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Military Kids: Resilient or Masters of Deception?

Why couldn’t my son say, “Mom, I’m not OK?”  After my son attempted suicide 16 months ago, one of the things I asked him was how I could have NOT known how bad things were?

He looked me square in the eye and said, “Mom, the only way you could have known was if I let you and that wasn’t going to happen. You had enough to deal with.”

It made me wonder:  Why can’t military kids express the uncomfortable and sometimes hopeless feelings that surface from a lifetime that can be filled with stress, anxiety and change without feeling as if they are letting their parents down? Why do our kids feel the need to become masters of deception?

According to The Uncounted, a recent CNN article about suicide among military parents, spouses, siblings and children, our community and our kids are not OK.

In a recent blog post, I shared about the looming crisis that years at war is having on our children. Sadly, we as parents we haven’t seen the writing on the wall.

Often military kids look like examples of resilience and strength beyond their years. On the surface it appears they “soldier on” through situations that the average adult wouldn’t be able to handle.

If asked, these kids say they are fine and that school is going well. Probe a bit more and they may admit that they miss the parent who is off on a mission-- but they are quick to say that they are dealing with it.

Our house was no different.

My husband deployed when our son was in high school and our daughter was a first year co-ed. His yearlong tour included many dangerous route clearance missions; it was a stressful and worrisome time for us all.

However, if you asked either of my children how they were dealing with it, they would quickly convince you that they were handling the deployment with ease--even when that wasn’t true.

Like many military parents, my husband and I were and are very involved and in tune with our children. We understand the challenges they face and are proactive in our efforts to help them adjust.

On the surface our children appeared to be adjusted and happy but they weren’t. Where had we gone wrong?

At first I blamed myself. I thought my son’s attempt on his life was because I wasn’t doing my job as a mom. I presumed my daughter’s intense focus and quick adjustment meant she wasn’t affected by the deployment.

For months I beat myself up for failing to notice the signs of trouble in my children and now I realize with all certainty that my parenting skills and abilities weren’t the issue.

The issue was the fact that my military kids had developed a common coping skill – deception. They had learned to disguise their true fears to protect me and felt an incredible need to be strong for our family.

And we aren’t unique. Somewhere along the line our military kids have gotten so good at protecting us that they feel the need to hide that they are suffering themselves. Resilient and strong is what they would have us believe but the reality is that our military dependents need us now more than ever.

Here are some ways you can take action and stop your child from hiding their true feelings:

  • Tell your child that you are the adult and that you don’t need them to be strong for you.
  • Find opportunities that encourage and allow them to be honest with how they are feeling.
  • Share your feelings in a way that is age appropriate.
  • Create a support network outside of your home that helps you deal with the challenges away from your children.
  • Check in often with their friends, teachers, peers and military connections regarding their moods and behaviors. Are they quieter than usual? Have they become withdrawn? Find out who they eat lunch with.
Have the conversation that encourages true resilience, ask the tough questions and follow up to insure they are being truthful with you. I wish I had.

Motivational speaker, author and blogger Judy Davis has a passion for helping military spouses navigate the emotional side of military life. Along with her son Geoffrey, Judy welcomes the opportunity to share their family’s story in an effort to bring hope to military families across the country. Read her blog and learn more at http://thedirectiondiva.com/.

 

 

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