The Family Attachment Center Newsletter







   The Forgotten Heroes/The Children of Deployed Soldiers

Being an attachment therapist, I am passionate about the parent-child relationship.
Adults too often take for granted that children are resilient to any situation. We seem
to insist that children will understand the adult world if we just simply explain it to
them. This places an incredibly unreasonable degree of stress upon the child and on
the relationship. Children have to grow through specific developmental stages in
order to achieve success, where one feels secure, safe, loved, and trusting of his/her
environment.

Whether you support the war or not has little to do with understanding the
tremendous sacrifice the men and women of the Armed Services are making. Many
Americans, maybe even most, can understand this to some level. What I have found
is tremendous lack of understanding towards the sacrifice the children of these
soldiers are making. When our President stated at the beginning of our entry into
Afghanistan and Iraq that there would have to be sacrifices, did he even understand
the sacrifice these children would be making? When I question the soldiers and their
spouses who enter my office whether the commanders in charge understand, they
look at me with surprise and dismay. I was told that perhaps the only ones in the
military that understand besides the families themselves would be the counselors,
especially the school counselors, who help these children deal with their losses on a
daily basis. I believe this needs to change. We need to reach out to families who have
their emotional support in another part of the world fighting a war. We need to
understand that the loss to the child of a parent or parents being in another part of the
world, even if the circumstance is temporary, creates a permanent loss to the child.

We don't get second childhoods. Many individuals may not realize that there are
many situations where we simply do not get a second chance. We can't recapture
developmental stages with parents who were not there the first time around. What
makes me angry is that there are many parents who have the opportunity to bond
with their children and don't for selfish reasons. The majority of soldiers who have
children would choose to be with their children and take advantage of the opportunity
to bond with their children. The soldiers are not choosing to leave their families,
they're choosing to follow orders. The children know that their moms and dads love
them. The children know that their parents don't want to leave them and are only
doing what is asked of them by their commanders. The older children may even
understand that our country is asking their moms and dads to fight a war for us. So,
what's the problem? The problem is what the children are missing out on.

The willingness to sacrifice our comfort and safety for the sake of others are major
components of heroism. The children of the soldiers are doing exactly that. Especially
young children are heavily dependent upon their parents to create safety, security,
nurturance, and comfort. When these elements of safety, security, nurturance, and
comfort are provided in the child's environment, the child is able to explore his/her
environment, including school more easily because of that built-in safety net. When
these elements are provided in the child's environment, there is more reason to trust
the world and make friends. When these elements are provided in the child's
environment, there's more motivation to do well in school to learn and have fun in life.

When these elements are removed from the child's environment, the child struggles.
The child without a built-in safety net is not so willing to explore his/her environment.
When the child's foundation of trust, security, safety, comfort and nurturance is
removed, the child becomes more fearful than trusting, more uncomfortable than
comfortable, and is more needy than content. Some young children may regress to an
earlier developmental stage when he/she had both parents present. Other children
may become more aggressive and still others may withdraw. What is in common with
all these children and these behaviors is that the children are grieving. Adults should
not diminish the child's loss as no loss or a temporary loss. There is no such thing as a
temporary loss when it comes to relationship and time. Money can be recovered,
houses can be rebuilt; time can never be recovered and a loss in a relationship is a
permanent loss.

It is vital that adults understand that children are not little adults with the same
capabilities as adults. Adults can struggle with anxiety, a lack of confidence and feel
insecure in a variety of situations. And when adults struggle with these issues, they
are usually capable of acquiring appropriate resources to cope. Children have no
choice but to rely upon their caregivers, including relying upon their caregivers to
resource a safe, secure, nurturing environment. When that parent or parents are
removed from the environment, the child's environment is drastically changed. When
a two-parent household is changed to a single parent environment, the single parent's
stress is greatly increased. This creates a domino effect by passing that parent's
stress down to the child; at a minimum changing the dynamics in that parent-child
relationship. Now the child's world is vastly different from the original relationship the
child had with his/her two parents. One parent is gone and the other parent is not as
calm as she/he once was. This creates a double loss in the child's life. Other losses
are that the child misses out on sharing daily as well as special events in his/her life
that the parent would have attended if he/she were not fighting a war. Relationship
happens by spending time together, daily contact. Trust is earned over time and
consistency throughout the relationship. When there are major gaps of time spent in a
relationship, the relationship is at risk. A two parent household, where both parents
are deployed becomes an even greater sacrifice, change, risk and complete change in
dynamics for the children involved and we have no previous history of these dynamics
in our nation's history to call upon. These are times in our nation's history unlike any
other time for our military families of both parents being deployed. Whatever issues
are involved in one parent being deployed are significantly at issue when two parents
are deployed.

Adults need to learn how to come alongside of their children and allow them to grieve
their losses. It is also necessary for the parent or families left at home to grieve and
to reach out to the community for support and understanding. Grieving usually
involves all the emotions of anger, sadness and fear and often mixes them up creating
mixed emotions. Grieving can also involve happiness, which may cause confusion.
Some individuals may feel happy due to feeling proud for the sacrifice of their spouse,
relatives and/or children. It is significant to allow yourself to feel all of your feelings
and to express them appropriately. It is important for those supporting the families of
soldiers to do so with a respect to their boundaries. Let us honor the children for their
sacrifice.