Away from the kids. So ... you're going along with your recently single life, and your regularly-scheduled time with the kiddos is going great. It's special and protected ... you're a great dad, and you and the kids know it! When suddenly, a dreaded call. You are to go to some far-off place for work.
Now, you COULD turn it down.... but that's not really a good idea and it's been made clear that it's not an option. Accepting the work means you're going to be gone, full-time, for several months - no chance of return until it's complete. You discuss it with their other parent but you know you must go... it adds tension to a tense relationship... and the very thought of being away, missing events, bedtime cuddles, school events, and just the regular hugs & kisses that keep you going each week, simply makes you cry.
Nonetheless... you're going. Here's how to make the best of a challenging situation:
Step 1.. Prepare. Children are going to struggle with this no matter what - In our case, they'd only recently been through the divorce and this isn't going to make them feel better about things. So doing a decent job of reassuring them, setting realistic expectations, setting up reliable communications, and above all.. not making things worse.. is mission critical!
I talked with their other parent and spoke with their teachers, coaches and other members of their support system so they'd be aware to help them and watch for adverse changes. It was equally important to make sure their mom was prepared too.. this was about to become a huge burden on her that cannot be understated. She was soon not going to have her Thursday's and 1st, 3rd, & 5th weekends without the kids. Would it be easy to default an unhealthy view of "well, it'll show her" .. sure! SUPER bad idea and don't even go there!! All of the coping mechanisms that the kids need to be armed with should be considered for the other parent too.
Step 2.. The Talk. The weekend I told the kids was the most difficult of my life since the announcement to them of the divorce itself. Tears. Fears. Questions.. lots, some I had rehearsed for and some that I hadn't thought of. Everything presented as straightforwardly as possible.. most importantly, the expectation for return. For me, this was the most difficult point though because it was not entirely clear if I would be gone for 3 months or 6, maybe even longer. So we talked about the plan for return but that like all plans, things can interfere and cause changes - a mantra that has been repeated by everyone surrounding them. Hope for the best but be prepared for delay.
Step 3.. The Tools. I presented each of them (3) with a notebook where they are encouraged.. again, by everyone that surrounds them.. to express their feelings and either share them freely or they can put them down in the journal for now and they share them when they're ready. I made sure they had plenty of pictures and mementos of our times together to keep with them. I also gave each of them a little figurine (we're Star Wars fans) that will be reunited when we're all back together. They were also well instructed in how to reach me by phone, video conference, instant messaging, email, and regular mail.. basically if they wanted to reach me at any time, they could. We also make sure to talk every day - we use video conference - and we have as much or as little time as they each feel like that evening.
Step 4.. Execution. As with any plan, success lies in executing but then adapting, improvising, and overcoming obstacles when necessary. As with many divorces, there are plenty of voices that either by accident or by purpose are trying to negatively impact the situation. It's important that my and my children's positive energy overcome these influences. Staying to the plan, remaining positive and reinforcing our connection is absolutely critical. We share stories of our day, pictures, I help them with homework, listen to them rehearse for choir or see the progress of their projects, and I share with them just as we would if we were physically together. We say prayers, say I love you, I miss you and I'll see you soon frequently, and occasionally cry.
It's by far the most painful experience of my life.. even more so than the divorce and ramifications itself because we were in a good groove and recovery that has been disrupted. One thing I left out of preparation that I quickly discovered I needed.. someone for me to cope & share with.. a voice that remains positive for me and lift me up when it hurts the most. I'd be in a truly dark place with them and I'm grateful for them.. wish I'd started this journey with them already on board but better late than never!
Things will return to normal when I do, but until then: stay positive, adapt, improvise, and overcome, and be the absolute unbreakable and unshakable strength that the children need.. and communicate every moment possible, even though each and every goodbye hurts.
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