Elizabeth Stone tells us that the decision to have a child is momentous.
“ It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”
The parents of military men and women know about this in a powerful and sometimes painful way.
Given a total of 1,458,697 DoD Active Duty and DHS Coast Guard Service members, many mothers and fathers have watched with pride and fear as their children are deployed.
- I am proud of her, but it’s not easy to watch your child get on a bus to go to war.
- He is graduating West Point with a commission. I am so proud—I won’t let my fear get to me.
Mothers and fathers of military service members know about waiting. Yes, they go on with their own lives but in their heads and hearts, they are waiting.
- We assume no news is good news.
- I have become hi-tech so that I can connect with her.
- Other military mothers remind me that he is trained, committed and strong.
- Sometimes in the middle of the night, I don’t sleep–I worry.
Military mother and poet, Frances Richey suggests that as a parent it is your job “To whisper in the ear of any god who’ll listen: Please protect him.”
Throughout this waiting, many parents have found that an important resource is the support and communication of others. It is very helpful to become involved with other military parents in parent groups, Yellow Ribbon Programs as well as online groups like MilitaryMomsunited.com, Militarymomtalkradio and Military OneSource
No one has to wait alone.
- For as much as there is no gift greater than the return of a son or daughter from service and war, the return from deployment is one of the most difficult times for parents and their returning adult children.
- As most know, the return from service is a process that takes time. It is never seamless and rarely easy.
- The best of military experience involves integrating a military identity, adapting to service and pride in the successful mission—be it combat or technical expertise.
- Return to civilian life involves a reintegration of this new identity and worldview into a context that was once familiar, but now has to be reassessed and resized to fit the inevitable changes, heal scars and utilize new strengths.
From the parent’s point of view, this process can be bewildering. Most are uncertain how to handle changes in their service member’s personality or behavior. Wanting to connect, they are often feel hurt and helpless in face of the service member’s need for time alone, range of feelings, withdrawal from family events and caution about too much sharing etc.
Some Answers for Parents
Recognizing in their experience with active military and veterans how many parents were at a loss for knowing how to respond to the needs of their children, Paula Domenici, Suzanne Best and Keith Armstrong offer a valuable resource in their new book, Courage After Fire for Parents of Service Members.
Drawing upon the contributions of experts as well as the feedback and testimonials of parents, this book answers parents’ questions and offers strategies. For example:
Some Strategies for Dealing with The Return
- Expect change and be as non-judgmental as possible.
- Be available but not in pursuit of sharing your child’s experiences. It often helps to re-set the communication process in a non-threatening way by sharing with pictures, stories some of what has occurred at home during the deployment time.
- If your child begins talking about deploying again, listen without overreacting. It may be a decision he/she is really considering or it may be a way of saying that they don’t feel comfortable yet at home.
- If your son/daughter is thinking of returning to school or looking for a job, try to support with any networks, resources or information you have, without making it your goal. (Hire a Veteran; military resume writers; Angels for Warriors, Military Friendly Schools etc.)
- If you observe or become aware of your son/daughter’s engaging in unhealthy behavior – excessive smoking, drinking, speeding etc. consider that such behaviors are often strategies, albeit not constructive, of regulating anxiety, depression, grief and stress reactions, PTSD. They may have been a way of coping in very difficult circumstances that have become unhealthy habits.
- In face of this:
Try to communicate curiosity and concern for the behavior.
Engage in ongoing conversations balanced with comments about observed positive behaviors and skills to build a real alliance for helping.
Seek support from military sources as well as family and community connections that may have a positive influence.
Seek professional support for yourself as a support for helping you help your child.
- Keep your eye on your son or daughter’s resiliency and growth. Over time most will tell you that their military service has positively shaped who they became as men and women.
Men and women don’t go to war—families go to war and that includes their parents. In addition to your children, we must thank you for your service.