I’m a military parent who might be leaving for a prolonged (three-to-four-month) period of time soon. My son would be 23 to 27 months. Is there any research on the impacts of this kind of separation? I would assume it varies widely by age, if you’re able to video chat, etc.? This is a great opportunity, but also the thought of that long away (and let’s be honest, giving up the control) is really hard.—Military Mama
There is literature on this. In some ways, it is quite appropriate for your situation since it is mostly based on military deployments. In other ways, it may not be very reflective.
To be more specific: there are a number of papers that have looked at outcomes for children during parents’ military deployment. What is perhaps the largest study looks at test scores for 13,000 school-age children and how they varied with whether they had a deployed parent. It found that deployment had a small (about one tenth of a standard deviation) negative impact on test scores — this is during the period of deployment.
A broader survey article talks through impacts across age groups. It does find that children have feelings of sadness when a parent is gone, and some stress. More behavior problems crop up, on average, during deployments. There is some evidence that effects are similar for maternal versus paternal deployment.
These impacts seem to be smaller for younger children — in your child’s age range — than for older ones. In addition, for younger children, having a securely attached caregiver (the other parent, for example) can buffer negative impacts.
There is relatively little evidence on any long-term impacts. Some interview-based studies have parents noting that children are testing boundaries more when a parent returns, but that this is transient.
In a sense, these data are very relevant to you. In another sense, they’re a bit less so. The deployments analyzed in most of these papers are long-term, and the data are older, meaning staying connected was less possible.
Being away for this period is likely to be hard for you, and your child is likely to miss you. This doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do.