One of the biggest challenges of being in the military is trying to keep family life as close to normal as you can. It’s never easy; duties, busy training schedules, exercises and deployments add up to a lot of forced separation and hastily changed plans. Spouses generally have an idea what they’re getting into when they start a relationship with someone in uniform, but it can be really hard for children. It’s especially difficult if you’re living off post and your kids are at a school where everyone else’s parents are always around.
So what can you say to them to explain why your life’s the way it is? Here are 8 suggestions.
- It’s not that I want to go away. We’d rather stay at home with our families, but this is part of our job. It isn’t something we have any choice about; if we’re told to go, we have to go. There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s often difficult for young children to understand this and it’s upsetting when they beg you to stay. The best you can do is explain patiently and calmly that it isn’t something you decided to do.
- I can’t come home when I want to. During welfare calls, children often ask a deployed parent to come home right away. Again, it’s not easy for them to understand that you can’t. Before going away, it can help to give them a clear idea of when you’ll be back and find a way for them to track progress. Making a calendar together is a good option.
- Sorry, you can’t come too. Farewells are always emotional, and with children that goes double. It’s natural for them to be reluctant to let go, and last-minute pleas to come with you can be stressful. Be firm but understanding; there’s no chance of negotiation, so don’t get dragged in to any.
- I’m doing a good job when I’m away. Sadly there’s always the risk that your kids will attract abuse because of what you do. There are even adults who’ll use your family to get at you. Children tend to believe what other people say, so before you go, explain what you’ll be doing. Focus on the positives – you’ll be helping people, making the world safer.
- Don’t worry or stress about me. Children who’re old enough to watch the news can understandably be worried about you deploying. There’s no doubt that the military can be a dangerous vocation, but be reassuring. The chances of anything going wrong are low. It’s not doing your kids any favors to try to prepare them for the possibility; it will just give them more to worry about.
- Don’t give your Mom/Dad a hard time. The parent or guardian who’s left behind is inevitably going to have a difficult time. It’s harder to cope alone anyway and upset children certainly won’t help. Explain that they have to help out around the home while you’re away. Flatter them; say their help is vital.
- No, I won’t forget you! Young children often fear that a departing parent is abandoning them and won’t be coming back. Give as much reassurance as you can. If you have a firm return date, tell them it. But don’t invent anything or make promises you’re not sure you can keep. If you say you’ll be back soon and you’re not, they’ll worry.
- Your letters and emails mean a lot to me. Contact with your family while you’re away is one of the biggest morale boosts there is – at both ends. Let your children know that hearing from them is a real help to you. It gives them something to do they can feel positive about, and reassures them that staying in touch matters to you.
What are some other helpful tips for military parents to help their kids with deployments? Tell us in the comments below…