I am a mum to three kids and I am a Defence force wife. These two things can make for a very busy and chaotic life but it can be an amazing time. Don’t get me wrong I have mounds of washing waiting for me and dishes in the sink and moments when I want to lock myself in my room and not come out, but making special memories when one parent is away for extended periods of time can happen, it’s about balance. The time away and coping with kids is a whole topic in itself, but creating special family moments doesn’t take much, involving the kids is key. For example the homecoming after an extended period away – and in this case I mean months – is something to be cherished. Yes my kids have made those big, somewhat tacky, signs with pens and paint and streamers and balloons – this exercise in itself was a great time to interact with the kids and most importantly sounds out what they were looking forward too, when their Dad gets home. It also gives them an end point and a time to look forward to having him home. Depending on the age of the children, doing signs too soon may make them impatient for Dad to be home but we made numerous signs, including one for in the home, it was about a week out that we started working on them and for us this was perfect timing.
The actual homecoming, whether it is at the airport or waiting for a bus to arrive can be an anxious time for the kids. It can be a fine line between not waiting too long at the arrival point, to missing the moment they walk in. So I make sure I am packed with some snacks, drinks and entertainment in case the arrival is delayed. It is important too to manage the children’s expectations of what Daddy might be feeling. If I know that he’s been travelling for an extended amount of time, just letting the children know he might be tired and need sleep may help prevent any disappointment when Dad chooses to sleep in the afternoon instead of play. All the worry and waiting however disappears when Dad walks out of the doors/bus and the kids recognise him and run, it is so special to be able to hug and talk to him, and if words escape them they have signs and balloons to show him and talk about.
It’s easier for us if the time after arrival is very flexible. Enforcing a dinner out or planning movie time etc. can often cause more harm than good depending on how tired Dad is. So there is often a car or lounge room discussion of what the kids might like to do and then mapping out a time if it won’t happen immediately. These special desires from the kids are often so simple like going fishing with Dad or watching a movie on the couch. It is a real time to sit and listen and for them to be able to express things that they have been waiting to do with Dad. The day usually ends with all of us laying down together reading some books before bed and the kids bringing out various art works or awards that they have been saving up to show Dad. There is lots of praise and cuddles and it is a very special time. We sometimes squeeze in a mini meltdown just to bring us back to the reality of parenthood but generally it is a no pressure, easy, happy family time being together again. Make it simple, make it flexible and homecoming can be such a special family memory.
Christine and Andrew are parents to three young children. Christine is often parenting alone, when Andrew’s job in the Defence services takes him away for extended periods.