Supporting soldiers means sending care packages and phone cards, but it also means supporting their families back home so that soldiers don’t need to worry about the welfare of their spouses and children while they are fighting overseas. Worrying about their family’s welfare is a distraction that could cost lives in the field, but knowing that their family is taken care of can turn a good soldier into a great soldier.
Deployments are hard on spouses, but they are even harder on children who may not understand why their parent is gone or why their parent has to leave over and over and over. I know in the month before my husband left for his second deployment his daughter was devastated. She had nightmares often, and would come into our bedroom at night crying for her daddy not to leave again. Kids worry about the safety of their deployed parent and worry about the stress placed on the parent still at home, and still have to deal with the trials and tribulations of being a kid. It’s a big sacrifice for them, and there are more than half a million children affected by deployments. But you can help.
April is the Month of the Military Child, and it’s a great time to step up and step in for a soldier who is fighting overseas and help out a military family. There are counseling programs, daycare programs, and other programs implemented by the military to help out families but here are 10 things that you can do this month that will directly impact the children of deployed soldiers:
1. “Adopt” a military child. Are you taking your kids to the park this weekend? Or going to a movie? How about going out to dinner this week? Invite a military child to go with you. You will be providing a little much needed respite care for a spouse who could use a little time to clean the house or run errands, and you will be giving that child the chance to get their mind off their deployed parent and onto having fun for a little while. Small gestures can be huge to a military family. Something as simple as inviting a military child to a picnic with your family or on a bike ride on a weekend afternoon can be a big help to a child that is struggling. If there is a father /son event at school, or a mom/daughter event or other event where a parent is required offer to attend with the child. Go to school plays and concerts and videoape them. This is especially important for the children of Reservists, who may be far from a military facility and the community of other deployed families.
2. Include their deployed parent. “Out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t apply to the families of the deployed. We are always thinking of our beloved soldiers, and so are their kids. Don’t act like their parents don’t exist. Talk about them. Talk about times you all spent together, talk about happy memories you have of the deployed parent. Talk about the things you can all do together when the deployed parent comes home. Sidestepping around the deployed parent’s absence makes children feel that emptiness more keenly, so always talk as if you are 100% certain that parent is coming home safe, and soon.
3. Be willing to listen. The children of deployed soldiers are often very afraid for their deployed parent. Seeing news stories about the war and hearing about soldiers being killed are very hard for kids. When the child’s non deployed parent is scared or stressed out the child may be hesitant to go to that parent for comforting because they don’t want to bother that parent or increase their stress or fear. Let military children that are friends with your children, or belong to friends or relatives know that they can come to you if they need reassurance or want to talk about their deployed parent.
4. Recognize any signs of emotional trouble. If you notice that a military child is starting to act out, be irritable or angry all the time, or acting depresses speak up. Speak to the child’s parent, a school counselor, or a teacher and express your concerns. The child’s parent may not have seen the signs of trouble but the earlier that a military child can get help for their emotions during a deployment the sooner they can get help that can head off more serious problems later on. Don’t be hesitant to speak up.
5. Support organizations that provide free counseling for the kids of deployed soldiers . When we wanted to get counseling for my stepdaughter to help her deal with her dad’s first deployment the wait time was six months to get an initial appointment. Not a single provider I called within a 60 mile radius was taking new patients, the demand was that high. There are groups that provide free counseling to the children of deployed soldiers or soldiers who have deployed and the kids need them. Donate your time or donate money but help out these organizations because they are very needed. Some of the groups to help include:
6. Support Operation Purple. Operation Purple is sponsored by the National Military Family Association. It gives thousands of kids of deployed soldiers the chance to go to summer camps, on family retreats, and to other events where they can meet the kids of other deployed soldiers, spend time having fun with kids who are going through the same things they are, and get counseling and learn skills to help them deal with their emotions while their parent is gone and after that parent comes home. More than 45,000 military kids have attended Operation Purple camps, which are always 100% free for military families. They are accepting donations now for the 2012 camp season.
Operation Purple also offers special camps for the kids of soldiers who come home permanently injured to help the families learn to cope with the soldier’s injuries and learn how to move forward as a family. With more wounded soldiers coming home from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq than any other conflict in US history these camps are in high demand and are desperately needed. Support Operation Purple.
7. Show you care during the month of April. Since April is the Month of the Military Child get your kids and their friends together, get your church youth group to participate, organize a class project, or just get all the kids in the neighborhood together to make a special effort to reach out to military children. Some great projects to contribute to are Operation Appreciation and Lift Link Love.
Operation Appreciation is a program run by Blue Star Families. You can write letters, make cards, draw pictures or create other expressions of support for military families and kids. Send them to BSF and they will distribute them to military families and kids. It’s just that easy. All the information how to participate can be found here.
Lift Link Love is a wonderful new project run by LIFT, a group set up to help support military families. Lift Link Love is a project to create a giant paper chain of messages of support for military families and kids. Military family members can make links with their soldier’s name on it, or other personalized items and military supporters can write positive, hopeful and supportive messages on paper chain links that will all be joined together and then displayed this summer as a visible symbol of how the people of the US support their military families. Get more information on Lift Link Love here.
8. Fight for legislation that will affect military families. Even though Congress was able to reach a last minute deal on the budget so that soldiers will still receive their April pay the issue of soldier’s pay will come up again as the fights in Congress over the budget continue. Call your representatives and make it clear that you do not want them to use the issue of soldiers getting paid as a bargaining chip to get the budget cuts they want. Refuse to accept their petty squabbling and demand that a firm stance be taken to protect military families. Support Joining Forces, the White House initiative to help military families.
9. Don’t abandon military kids when their deployed parent comes home. Often the period of time after a soldier comes home is one of the roughest parts of the deployment process. Kids have to adjust to changes in the parent who was deployed, who may be injured mentally or physically. They also have to deal with changes in the family dynamic as the two parents learn to be a couple and co-parents again. Continue to support the family and be a sounding board and a safe space for the kids to vent their emotions, ask questions, and deal with all the emotions that come up after their parent returns.
10. Work for peace. More than a decade of war is enough. Military families and kids are bearing the brunt of 2, 3, 4 and sometimes more deployments. Enough is enough. No matter what your political beliefs are work to end the military conflicts we’re in so that our soldiers and their families have the space, time and resources they need to heal. They’ve given all they have for more than a decade, and now it’s time for the rest of the country to honor their sacrifices by taking care of them.