A good article from Maritime Executive that goes with the theme here. It sucks saying goodbye to my kids…every single time.
Hope you don’t mind the threadjack John.
BTW, I really like the poem.
[QUOTE=I heard the crying of Maggie, an eighteen-month-old, as she reached for her mother, Katie, again. We were hanging out at the house, having afternoon coffee and talking about life. As Katie reached down for her crying child, she began to express concern. Maggie had been like this since her father sailed out three weeks earlier. Katie told me that Maggie would not leave her side and threw a fit every time she left the room. The once friendly child no longer liked strangers and refused to be held by anyone other than her mother. As the conversation continued we focused on what Maggie might be feeling and her lack of understanding that Daddy was simply working in another location for three months and would soon return.
Gathering your belongings, packing the bags, and heading out to sea are normal parts of the mariner’s life. Along with this routine, come the hugs, kisses, and tears as you tell your family “goodbye.” This can be most challenging for children who are trying to determine what is happening and how they feel about change in their family structure. As adults we have the responsibility to help children recognize their feelings and make a smoother transition during each departure and return.
Children will exhibit a myriad of reactions to the absence of a parent. These reactions are based on three different factors: the personality of the parent, the personality of the child, and how the transitions are handled by the parents. Personalities are set and are fairly unchangeable, but as adults, we can control our actions, thus making the best of the situation for our children. Making each transition a smooth one is an ongoing process which begins before a parent sails out, and continues while the parent is gone and when the parent returns. Throughout the remainder of this article these transitions are referred to as transition points.
Departure Transition Point
Upon hearing that it is time for a parent to leave for sea, children put into motion their thoughts and feelings. Some children become distant to the parent and reject any effort for connection. Younger preschoolers will not understand what is happening in the family and at times will react to the actions/reactions of parents and older siblings. If the elementary aged sister becomes clingy or begins to cry, then a preschool aged child may respond in like manner. Depending on the way that the parent acts can be a good or a bad thing for the child. If the husband is preparing to leave and the wife falls apart then the child will have a melt down too. If a mother is helpful and positive, talking about how soon it will be when Daddy comes home then the transition will be much easier for the child.
Children, no matter how young, have their own emotions and perceptions of life and act accordingly. Often children do not fully understand what is happening but they know something important is going on. At that point, parents can explain when the traveling parent is leaving, that they will come back and a bit about their work. Parents can explain where the parent is going by using words and concepts that their child can understand and by giving an appropriate amount of information. An example of this is, “Daddy is going on a big ship to take things from one country to another. What do you think he might take?” You can play a guessing game at this time and even cut pictures of ships and cargo out of magazines for your child to use imaginary play. Continue your conversation by saying “Daddy’s going to South America. Let’s find South America on a map. Daddy will be gone for three months but he’ll come back. Daddy always comes back.” As children begin to act out of their emotions you may notice increased crying and clinging as in the case of Maggie or it may come in the form of disobedience and pushing established boundaries such as in breaking house hold rules or attempting to change the family schedule. There are several different explanations for such behavior.
Often children will digress developmentally. One obvious area is that of potty training. At times preschoolers who are potty trained begin going to the bathroom in their pants again or an older school age child may begin wetting the bed. Often this is uncontrollable for a child as it is a reaction to the changes around him/her. Additionally, older preschoolers may begin to act like a baby. This can be an attempt to get more attention because they feel neglected in the midst of making preparations for a parent to leave.
Tenure at Sea Transition Point
Children will act out right after the parent has left for several different reasons. Some of these include: (1) seeing if the rules have changed now that Dad’s not home, (2) getting attention, (3) and expressing feelings that they are not yet able to vocalize or do not understand well enough to state. Younger preschoolers have limited vocabularies and struggle to express what they currently feel. Older preschoolers and younger elementary children are just becoming aware of their feelings and have not yet gained the ability to label and express how they feel. Because of these developmental characteristics, younger children will often regress in their development or become very frustrated and throw tantrums because of the lack of communication skills. As adults, it is important for us to talk with children, assisting them in first recognizing their feelings and then labeling their feelings.
To help older preschoolers and elementary children recognize and state what they feel, you can say, “You seem a little down today. What’s going on?” If you get the typical “nothing” response, continue to probe by saying something like: “It’s pretty tough when Dad leaves. I often feel sad myself. How do you feel about it?” If your child responds in a like manner you can ask, “What part of Dad’s leaving or being gone makes you feel sad?” Continue the conversation by asking simple questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Validate their responses by saying something like, “I can understand that” or “That’s a good point” and “You are helping me work through this too.”
Older children may feel as though they need to act tough for their parents or younger siblings. You can observe that by watching their lack of emotion or avoidance of conversations. Encourage these children to talk. Many times adults will make statements like, “You’re such a tough little man” or “What a big girl you are. You’re not crying at all.” The problem with making such statements is that it reinforces the premise that the child should not express emotions which can be damaging later in life. It’s best to avoid labeling children in this manner. Feel free to tell the child that this is an unsettling time in the family but that they will all be ok. With older children, it’s as easy as saying, “Huh, I don’t know that I’m ready for Dad to leave again” or “I’m not sure I like for Daddy to be gone. We don’t have to feel strong to get the job done.” And, it great for Dad to express that he’s not sure that he’s ready to leave and Daddy doesn’t have to tell his son to “be a man.” When parents express their emotions it makes it easier for children to express their own concerns.
Reentry Transition Point
When the traveling parent returns home from overseas it can be a joyful time! The children are often very excited and older preschoolers and elementary aged children will want to talk a great deal and share everything that has happened during the parent’s absence. This is a time when it is important to have your listening ears on and ready to go. Most of the time children will want all of the attention and have a difficult time sharing it with anyone else. When a child does not receive this attention they may even use several tactics to get their needs met.
Children may also act out for other reasons such as being mad at the parent for leaving them at home or for having missed important dates such as a birthday. To avoid this, continue the dialogue about emotions as discussed in the previous section. Additionally, you can celebrate the missed holidays before the parent leaves or after they return.
One of the best things that parents can do to smooth transitions for the children is to have a consistent schedule that does not change during preparation for the departure, tenure at sea, or reentry transitions points. This consistency provides stability for children and allows children to thrive by knowing what to expect.
Another way to provide stability for children is to keep consistent rules, boundaries and consequences while the traveling parent is at home and away. This allows the children to know what the boundaries are and what will happen if these boundaries are violated. Be sure that both parents share the discipline role. Often the traveling parent is seen as the “fun” parent and the parent who is at home has to enforce the rules and becomes the “bad” parent. This can be avoided by working together to establish and enforce the rules.
Intervention for the Transition Points
Families can do many fun things to get ready for the departure of the parent. One of the first things is to talk about what is going to take place, making the children aware and even using a calendar to locate the current date and the proposed departure date.
Some other fun things are:
o Make a video of dad reading your child’s favorite book or several books so that your child can listen to/watch the recording at a certain time each day.
o Establish a daily time when your child and his Daddy (absent parent) can hug her pillow knowing that on the other side of the world her loved one is doing the same thing.
o Leave a favorite shirt or hat for the child to take care of while the parent is gone. For some people, smell is a key emotional trigger. Therefore it can be nice to leave a shirt that smells like Mom or Dad for the child.
o Pick a favorite activity to do together and plan a way for each of you to do that during the time apart. One example of this is watching sunsets. Take a picture of some sunsets to share with one another or write a letter/email describing the experience.
o Get a world clock or two or three clocks for your wall so that you can set one for home time and the others for the time where Mom is.
o Track the traveling parent on a world map using tack pins.
Parents who are gone also need to feel connected upon their return from sea in order to better connect with their children. There are some things that the family can do for Mom or Dad while she/he is gone. Some are:
o Keep a daily calendar and have each person write the most important thing that happened on that day. Email the daily calendar to Dad so he feels connected with the activities from home.
o Have your child pick out a favorite stuffed animal, figure, or book to send with Mom as she leaves. Mom can take care of the item and report of its whereabouts. The item may also bring comfort to Mom. Take pictures of the child’s favorite item in different locations and email them back home.
o Draw pictures and send them to the traveling parent.
o Set up Video calls.
o Send a “Party in a Box” care package to the traveling parent. This can include little cakes, birthday candles, and even decorations.
There are also many things that you as a family can do to smooth the transition back home. Some of these are:
o Spend individual time with each child. Tell the child that you “brought him yourself” because that is the most important thing that you can bring home to a child.
o Be certain to keep the same routine that was set into place before you left and while you were gone.
o Be prepared to listen, listen, listen! Children will love to talk and tell you all about life.
o Give the traveling parent some time to debrief before they are bombarded by all of the things that need to be changed or worked on.
o Have a funny themed celebration night.
o Have date night when the traveling parent does something special with each of the children on their own night.
As a family, it is important for both children and parents to make an effort to stay connected. Have fun working together to discover new and exciting ways that you can do this as your children and family grow.
For a question and answer forum and more ideas about parenting and Transition Points, go to www.dleebabbestes.org.[/QUOTE]