave. I can have a messy room. I take care of my sister more.
MOM: What’s your favorite thing about having a dad in the military?
BRAT: He wears a lot of cool uniforms. He shoots bad guys. [Author’s note: I’ve never known my husband to shoot bad guys, but evidently my son thinks he does.] I am proud of him.
MOM: Do you think Dad’s job in the military is important?
BRAT: Yes, because he has to do good things.
MOM: Like what?
BRAT: Go around the world. Capture pirates. [Author’s note: I’ve also never known my husband to capture pirates. Brat sure does have an active imagination!]
MOM: When you grow up, do you want to be in the military?
MOM: Why not?
BRAT: Because I want to be a policeman so I can chase people and put them in jail.
MOM: Do you wish Dad wasn’t in the military?
BRAT: Yes, so he would always stay home.
MOM: Is it hard moving and making new friends?
BRAT: I don’t like that my old friends forget about me.
MOM: Do you ever wish we could stay in one house forever?
BRAT: No. I want to move around the world and see how it is.
MOM: What advice would you give to kids whose dads are also in the military and are gone a lot?
BRAT: Draw your dad pictures and write letters. Go outside and run around. Call your grandparents if you have grandparents.
MOM: What are you going to say to Dad the next time you talk to him?
BRAT: I’m good at baseball. And I wish you would come home this second. That’s how much I miss him. Don’t ask me any more questions Mom. It makes me sad.
On that note, we ended the interview with a bear hug and a bowl of watermelon.
The entire conversation lasted a mere 15 minutes, but the impact those 15 minutes left on both of us is priceless. It reminded me of the importance of keeping the lines of communication with my children open. Like many of the children we celebrate this month, my son has unresolved feelings about this life he was involuntarily born into. The interview hopefully taught him that he can talk freely about those feelings without fear of judgment. At six years old, his concepts of time and distance are undeveloped and his understanding of our lifestyle and his father’s absences is limited, but he clearly understands that not all families go through the challenges that we do.
Regardless of whether your family is coping with a deployment, an upcoming PCS move, or simply military life in general, make time for discussions with your children. Use some of the above questions as conversation starters or brainstorm other age-appropriate prompts. Let your child dictate the pace and direction of your questions and encourage him to ask you questions. If your child doesn’t initially respond or isn’t able to verbalize his feelings, break the ice by shifting the focus to yourself. His unwillingness to confide in you may change once he hears his own thoughts mirrored in your words. And don’t give up. Even if the conversation drifts from military-focused to something completely different, you might just learn something about your child in the process.
A few minutes after Big C’s abrupt ending of the interview, I was pleasantly surprised when he requested an interview with me. When he asked me if I missed my own dad, I knew I had accomplished my goal. My answer that yes, I do miss my father, proved to him that what he’s feeling is normal and it’s perfectly acceptable to admit it.
I hope this is the first of many meaningful discussions to come. Maybe next time he’ll give me the scoop on those bad guys and pirates.
(In case you were wondering, I attempted to interview my other brat, but the only answer I could squeeze out of my 2-year-old daughter was: “Daddy on a big trip. More watermelon please.”)
This post in my latest contribution to Blue Star Families. Go check them out. They’re awesome!