Children Of Deployed Parents: New Responsibilities And Stressors

The goal of my last post was to start bringing attention to the many challenges that our military families face when a parent is deployed. The intent was to raise awareness of this issue amongst people who are not part of military families, and to stimulate conversation about ways that individuals and communities could offer support. The many statements by parents in response to this post have clearly shown us that there is a great need to have their voices heard, and I will develop ways in the near future for them to share their first-hand experiences within this blog.  That said, I encourage all readers to begin to explore this issue in more depth by reading real stories from military families. A great place to start is the terrific blog by Semper Fi Momma, where you can find first-hand experience and lots of information offered via a mission to “… bridge the gap between the civilian and military worlds.”

In this same spirit, this post is intended to start a dialogue about the challenges facing the children of deployed parents. My perspective comes from published research, which serves an important function by quantifying how many families are affected. Current work by Dr. Anita Chandra and colleagues at the RAND Corporation have shown how parental deployment can have especially strong effects on children’s social and emotional well-being – a finding that can certainly be expanded upon by parents in military families (so please do educate us more about your experiences). Here’s Dr. Chandra’s perspective on the results from these studies:

While these youth are taking on new leadership roles in the household and new responsibilities that give them a sense of pride and accomplishment, the stress of these responsibilities can also make life difficult. It is clear from our work and other recent studies that a significant percentage of youth (about one-third) are reporting at least moderate emotional difficulties and anxiety symptoms. This is particularly true for youth whose parent has been deployed for more months.

This work raised my awareness of the need for friends, neighbors, and communities to start thinking about ways – whether big or small – to support the children and parents of deployed soldiers who are experiencing challenges that most of us cannot begin to imagine. I recently learned about one wonderful organization called Celebrate the Military Child that attempts to bring a little distraction and fun into the lives of children with a deployed parent. Please do check out their website, but here is the essence of what they do:

Celebrate the Military Child will bring parties to the Military Child. We recognize the importance of parties in the Military Child’s life and we believe that the gift of a celebration will provide normalcy, happiness, and hope in these military children’s otherwise ever changing lives… If the spirit of these children is lifted for just one day then Celebrate the Military Child’s mission has been accomplished.

Celebrate the Military Child was co-founded by Courtney Faith Vera and Frances Wolf based on their experiences as moms and as wives of a member of the military. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Courtney Faith and she shared with me how important it can be for a child with a deployed parent to take a little time away from their worries and enjoy a party with friends and celebrate who they are. I encourage you all to learn about ways to support their efforts on their website.celebrate-the-military-child

I’d love to get more ideas from other parents (dads as well as moms!) on ways in which friends, neighbors, and communities can offer support to children and parents in military families. For example, consider the comment by Heather in response to my last post:

Richard… Its simple things that help. My husband and I were both in the military. While he was deployed, I gave birth to our daughter. I had six weeks to recover before returning to work. That meant working long days, then coming home to take care of an infant and get ready to do it all over again the next day. I would get up at 0415 every morning and not get to sleep until about 2100. 9 out of 10 times I didn’t even eat dinner because I was just too tired. With how often my little one woke up, I averaged 4-5 hours of sleep. I would have LOVED if one of my neighbors just brought me over some dinner one night, or offered to cut the grass. Anything small that helps with the day-to-day life.

So … what are other ways we can help military families dealing with deployment?

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  1. by Semper Fi Momma

    On July 28, 2011 at 11:03 am


    It’s not that I don’t see that you are trying to bring awareness to our lives and situations, to include the many challenges that we face. That, I appreciate. My first concern in your last post is that there is a doctor who has done research on our families, and no information as to what the controls and parameters of the research was. Has she actually lived with a family during deployment first hand? To understand us, is to know us. You have to invest a lot of time to get a clear picture. And not with any one branch of the service either. Though we all have the same outline in what our lives entail, you’ll find that in each branch we’re all a little bit different. Different branches are run slightly different and so that can add to or relieve some of our stresses.

    Also, currently it’s not just deployment that adds to our challenges. We can’t forget the families that are currently stationed on recruiting duty. Sure, the servicemen are home daily but you’d be surprised as to exactly how stressful this billet is.

    Awareness to our lives and situations is a kind and caring initiative. I will admit that part of our ‘problem’ is that we are prideful. We know we chose this life. We know we must hold up the homestead. It is our job to make sure everything runs smoothly and make sure our spouses who are working overseas, training for weeks on end, or TAD have nothing to worry about. We know they need to stay focused on their work. So, we ‘just keep swimming’. Do the pressures and challenges stack up? Yes. Does it weigh heavily on kids? Of course it does. Many kids can see and sense their parents’ stress and opt to help to lessen the burden, but yes it does in turn add to their stress. But where do we go for help? Rarely will you hear spouses outright ask for it, and kids tend to keep it to themselves as well. Again, your work to raise awareness is appreciated, as this is why I’ve made the mission on my site to ‘bridge the gap between the civilian and military worlds’. It’s something that I am constantly working on and spend many hours working towards. With that said, I encourage any military spouse who has a story to share about their lives to head over to my site, click on my email addy and send it over. If we really want the civilian world to understand us, we must give them the knowledge of what our lives is like. And, after all, Knowledge is Power.

    If I can leave you with one idea that could help us, it’s more in home help. One thing that I am in the process of working on is to connect with a household cleaning company that would like to start an initiative to help military families with deployed spouses. Whether it be half off, or a free cleaning once a month any little bit helps. And considering that the military population as a whole is less than 1% of the entire American population this initiative shouldn’t be too costly, but I am trying to figure out a way to make it work so that a company isn’t losing revenue.

    I have a lot more ideas that would help the military families and would encourage anyone who is interested in helping us to contact me. I’m constantly on the lookout for companies who are interested in helping to support our troops and their families but often are not sure how to do it.

    Richard, thanks again for your efforts to raise awareness to the military family life and to the needs of our children. It is much appreciated and I hope that America welcomes your efforts with open arms. Especially since there are major cutbacks currently happening in the military and our nations heroes who have been risking their lives not only for our country, but the world will soon needs jobs.


  2. by Semper Fi Momma

    On July 28, 2011 at 11:50 am

    I also wanted to add that you chose an excellent organization to highlight. What Celebrate The Military Child does for our military families and children is incredibly kind and beautiful.

    And, Heather is right. The little things really do help in a very big way.

  3. by Courtney Faith

    On July 28, 2011 at 11:55 am

    We feel that this is great and that if we can bring awareness to the fact that regardless of our children’s inept ability to adapt to whatever situation is thrown at them during a deployment, that they still serve too. Dr. Rende thank you for taking the time to share with the rest of the world some of the challenges but certainly not all of them, that our military children face. The children didn’t ask for this life. They didn’t sign up for this. They just adapt and overcome. HOOAH

  4. by Richard Rende

    On July 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Laura and Courtney,

    Thank you so much for sharing your lives and your work with us. I encourage everyone to carefully read your comments because they give extraordinary insight into the challenges — and triumphs! — that characterize your families. And I do encourage readers turn to your websites that are linked in my post so they can learn more about the great ideas the two of you are pursuing. I look forward to learning more about your life and your efforts to support military families — and having you share directly with our readers more information in the near future.


  5. by Heather

    On July 29, 2011 at 7:13 am

    Semper Fi Momma… The home cleaning program sounds like an awesome idea. I would have LOVED to have something like that to help me out. I really hope you get all the support you need to get something like that going. Best wishes and good luck to you!