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Coping with military deployment
My son is awaiting deployment and has asked me to move in with his wife and children
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012 12:15 am
by Wesley Carter

My son is awaiting deployment with the Army and has asked me to move in with his wife to help out with the children during his absence. My

Wesley Carte

daughter-in-law is pregnant and they have 7-year-old twins. What do I need to know to prepare?

According to a report published by the Department of Defense (2010), over 2.1 million service members have been deployed resulting in 1.8 million school-aged children coping with the absence of one or more parents. In fact, over 70 percent of individuals serving in the armed forces have at least one child (Park, 2011).

Military family life is characterized by recurrent separations, relocations and the long and often unpredictable working hours of service members. In addition to the stress associated with deployment, children of parents serving active military duty typically move every two to three years; three times more than nonmilitary-connected children. While most military children are resilient, many struggle with the stress associated with being separated from a parent due to deployment, posing a threat to their wellbeing. 

Deployment is a major life event and as such, your pregnant daughter-in-law and grandchildren will need your support. According to research by the RAND Corporation, coping with the stress of parents on long-term deployment results in lower test scores and behavioral challenges for students. In Active duty families, most children experience higher levels of fear and anxiety, often resulting in behavioral problems at home and school.

There are unique challenges inherent in each of the three stages of military deployment: predeployment, deployment, and postdeployment. School-aged children of servicepersons often contend with factors such as changes in childcare, increased responsibility, security-related issues, fear, and isolation. Your presence can help to ease the anxiety that your grandchildren will be experiencing.

Your son and his family are currently residing in the predeployment phase, which contains its own set of struggles for school-aged children. Your grandchildren are probably already beginning to experience stress as a result of their father’s impending deployment.

Support of extended family has been shown to mitigate stress associated with deployment. It is important that you communicate with your daughter-in-law to understand exactly what type of support she will require. Discuss the level of support you will need to provide regarding housework, homework support, transportation and cooking responsibilities.

Her needs will likely change after the birth of the baby. Remain flexible to provide your daughter-in-law with the freedom to change her support requests based on her energy level and emotional state. Position yourself in a support role and allow your daughter-in-law to take the lead on decisions concerning the children and the household.

Your daughter-in-law’s feelings about the deployment will influence how well your grandchildren cope with your son’s deployment. It is critical that your daughter-in-law maintain a consistent household routine during your son’s absence. How children process the deployment of a parent varies by age and developmental stage. Your role should be to support the structure and rules established by your son and daughter-in-law.

In addition, help your daughter-in-law get involved in the various Department of Defense programs and take advantage of the services designed to support military families. There are also high-quality age-appropriate programs available to help military children cope with the absence of a parent.

Programs such as the Military Child Education Coalition exist to support military children. The MCEC works directly with families and schools to support the academic and emotional wellbeing of military families. MCEC works to support inclusive, quality educational opportunities for military children through engagement, advocacy, and partnership. The link to the MCEC is http://www.militarychild.org/

The National Military Family Association is also an excellent resource for you and your son’s family. The link to The National Military Family Association website is http://www.militaryfamily.org

Every family has different needs. Your objective for supporting your son and his family should be to assume some of the parenting and household duties normally held by your son, to support your daughter-in-law. Her pregnancy further complicates the deployment conditions experienced by the family and your presence should provide some relief. You are to be commended to stepping up and supporting your family.

Wesley Carter D.M., founder and CEO of Kids by Carter, provides guidance to parents. Submit your questions to wesley@kidsbycarter.com Visit www.kidsbycarter.com and follow on Twitter @kidsbydrcarter.


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