When the Family Breaks Down and Nobody Understands

Reader AB is a relatively new military spouse going through her first deployment. She's in the homestretch and has only a month to go, but things are breaking down.

I’m having a problem: my world is in meltdown. It’s as simple as that. There isn’t a doctor, shrink or medication that can make it better and no one understands that. My husband has been in the AF for 21 years but I’m new to the whole “ordeal”. We’ve been married two years and have been together for almost three. I have two children, 5 and 6, from a previous relationship. The good thing is he is their world and they are his. We are usually a pretty happy, normal family. The problem is we are five months into our first ever six month deployment. The worst part is we have reached maximum threshold and everyone is going nuclear. I’m afraid we might make Three Mile Island and Chernobyl look like holidays. Why is it no one out there that understands? Everyone around us thinks there is a shrink or magic pill to fix all of our problems. Sometimes there isn’t an easy fix.
There were a lot of components to AB's email but for purposes of this post, we'll focus on AB's frustration with people who don't understand what she and her children are going through. People who believe that there is only a professional "fix."
The problem is my six year old son has decided to cause the meltdown. His behavior has gone to levels I just didn’t think were attainable. Don’t think it’s just him; his little sister has had a hand in it as well. I’ve been telling everyone they are basically in solitary confinement. All of their toys have been locked up. There is no TV or video games. They are only allowed outside under strict supervision. If it’s fun, they don’t get to do it. Not only have the levels been maxed at home but the six year old has decided to carry it over into school. I have talked to his teacher and told her the situation. Daddy left three weeks before school started and well, there you have it. She seemed understanding enough but now is pressing for professional intervention and has mentioned on several occasions he might need medication for his problems. My question to her was how can medication fix the fact that a parent is deployed? She isn’t the only one voicing the same cure. But really, how is that going to help?

I’m being put through the ringer with this. I have been told I don’t have the parenting skills to death with things. I’ve been told my children have issues and only a psychologist is the answer. I am fighting with everyone. The only thing I want is patience. If everyone could understand there isn’t some deep rooted psychological problem with the children. I feel like this could even lead to the end of my marriage. During all of the arguing and fighting with everyone around me, I had an epiphany. I finally realized something no one even thought about. It’s the one thing I should’ve thought of as a mother and it didn’t even register. There is a hole in our world and we were just ignoring it. My first shrink didn’t even talk about it. I hadn’t even thought about it. 
How did this epiphany occur you ask? Last weekend I put all the toys in the closet with the rules that as behavior improves more things move out of the closet. Well, that backfired. Since then the six year old has kicked it up several notches. The teacher said it was his worst week ever! It made no sense to me at first. You take something away and the hole has to be filled. So I took away the toys and his behavior didn’t get worse at home, it got worse at school. Hmm, curious that? So then I really started thinking about it. That hole isn’t something that can be ignored and I had been ignoring it.
When you lose someone there are different stages you go through. Deployment is very similar. There is the depression, the anger, the loneliness and everything else that comes along with it. I’m just new to it. Until I figured out the hole, it didn’t make sense. Every day I am reminded there is someone missing, the hole. What I didn’t do is put two and two together in regards to the kids, especially the six year old. I’ve let him down. It didn’t even cross my mind that everything happening right now is because of his perception of the hole.

So my thing to you is, more attention needs to be brought to the fact no one understands the presence of the hole. I have been getting counseling, but they have no idea. Most of the counselors aren’t military and have no idea what life is like. Granted we like to try and think or act like we are normal families, but we’re not. When it comes to having a deployed spouse, we don’t want medals or recognition of dealing with all the bs that comes with it; most of the time we are all self-sufficient, proud, stubborn knuckleheads that wouldn’t ask for anything if our behinds were on fire. I think it’s great POTUS wants to do things to help us. Granted the programs and such are a nice gesture, but there is one thing that we crave so much more from the rest of the world: understanding. If there is one civilian out there that could just put themselves in our shoes for just one day and see what it is we deal with, it would be worth it. Our lives are a jumbled mess of emotions and behaviors, we require patience and understanding that one day the life of a military family can be normal.

AB's email is interesting. Obviously we don't know AB or her family and we aren't in a position to offer professional advice, but her email brings up several points worthy of exploration. I don't have children but would be interested to know if the mothers out there have experienced behavioral issues with your children which appear when your spouse deploys but sort themselves out when he or she returns? With respect to your children, what lessons did you learn from your first deployment which helped prepare you the next one? Have you sought counseling for your family and if so, was it helpful?

As for outside understanding from non-professionals, it's very frustrating when you're trying to work through an issue and people offer advice without having any meaningful understanding of the situation, even when they mean well. Personally, as I've stated before, I don't think civilians can ever have a real understanding of what military families deal with. It's not their fault, this just happens to be a lifestyle that you have to live in order to appreciate the joys and challenges that come along with it. For me, when I receive simplistic-sounding advice from people who don't understand the range of emotions that one experiences during a deployment, I tend to brush it off or ignore it. Sometimes, I'm not in the business of seeking advice, I just want to talk to someone who understands. That's when I turn to my military community for support because they are the only ones who truly get it.

Sometimes the best fix is having our loved ones back home with us. Plugging the hole, if you will.

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