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I believe now is the best time reason being last year when i was in out of hospital Sarah-Jane as a baby just seemed to except it but my then 3yr old did not. The older they get the more they dont wont mum gone.
Being an ex military spouse, I really don't think it matters. The only main difference will be that now he won't be able to ask questions that he won't understand the answers to. My son was 16 months old when my husband left for Iraq and was not quite 3 when he came back. For the first few weeks he was HORRIBLE, he didn't sleep through the night which he had always done since he was 2 weeks old, he was cranky, acted out quite often, it was tough. But honestly, he's 5 now, and at this point he doesn't remember that daddy was gone. Also, if you are coming home it shouldn't be AS bad. My husband went to the highway patrol academy in January of 2006 until July of 2006, was gone during the week and home for 48 hours on the weekend and Brandon did okay. He also had the ability to talk to him every night which helped out a bunch (a luxury we didn't have when he was overseas). IMO, I would do it sooner rather than later, but make sure to make that extra effort to call nightly if you're able to, it will make a world of difference.