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.
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?