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Divorce

How Being a Military Mom Affects My Relationship With My Daughter

Naomi & Rory

There it is. She goes out the door and I close it behind her as she gets into my ex-husband’s car. He has custody for the next six weeks and I am, as always, somewhat relieved and somewhat fearful. For six weeks, I have the totality of my life back.

Rory had the usual tears and said she would miss me. I said I would miss her, that I loved her, that she could call me anytime she wanted since she now has her own phone, and that I would call her every evening. I know that she won’t always answer when I call. I know that some of our conversations will be stilted. And that’s OK, because I also felt the relief of not having to do the morning car pool to the bus stop 15 minutes away; not having to supervise the chores that Rory is always recalcitrant about doing; no more piano practice that drives my husband insane; no more dawdling in the mornings; no more sending her back to brush her teeth–again–because she really didn’t do it the first time. It is all over for six glorious weeks.

I suppose one could say I’ve made a habit of letting her go.

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Rory was born 10 years into my military career. I had six weeks of paid maternity leave and, since it was the middle of the semester, I was back in the classroom for the rest of the fall term. I insisted upon a live-in nanny for that first year. I count myself lucky that our 19-year-old Mormon nanny from the same county in Utah where my mom grew up was wonderful for Rory. So wonderful that Rory nearly jumped out of my arms as a baby; she was so happy to see Mandy at 7 a.m. while I went off to work. It hurt that Rory loved her nanny more than she loved me, but I got over it.

Sending Rory to day care from year one to most of the way into her fourth year didn’t phase me. She was sent to three different day care facilities, by the way: one in New York, one in Alabama, and one in Texas. (I’m convinced that my daughter’s iron constitution today resulted from being exposed to so many different germ pools when she was younger; other than the sniffles, she just doesn’t get sick.) By the time Mandy left us, I was a single mom anyway, doing the day care slog and trying to fill the weekends with something other than wondering what I would make for her next meal, her next snack, when I wanted to be doing something, anything else.

graudation

And then, I left for Iraq. Rory was safely tucked away in South Carolina with my best friend’s family and her three kids. I spent hours at the USO in Kuwait, recording DVDs of me reading books to her that the USO then mailed for Rory to watch and read along. Once I was in Iraq with my unit and had internet access in my room, I Skyped with Rory twice a week. I had phone cards for my trips to Baghdad when Skyping wasn’t possible. I spent my two weeks of mid-tour leave with Rory in South Carolina too, and my month of block leave after my brigade returned to Texas. Rory stayed on in South Carolina while I rented a room for my remaining two months with my brigade.

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Rory is 10 now. We now live on a military post that amounts to a gated community where kids run in and out of various houses to the cacophony of slamming screen doors, footsteps on the stairs, and requests to go to someone else’s house for dinner because their mom is making grilled cheese sandwiches. Her father has visitation for alternating winter and spring breaks, Thanksgiving weekend, and six weeks every summer, shifting on alternate years so her birthday is spent with me in even years and odd with him.

Often people say to me that they couldn’t leave their child the way that I have done when I deployed; that they couldn’t bear to part with their children for six to eight weeks every summer and alternating holidays and breaks. I suspect, yet never say aloud, that they are lying, if not to me, then to themselves. I know what it’s like to leave my child in the care of others, and while the experience may be painful, and while I miss her when she’s gone and my love for her does not diminish, I also know how it feels to have a temporary reprieve from the constant demands of parenthood. I know, and I relish it.

Perhaps because I had to care for my daughter as though I were a single mom, even when I was still married. Perhaps because I spent six years of her life as a single mom before remarrying. Perhaps because I had to leave her when I deployed to Iraq. Perhaps because I’m used to her physically disappearing for days and weeks at a time. Perhaps I wasn’t the type to be a helicopter parent in the first place.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, my letting her go, Rory is a great kid who’s poised to become an empathetic, self-reliant, and independent adult. In spite of, or because of, letting her go, my sanity is still intact, I share a deep intimacy with my husband, and I don’t worry so much about my kid. We are both, after all, our own persons.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

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