Support groups for military spouses have been around for quite some time. Theyíve changed and evolved and adapted to the needs of the participants. However, the fairly recent adjustment in military lifestyle has warranted a new need: support for military children.
Weíve all seen a shift in thought by the military as a whole in regard to the significance of families. Families enjoy many resources and support that families years ago didnít. With continuous and extended deployments and the state of the world today, it has become apparent that not only do spouses need support and help in dealing with the military lifestyle, but children do as well. Why is Mommy or Daddy leaving again? Where are they going? Why are they going there? Are they leaving because of something I did? Do we dislike the Iraqi people? Are they bad? What happens on the ship when they leave? What do they see? What do they wear? The questions truly are endless.
Any parent can do a tremendous job of making sure their children stay in contact with the deployed parent, teaching them about the area where the spouse will be going, and other general details. Iíve read many creative ways of helping children cope. The hard part comes when they ask questions that you just canít answer. I know before my daughter attended a support group for kids I didnít know how many eggs the USS Abraham Lincoln went through in a week! Thereís something that puts their mind at ease knowing things as simple as how many eggs are used or what their parent is seeing. It makes them feel connected somehow. Little details like this and certain types of emotional support are things that sometimes we as parents canít give our children. So what do we do at that point?
The answer lies in support groups for military children. During my husbandís last WESTPAC aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, the Captainís wife worked with Fleet and Family Services on a pilot support group for military children. Although I personally disliked spouse support groups from experiences in the past, I decided this was something I should let my daughter participate in. It was one of the best things I could have done for her. She was six, this was Daddyís fourth deployment during her short lifetime and while she was ok for the most part, there was still this misunderstanding of what was going on, a disconnect. Learning things like how much of different things were used on the boat, what a sea bag was, what was put into a sea bag, trying on uniforms, and learning that Daddy was on a mission to help people made her feel much more connected and ok with everything that was going on. I saw a visible change in her. She would talk for days about what she learned. She made cards for Daddy, lists of what she wanted to do when he got back, and other activities.
I would like to see these groups become commonplace at all installations. Ask your FRG representative, Fleet and Family Support representative or whoever else you think can help you establish this at your installation. Be sure to let me know how itís going or if you need any assistance!