Families Fit for Duty
First deployment; fifth deployment; tenth deployment; to a child, each one is as significant as the first. Parents typically perceive how to handle situations with their children based on past behavior. At conferences and book signings, I sometimes hear, “my child reacted worse to this deployment than the first one.” An assumption is often made that with multiple deployments, a parent’s absence will somehow become routine in a child’s eyes.
Yet, to children, there is a world of difference between each deployment. Experiencing a parent’s first deployment while in second grade can be completely different than handling another deployment while in fourth grade. Changes at school, home, church and community can all have a significant impact on a child’s reaction. Additionally, a family’s preparations in the phases of pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment play a large part in the outcome: capable and resilient or incapable and fearful.
As children grow, their ideas, their self-image and their friends all change to some degree. Those ongoing changes can make it very challenging for parents. In order to meet children where they’re at, a parent must maintain flexible insight, steady understanding, and helpful tools. Just think of that 72-hour bag—military members are careful to include everything on the checklist for that bag. To arrive without those necessary immediate items would make a soldier unfit for duty; that is unfathomable to a military member.
Although deployment is often seen as ordinary for the military member, it rarely feels ordinary for the spouse (caregiver) and children left behind. Providing them with their own deployment bag of necessary items, can make all the difference. Making sure they’re also “fit for duty,” means everyone emerges from deployment stronger.
Whether navigating lengthy deployment absences or serious illness, a parent’s response is an anchor of hope for children. When parents use a “tool box” that encourages children to be doers and helpers they experience less anxiety and stress, and that makes the journey easier on everyone—whether it’s the first or the tenth deployment.
Maryann Makekau, Author and Inspirational Speaker
The Little Patriot Books benefit Operation Purple Camps
Founder, Hope Matters Productions Inc.