“Fathers never talked about what they did in the war,” author Leila Levinson explains. “Our veterans desperately want to shield their families from the horrors of war, and so they turn to silence, knowing no other way to keep the awful memories from polluting their homes,” she went on to say. Last summer, a veterans’ guide was published to provide insight for why and how children should be told when a parent is affected by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Helping children understand “Why Is Dad So Mad” provides a healing pathway for both child and parent. When the war comes home, there are ripple effects felt throughout the entire family unit. In essence, there is a dual-process going on, one of understanding and one of grieving. Sad, angry, scared, frustrated, confused, happy – each one is felt multiple times over in the process of healing. Oftentimes, family members are on different “pages.” Their thoughts, feelings, and responses differ while navigating through it, and that is okay; openness is what matters most.
Army Veteran Seth Kastle struggled with explaining his memory issues and “the fire in his heart” after deployments to Qatar, Afghanistan, and Iraq. As he was battling to overcome PTSD, he decided to create a picture book to help his family, and himself, cope better. Why Is Dad So Mad was highlighted on NBC News and celebrated as helpful where it matters most … “I like this book, I’m really proud you did it,” Kastle’s 6-year-old daughter said in the interview.
Likewise, nothing had prepared my friend Sam for the infiltration on his family after the Vietnam war. After attending the heart, mind and soul of deployment through a child’s eyes – a seminar I co-created, Sam confided it was the first time anyone had helped him see what his children saw and heard and felt when the war came home.
Some 40 years later, Sam began unpacking his story and experiencing fresh insight, there among others who understood potential fall-out upon children serving alongside a parent. I sought to help active-duty members, veterans, spouses, chaplains, and counselors see deployment through a child’s eyes, and it was magnified by a former-Marine brat. She shared a personal account of inadvertently absorbing her father’s “shell shock” (also called “battle fatigue” during the Vietnam era) in her childhood years. Seemingly out of nowhere, she began her own battle with delayed-onset PTSD as an adult, married with children of her own.
Unchecked grief is never good grief. The extended exposure to a parents’ untreated trauma impacts a child’s sense of safety, security, and ultimate well-being. Such unchecked fall-out can surface years later in the form of depression, broken relationships, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, and homelessness, to name a few.
When the war comes home, the trauma it brings can be unpacked sooner with picture books like When Your Mom Goes to War (and others), family reintegration workshops, seminars, and retreats aimed to help families (and their communities) cope. Voices of adult military children are being heard decades later through stories like Daddy’s Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children.
Whether we’re talking back-to-back deployments and reintegration, learning to cope with an injured parent or losing a parent in combat—the impact on them has sometimes been forgotten. Our nation’s military children don’t stand out the way their parent does in uniform. As I emphasized in challenges of raising military kids (TIME.com), giving military kids a voice with age-appropriate choices affords them an opportunity to prepare for adult life.
Still, we talk more about them or to them than hearing their own voice. Their (unfiltered) thoughts and feelings are too often missing in articles and books. While young children may lack vocabulary to articulate their thoughts and feelings, other modes may give way to a healing path. Their own voices can resonate through single sentences or paragraphs, pencil-drawings, finger-paintings, and more. What is tucked away today has the potential to emerge as trauma later. We have seen it surface from previous wars, and still our nation grapples with 15 years worth of war’s fall-out in soldiers and families (often unseen and under-recognized outside their home’s four walls).
We aren’t taking enough time or resources to hear from those in its wake – from the children – in their own voices.
As the Month of the Military Child comes to a close, we want to open a path to give them a timeless voice. The same way “narrative medicine” takes first-year students beyond words and into visual arts and drawing sessions, we can do that for our military kids. By giving them a voice when the war comes home (whether yesterday or decades ago), we can help that child inside cope with what can’t – or is just too painful – to say. On many levels, that is “preventive medicine.”
Hope Matters welcomes the stories, poems, prayers, drawings, and other creative renditions of military children’s voices, for possible inclusion in our upcoming book: When the War Comes Home and Beyond: A Child’s Voice.
As a former service member pointed out, ” Trauma passed along to our military brats is truly unrecognized today. They, too, serve our country in their own way.” Their courage and sacrifices exist during and outside of wartime. For that reason, we will be honored to feature submissions from brats of the Cold War/peacetime as well.
Share your child’s inner voice (or your own as an adult brat). Voices of concern and comfort; voices of despair and delight; voices of struggle and victory; voices in words and in pictures; voices that shout “I have served too!”
Thank you for helping magnify hope to others.
Questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mail submissions no later than August 31, 2016:
PO BOX 2021
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549
First name and age (if provided) will be noted in published submissions; none will be returned to sender. Proceeds from the book will be used in facilitating additional projects that recognize and honor military families.