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Helping kids expect the unknown

As I type this, I'm waiting to hear if my husband's airplane is landing right now-this-minute, or if he's still hours or days away. We've been waiting for him to come home on leave from Kuwait -- where he's been the last five months with the Army Reserves -- since Sunday, when he left. I told my boys that it was all up in the air, but then he called Monday night with a flight number and time. So, we expect him Tuesday night...

A few hours before his flight was (I thought) arriving, he got on Facebook chat with me (internet was way cheaper than phones), from Germany. OK, so, not Tuesday night. Wednesday? No, he was on "lockdown" for 12 hours. Thursday? Probably?

Now I have to go pick the boys up in a few minutes, and maybe I'll have something to tell them (we're headed to the airport!), maybe I'll just have to say, "who knows?" Though this is an extreme situation, for sure, I know I'm not the only one who has to deal with a partner who's often making last-minute changes in availability -- work travel, sudden flight changes (voluntary or not so much), having to work late or entertain friends/clients/family unexpectedly. How do you help your kids expect the unknown? Is it fair to say, "we'll never know until he walks through the door?" Or is it better to let them in a little bit on your own emotional roller coaster (not to torture them, but so they'll at least be able to understand why you're on edge)?

Right now, my best coping mechanism could generously be called "comfort" and critically be called "junk": Kettle Chips, coffee shop treats, and Burgerville drivethrough. I've been saving that good dinner (flat iron steaks, roasted cauliflower, mashed potatoes) for three days now... I think it's time to start cooking. I think my heart is telling me I should stick to a schedule and let the schedule-afflicted partner join in if he or she can... but that's a hard thing for this mama to do. What do you think?


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This is a good question. And, honestly, I'm still figuring this out, too. My husband is self-employed, a poor planner, and a fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy. He's a good partner and co-parent, but moderately unpredictable with work-related stuff.

Right now I'm at a place where I'm working to create more predictability in my world. Which means that I eat dinner when it is hot and not wait for his arrival. Our son is still young enough that he doesn't have many expectations, though he does need a certain amount of predictability from at least one of us.

My therapist once told me to control the things I can control - my income (to a degree), when/how I eat, my stress level (also to a degree), etc. That is really the best we can do, right?

I have been thinking about this lately (creating structure for kids vs. teaching resilience and flexibility), and just wrote about this topic earlier this week: http://bit.ly/aEDsKz . My kids are still very young, so they're not ready yet for conversations about uncertainty and embracing chaos. Until they are, I think my job is to create as much structure as possible. No matter how hard we try, we can never control what other people do or say, whether or not they show up for dinner, or how they treat us — we can only control how we manage our own expectations and how we respond to disappointment. That seems like a worthwhile lesson to teach our kids as soon as they're ready.

I don't have a good answer, but I just wanted to comment on how brave you all are, and wish you the best of luck for his speedy and safe return. Hopefully you won't even be checking comments because he's home already!

thanks you all... and yes, he got home, a few minutes before we got home from school pickup. I think when I *do* just stick with a structure instead of molding my schedule, leaving it open for the unknown, things go better! and so, cauliflower tonight, and flatiron steaks. yum.

I too am hoping that he's home already...I have thought about you and your boys on many occasions over the last several months as my husband was in the midst of the busy season at his office....I'd get to feeling exhausted and sorry for myself and frustrated with the late nights and the uncertainty of whether or not he'd be home for dinner that night...and then I'd remember that you've been alone with your boys all this time with no mention of his return.... So glad that you all can be together again soon!

As for your question, I think it probably depends on many factors...you, your kids, your situation. If your kids are generally flexible and understanding, then some uncertainty is probably ok. My kids probably fall into this category on most occasions, and I tend to encourage them to roll with the punches and accept changes to the agenda, and usually it works out ok. Many of their friends are much less flexible and change can be downright catastrophic under some circumstances. I want my kids to understand that I don't have control over everything, and that I don't have the answers to every question so we talk about that a lot and so far it seems to be working. Obviously, I have not had to deal with a situation like yours--where it's a question of when their Papa is coming home after being gone for several months...much different than when Papa may or may not miss bedtime. Cheers to you!

Was happy to peek out the window last night and see next-door-daddy home safe and sound! So I know this is moot now, but having thought about it, this is what I'd hope to do the next time it comes up.

With my 3, we spend a LOT of time talking about what's going to happen in the future, whether it's that days plans or other events that are being planned, and what he can expect. I think that at this age he has so little control of events and not much means of preparing for things if that aren't completely predictable so it helps him cope well when the situation arises to know exactly what's going to happen and what's expected of him. It must be really hard when you're missing such crucial information about such a huge, important event. But if it were me, I think I would talk as much about the things I could anticipate and not focus too much on the uncertainty of not knowing his date of arrival (for him all future events are vaguely defined as "tomorrow" and all past events are "yesterday" anyway.) "When Daddy comes home, we are going to eat steak and broccoli and cauliflower and mashed potatoes. He will read you three stories at bedtime and you can pick them! He is going to sleep in that room. He will be here again in the morning and we will all eat breakfast together. We will all be excited. You can do X and X and X when he gets here," and focus on the things that you can anticipate and keep under control and prepare for, engaging them in making the house nice for Dad, making welcome home cards, or whatever. Maybe creating order for them would help you relax, too.

Y'know, it's kinda like when you're waiting for a new baby to be born...

I know this is a totally different answer but my mother used to play this 45 (yes I'm old) and I still sing it to my kids.


Kitaiska Sandwich - Were you at the Plumper Pumpkin Patch? If you subbed the Letters A and L for M and T, this was my weekend as well!

Karen - that is my song to my daughter as well. I love Pink Martinis version, hopeful and haunting at once http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxsu9060VEg

Wow lea, what a loverly version of that song. Thanks. Sometimes you can be all Doris about it but at other times acceptance certainly has a decidedly darker feel.

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