Children and Deployment
What Does My Daddy Do? Military Parents in the Work Place
By Holly Selders for LIFELines
From a kid's point of view, the job of a parent in the military may be a little fuzzy. Explaining to your children what you do, especially during deployments or underway periods, helps their understanding and shortens the distance between you.
Parents with potentially dangerous occupations have the burden of easing fears when describing to their kids what they do for a living. Despite the fact that the majority of the military is not imminently in harm's way, added sensitivity is the plan of the day. Varying age groups and individual circumstances dictate a variety of responses. The National Association of School Psychologists gives this advice to parents: Filter known facts one by one and do NOT prepare children (especially military children) for the worst. Basic information about your job or rate should be sufficient. Reading a bedtime story from your rate training manual takes it a little overboard.
According to Kids & Careers, children believe that mermaids are as real as car crashes and that dangers can be common. It is not until approximately age 10 or 11 that children begin to understand which events are real. Fear for their parents being in danger can be managed by explaining that Daddy or Mommy is highly trained and practices routinely for the emergency situations children might be seeing on television.
According to Liz Hengerer from the Norfolk Fleet and Family Support Center, children also hear from their friends what supposedly goes on during deployments and at work, and they can often be a source of misinformation. If your child comes home reporting, "The other kids say Dad's gonna get 13 tattoos, fall overboard, and get eaten by a shark," parents must correct the information. Explain that other kids don't know what is going to happen and Dad is not going to get eaten by a shark.
Keeping Babies In the Loop
Infants and toddlers have an undeveloped sense of time and limited visual memory. Showing pictures of Daddy, in uniform and in civvies, keeps Daddy's image at hand and refreshes young memories. Bring Daddy into conversations by saying, "Let's sing The Barney song. It's Daddy favorite!" or "Let's mail Daddy's care package." If, for example, Daddy's a pilot, say, "Look, a plane like Daddy flies." If Daddy's on a ship, show pictures or submerge toy submarines to imitate Daddy. One enterprising wife of a West Coast Sailor created a photo album organized by what her husband would be doing each hour of the day. For example, 11:00 showed Daddy eating lunch, 15:00 (that's 3 p.m. for civilians) showed Daddy sitting at his desk, etc.
Explaining Your Job to Young Children
If possible, bring school age children into the workspace. If you can't get permission, show your kids a similar place or a picture of yourself at work. Tell children simple stories about what happened at work or explain what you did that day, just like you expect them to tell you about their day. Long distance dads can send frequent e-mails, ask specific questions when calling by phone, or mail surprises via snail mail.
Talking With Teenagers
Honest, clear, and specific information works best with pre-adolescents and teenagers. This age group knows everything anyway and is highly capable of filtering information. They still need reassurance, a sense of safety, and a parent who's there when they're ready to talk. Frequent e-mails, video conferencing, and instant messaging can be your best connection, away or at home.
For more suggestions, try Fathering Teenagers which includes tips such as "Open Your Belly." (You'll have to read that one for yourself.) Teens will let you know how much they want to experience. Don't be surprised or offended to find a conscientious objector to your occupation in the household. That's part of what all teens go through in discovering their own identities.
Go Where Your Kids Are, Take Them Where You Are
Children of all ages can track a working military parents progress on globes or with pictures or calendars. Participate in Bring Your Parent to School Day, no matter how embarrassing your child claims this is. Participate in the widely popular Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. First-hand experience is a valuable tool for understanding a military parent's role in the everyday work place.