Ongoing Deployment and Family
Being a military family can afford pride in serving one's country and provide many rich and new experiences. Military families may experience special challenges related to their unique lifestyle.
Pressures and frustrations can result from:
- Lengthy separations and deployments
- Single parenting during a spouse's absence
- Separation from friends and families
- A strained family budget
- The “2 a.m. phone call” comes at inopportune times disrupting family life
Stages of Separation
There is no denying that the military lifestyle, especially unexpected deployments, can disrupt the family unit. Feelings associated with separation commonly come in stages.
As soldiers prepare to deploy and leave, military families may experience:
- Denial, shock, disbelief, and emotional numbness.
- Anger, frustration with preparation demands, guilt, and resentment of the military, spouse, or family.
- Guilt for not saying or doing more before deployment, or the children may feel they caused the departure. The guilt for not being "perfect" can be strong.
- Depression, intense sadness, fatigue, loss of appetite, and withdrawal from routine.
- Acceptance and realizing the situation, resolving to continue on positively, increased confidence in handling day-to-day living, awareness of increased self-esteem and personal abilities.
- Knowing these feelings are normal can help families cope. Individuals have a tendency to go back and forth between stages. Individual situations and types of deployment can influence the intensity and duration of each stage.
Deployments Effect on a Child
Children deal with the absence of a parent in many ways. Some will experience very little outward affect while in other children a change in behavior can be quite profound.
Here are some behaviors you might see in your child that indicate he/she is having a difficult time with the deployment of a loved one:
- Increased clinging, crying or whining.
- Increase in outwardly aggressive behaviors.
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns.
- Easily frustrated and harder to comfort.
- A return to developmentally earlier behaviors such as thumb sucking or "potty" accidents.
- Increase in attention-seeking behaviors both positive and negative.
- Change in school performance, change in peer relationships, denial, shock, disbelief, numbness, anger, guilt, and resentment of the military, spouse, or family experienced in the stages of separation
Make teachers, schools and care providers aware of what is going on in your family.
Ways to Support Children During Deployment
Here are ways to support your children during the absence of a loved one due to deployment:
- Make your home a safe place emotionally for your child.
- Spend lots of family time with your child, especially during a time of war.
- Spend more time with your child playing games, reading or just holding your child close.
- Limit the amount of news your child watches during a time of war.
- Turn off the TV or radios when war coverage is on. You do not need to hide what is happening in the world from your child, but neither should you expose them to constant stories about war.
- Put away magazines and newspapers that have extensive photo coverage of war or frightening covers.
- Monitor your child's Internet usage to ensure that he or she is not going to sites that will give gory or sensationalized accounts of war.
- Stick to your family's regular daily routine the best you can. The schedule provides structure, confidence and predictability during a sea of uncertainty.
- Spend extra time together doing quiet, familiar, calm activities such as snuggling, reading, talking, drawing or going for a walk. Coping with stress can be tiring for everyone.
- Share information about what is going on with your child with other care providers and teachers to increase feelings of security.
- Share information with your child about what is going on with their deployed parent at an age appropriate level. A good rule of thumb is, if the child is old enough to ask the question, they are old enough for an honest answer.
- While it may be tempting to use your child as a confidant for your own fears, don't do this. Find a trusted friend, spiritual leader, or other adult to share your deepest concerns.
- Enlist the support and assistance of other family members and friends your child knows and trusts. Fresh faces can provide a fresh supply of energy, patience and concern when yours is running low.
- If your child's behavior changes dramatically, reverts to or remains at an earlier development stage, don't hesitate to consult your pediatrician or counselor.
Watch your child for signs of fear and anxiety he or she may not be able to put into words.
- Has your child become extra clingy, needing more hugs and kisses than usual?
- Have your child's grades suddenly dropped?
He or she may be feeling the pressure of what is going on in the world around him. Encourage him or her to write stories or draw pictures that show how he or she feels if it is difficult to put those feelings into words.
Put things into a positive perspective for your child.
- Neither you nor your child may have been through a war before, but you can tell your child that wars end.
- Point out times when your child has faced up to and conquered something that may have frightened him or her, whether it was fear of the dark or of entering a new classroom for the first time.
- When you talk about the hard times, be sure to talk about the good times in the future as well.
Take care of yourself.
- This is one of the best ways to ensure your children receive the best care.
- If you do not take the time to take care of yourself, you may have less patience, creativity and energy at a time when your child needs you to reassure him or her about their own safety.
- Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your child.