The following is from the mailbag of *Doctor G., a Board Certified family physician. This in no way constitutes individual professional advice. I'm sharing this for others to know that if their child is having difficulties, there is help and some of the advice may help. Please contact your local PCM or MilitaryOneSource if further help is needed.
Dear Dr. G, My husband is away for a 18 month deployment. We’re not quite halfway through, and our 13-year-old daughter is really angry. At first she was sad, as we all are, missing him. But in the last month or two she has been more and more mad that he is gone. I don’t know how to handle this. It’s not his first deployment, and she has never seemed to feel this way before. What can I do to make it easier for her? I can’t bring him back any sooner. Puberty just changes every little and big thing, doesn’t it? Your daughter is having an understandable reaction to her dad’s deployment. It is harder to handle anger than sadness, though, since empathy doesn’t work quite the same way. When she is sad, it is probably easier to express your own sadness and comfort her. When she is angry, you may not feel that you can support her by telling her you are angry also.
Let me ask you, have you ever been angry about his absence? I know this is a loaded question, but if you have ever felt some of what she is feeling, you could probably help her by telling her so. Anger causes most people (and especially girls and women) to feel guilty. She might handle this better if she had a little company. I would encourage you to open up this can of worms. Get some alone time with your daughter (probably easier said than done if you have other kids) and ask her to tell you everything she is mad about. Don’t interrupt, don’t try to fix or explain anything. Just let her get it all out without getting in trouble. Let the information sit in your brain for a little while.
At the end of the conversation ask her to think about one more question for the next conversation: Is there anything (in addition to her dad coming home and never leaving again) that would make her feel any better? If she has any suggestions, try any that are possible. She might want some “alone” time with him on Skype, or to plan a “date” with him. If his schedule allows that kind of planning, she might benefit from knowing she has protected time she can count on him every few days or each week.
Encourage her to scan and email projects or schoolwork, make a private youtube channel that she can post videos for him (and maybe he can for her) to watch if time zones or schedules don’t match up. Have him follow her on Facebook if she uses it, so that he can to keep up with her friends and social happenings.
Thirteen is a common age for girls to descend back into the toddler idea that the whole world revolves around them. The way we see this in preteen and teenage girls, however, is that they feel every choice someone else makes, every word they say or don’t say, is directly related to her. So she may now feel that her Dad’s decision to be away is to get away from her, or because he doesn’t care about her and what she needs.
Giving your daughter a larger world view, helping her understand the reasons for your family’s choices, is a big job. In the meantime, it is a great idea to validate her feelings and help her find solutions in the short term. You might start by celebrating his halfway point – when his arrival starts to be closer in time than his departure. This may give her something positive to focus on.
Please know that you are not alone in your parenting struggles, and I am truly grateful for the sacrifices you and your family make.
*Dr. G is a Board Certified family physician, mother of four, and a professional parenting writer and speaker (for parents, community & business). Her signature individualized workshop, “How to Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate” captivates parents through her humorous straight talk, which lifts the guilt out of parenting.