Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Becoming a single parent

A couple of months before my son was born 2 1/2 years ago, we were notified that my husband, an active duty member of the Navy, was getting deployed to Iraq. His date of departure was exactly one week after my due date. To any wife or family member of a service member, this would be difficult news - a loved one going into a war zone. But, to me, 8-months pregnant, insanely emotional, and mother to a then-2 1/2 year old already, it was devastating. I was terrified, almost paralyzed, with fear for his safety. But also, how could I handle being a single parent for 14 months?(!) How would I cover the many weekends I have to work on the wards? How would I keep my sanity and not go into a serious postpartum depressive funk? I didn't have postpartum depression with our first, thankfully, but the utter despair I experienced in the weeks and days leading up to his planned departure--I had never experienced anything quite like that before. That darkness was almost unbearable.

Then, a miracle happened. He didn't end up going. We found out 4 days after our son was born, 3 days before he was scheduled to leave. It had nothing to do with us just having a child, of course, but we were thankful nonetheless. Our family would stay together.

And it's been wonderful. A gift to be together. Yet, I had almost forgotten how easy it is to take things for granted.

In less than a month, my husband is moving to North Carolina for the next two years for his next military assignment. And we've decided that the kids and I will stay in DC. Which means, I will essentially become a single parent for the next two years.

The common response: Why don't you just all move down?

Well, it's complicated. The main factors:

- We have little to no support in the form of family or friends there. There's a good chance he could get deployed and be away for up to a year, and then me and the kids would still be alone but now with no help. Here, we have family, friends, great child care, a great school. At least here, the kids will have some stability.

-I love my job. I don't want to give it up, have to find a (most likely) less-satisfying one, and then have to find a job back here in 2 years. My career is exactly where I want it right now. I'm also the larger breadwinner, and we're more dependent on my salary to pay the mortgage, the bills, etc.

It is not an easy decision. It's going to be hard for everyone. I worry especially about our 5-year old daughter who is Daddy's girl, and I hope, hope, hope this turns out to be just a small blip in our overall happy family trajectory. And, of course, I worry about missing my husband - my best friend and love of my life. (I also worry about going insane from the stresses of single parenting but hopefully blogging will be therapeutic. See Tempeh's amazing grace through multiple deployments.)

So, we'll make the best out of it. We'll do weekends here or there. We'll Skype. I know we'll get through it together.

I have also learned, from Tempeh, that I'll need to lean on people to help. Which involves getting over the silly hang-up of having to ask for help.

I'm working on that.

But, something also dawned on me: I'm thankful to even have a choice to stay behind. As an independent woman, as a mother in medicine, I have a choice. A career I'm passionate about. A family I adore. It means certain sacrifices for sure, but it also means the chance to be fulfilled in multiple aspects of life. Yes, I'll always be dealing with finding balance, negotiating.

But, I'm still glad for the choice.


  1. Best to you and your family. My brother-in-law is in Iraq (2nd tour) now. He is an Army chaplain. His wife and 6 yo son live in Georgia with no family nearby. Their nearly 20 yo son is in college at the University of Chicago (just now home for the summer). It is tough on any family. Skype has helped them a lot this tour.

  2. rlbates- thanks. I know tons of people do this all the time, with less help, so I'm grateful to have family nearby. So glad we have the technology to support video calls! It was much harder before...although some say it makes it a little harder on the deployed to hear about the daily stresses of those back home.

  3. Ugh. Good luck. It will be ok.

    People ask me all the time what I will do when I get to residency. Will I rank residency programs not in the city I live in now and ask my husband to move? Would I move without him (leaving HIM with the kid -- if there is one by then) and visit when I could?

    Lalalala.... it's still a few years off so I'm trying not to think about it.

  4. Best of luck to you. Now I feel stupid for getting so aggravated when my husband goes away on a business trip for three days.

    I work with a lot of military personnel now and the deployments are so stressful for the older service members. It's not such a big deal when you're 20, but so much worse when you're married with kids. I really feel sorry for the female military members with kids, who get separated from them for like a year when deployed. That is one thing I really couldn't deal with! It just seems so wrong to me...

  5. oldmdgirl- I think the residency match is a lot like the military since they both kind of determine your geographic fates and force you to make such life-changing decisions based on outside forces. I think it would be really hard to be apart during residency since it is so stressful and having loved ones nearby is huge.

    fizz-Trust me. When the husband goes away for a few days, I feel like I'm going to die/get checked in to a mental hospital half-way through it, so it's going to take some adaptation.

    I can't imagine getting deployed away from my kids, though, as a mom. Hats off to them. Wish there was another way. We've been at war for too long.

  6. KC - I know my situation is worlds away from yours, but I can empathize with some of the similarities. Supporting kids, physically and emotionally, without a spouse present in the same household is very tough. As I have seen Tempeh do and I have done - reaching out to family and friends for a new, external support is very important for your mental health. Don't ever forget that your kids can't survive without you being present, so take time for yourself, too - this will be harder to do over the next couple of years on a day-to-day basis.

    Good luck! Will be thinking about you and hopefully giving (and getting) support through the blog over the next couple of years.

  7. Wow. These are the stressors that take the very strong and loving spousal and parental relationships that you've built, family support you have, and friend support that will come through for you, in order to get by.

    And road trips. That'll likely be a huge adjunct to skype, at least while he's in NC. And road trips across town so we (T and family) can HELP. In real ways. We can check on your house when y'all go visit him, we can have a your-kids-and-our-family play date when you need a spa date.

    Thinking of you and hoping for that 3 day notice that he doesn't have to go, but knowing you'll be able to do it, get by, remain sane, stay intact, and will be counting the days til he returns, but making the most of them all the while.

  8. KC. Good luck to you and your family. I know all too well about long term separations with my military husband. We FINALLY just this week, moved back in together as a family after almost a year, and an unexpected, last minute move half way across the country! My thoughts are with you all for a smooth transition. {{{hugs}}}}}

  9. Giz- Thanks. I know you can empathize, and I admire you for all you do. It's an adjustment. Glad I can count on the ears(eyes) of people like you to listen over the next couple of years.

    T- Very grateful for your friendship and support in ALL ways. I will need spa days. =)

    MomRN2Doc-Thanks so much and Hooray for you being reunited as a family!!!! That is fabulous news - at least after the separation, there is serious joy to be had in enjoying each other. There's no taking for granted.

  10. I've been whining about some minor annoyances - thanks for putting everything into perspective for me again. I'm glad that you have the support around you to be able to stay where you are - but don't envy you the next 24 months.

  11. A nanny is worth every penny, even for an older child who is in school. When we finally stopped having full time help, I nearly had the bends! Southwest, God bless 'em, flies to North Carolina frequently and cheaply. And Amtrak used to let kids travel free. Good luck!

  12. Aw, KC! I wish you guys all the best. It will be tough, but I know you will come through with grace and humor, as always. :)

  13. artemis- Thank you. Yes, it does help put things in perspective for us. Just wondering when to tell the kids- we were told don't do it too far in advance...

    juliaink - Oh, we will definitely be keeping our nanny. We knew all along this could be a possibility so we haven't scaled back her hours despite 1 child being in school all day and 1 for 1/2 day. She will be indispensable. Unfortunately, the area in NC he's going to is not all that close to nearest airports. (still a 2 hr drive from the closest one, but def an improvement over the 8 hour drive...)

    drwhoo-they say it's a fine line between heartbreak and humor so, looking forward to lots of good material in the upcoming months. (although the references to insanity will probably become old and tired.)

  14. KC, As you know, we are in it with you guys for the duration. Looking forward to our summer roadtrip as the first of many opportunities to take lemons and make lemonade with you. As I said in total seriousness, you have a standing dinner invitation here. (You will get used to the chaotic appearance of our home!) We have to eat and feed our kids every single night, and there is always extra room and extra food. I predict that the biggest challenge for you will not be the separation or single parenting or any of the things you are most worried about but rather learning to say yes and letting yourself lean on friends. We intend to be annoyingly persistent in that respect.

  15. Could you take notes for me?? Josh and I are still doing our undergrad work, but once that is finished, he will have to go live in another city for a year while he's in the academy. Of course, this will be around the same time that I'm starting med school (if the stars align properly). We have family support here, so ideally I'll stay here for med school, rely on that support...but nothing is certain at this point! It makes us both a little queasy if we think about it for too long.

    Good luck!

  16. Tempeh- you always speak of this chaotic-appearing home yet I have yet to witness it in real life. =)You guys are so wonderful and we feel quite lucky to have you in our family's life. Looking forward to road-tripping with you down to NC -never thought I'd actually look forward to driving down there w/the kids.

    kyla- I will certainly take notes (and document via blogging!) for you but seriously, I can't imagine there's anything you can't handle. You are so accomplished - so looking forward to the day when you announce your acceptance into medical school. Already excited for the doctor you are going to become.

  17. I have a friend who is part of a member to member Coast Guard marriage. VA and Florida. It's not easy but they are doing it and I am in awe of her each and every day. The children live with her and she works full time while finishing up her Masters degree.

    The time will go quickly and you will do amazing.


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