Why I Don't Let My Military Kids Watch War Movies

Matt Damon Saving Private Ryan
Matt Damon stars in "Saving Private Ryan." (Paramount)

Every household is run differently, and to be honest, mine is run nothing like I thought it would be when I first became a mom. Here's where I let you in on a little secret: My soldier and I met when I was on my way to seminary with a head full of dreams of becoming a missionary to India.

My soldier married a borderline pacifist. I say "borderline" because I understood the need for good men and women to stand and defend us; there is great evil in the world that needs to be actively fought against. Perhaps "conscientious objector" would have been a better term for where I stood, though I had the privilege of never being called to bear arms. My desire for peace and a world without violence has not changed, but the focus has shifted from a sheltered ideology to a deep care for soldiers and families whose lives are irreversibly changed by war.

I still hold on to the hope, however idealistically, that the world can improve and war can be a thing of the past.

Our military family

I've learned to parent in the fire. My dreams of children who read for hours, are bilingual, brilliant, love long road trips, hate TV and eat homemade, healthy, balanced meals three times a day are not the reality in which I live. That is not the parent I became. When my son was a toddler, I had his day scheduled out in 30-minute increments. We would watch Sesame Street in Spanish, read poetry with our breakfast, bake together, take long walks ... you get the idea.

The second baby arrived and things changed dramatically. At six months she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, retinoblastoma, and our world was turned upside down. Every day was survival. My husband joined the Army in large part because we couldn't make ends meet and having previously served, he knew it would provide order to a world in which we were drowning.

Our military kids

One of the things Dr. Phil is famous for saying is, "Never ask your children to deal with adult issues, and never burden them with situations they can't control." It's a nice sentiment but it's as unrealistic as my original pacifist views.

Before the age of five, all three of my children had to deal with cancer, deployment and death. Those three realities that I did not face until adulthood, are still a part of their everyday lives. They have buried friends and the parents of friends. They continue to witness young lives hang in the balance, fighting for survival as chemo and radiation take their toll on tiny bodies. My children struggle through adult issues like survivor's guilt and grief as much as their father who has been to war.

Why we don't watch war movies

During my soldier's first deployment, I decided to share the joys of Shirley Temple -- a favorite of mine when I was a child --with my then five-, three- and one-year-old. Moments into the movie, we discovered she was an orphan because her father had died in the war. The older two burst into hysterics, during which the one-year-old followed. Over the next few months, I soon discovered movies I had never even noticed war references in. Movies that reference the loss of a parent or the impact of war on children are saved for when Dad is safely home and visible.

Here are a few we avoid while he is away as well as Shirley Temple and even Narnia. War movies are difficult as they give image to our greatest fears.

As a writer and former English major, I am highly opposed to censorship, but I do feel strongly about age-appropriateness and the maturity level of the child before allowing them to read or watch anything. My children know if they come to me with a question I will give them an honest answer. Sometimes that answer is, "If I tell you this, knowing will change you; do you think you are ready for the answer?"

Sometimes they say yes, and other times they smile and walk away, happy to hold onto childhood. They've learned I mean it. It's the same with some books and movies. Knowing changes you and I want my children, who have already grown up far too quickly, to hold onto bits of their childhood for as long as possible.

As a creative, my imagination goes into overdrive. Movies that showcase what my spouse does while deployed provide images in my mind that torture me with fear while he is away. For this reason alone, I cannot watch war movies. This isn't just for the kids, it's for my heart and peace of mind as well. There have been a few movies over the years that I would like to see and have purchased. They are still in the shrink wrap to be watched together the weeks following his retirement.

As the kids grow older, we are in the pre-teen years now, I am sure that our standards of movies will change as they argue their point. I will always respond to their request with, "If you see this, knowing will change you; do you think you are ready?"

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