Being an active service member in the military affects not just an individual but entire families. Military life is a commitment for active service members, spouses, and even their children. However, this lifestyle can profoundly affect the lives of children in military families and birth a complex home atmosphere that impacts these important relationships.
Understanding the challenges that children in military families face is paramount for best addressing these relationships as veterans transition from active duty to civilian life. While challenging, there are strategies that veterans can use to best address and repair these relationships with children.
The Effects on Children in Military Families
Military life is a unique lifestyle. It can be difficult for those who have not lived through its challenges to truly understand and sympathize with it. However, it is not easy for children to live it either. Similarly, military life can have many lasting effects on children.
Constantly moving to new homes can cause the deterioration of childhood friendships, and prolonged periods without the presence of a parental unit can profoundly affect a parent’s relationship with their child. This can birth many emotional challenges for children to overcome, affecting daily life and perspectives in unique ways.
The Effects of a Military Parent’s Absence
Long periods of time while a parent is deployed can profoundly affect these relationships. For many children, feelings of isolation or abandonment can be common, whether or not they blame a parent for their absence. Not only can this bring intense feelings of doubt, but it can also make it difficult for children to connect with military parents upon their return.
Some may harbor resentments due to a parent’s absence. Others may have made their own changes in interests, hobbies, and personality that can be difficult for military parents to adapt to upon their return. As a result, children may experience profound feelings of lost time or experience difficulties adjusting to new dynamics.
The Effects of Constantly Moving
Moving from house to house is common for military families, with relocations being a part of military life. However, constant moving can also have many profound effects on children. First, it can be difficult for children to establish truly trusting and important friendships and social outlets. Even if a child does make a close friend, moving away to a new house in a new area can bring new and profound feelings of isolation. Children may also experience stunted social development if they are unable or less willing to create these relationships if they expect to move again soon.
An Atmosphere of Constant Worry
Lastly, children can also be continually worried about the well-being of their parent on tour. Having to emotionally prepare in case a parent does not return home is an incredibly difficult thing for children in military families to process, especially at such a young age. This kind of perspective can bring intense feelings of anxiety and depression, fundamentally shaping a child’s worldview. In the same way, mental health disorders and trauma are common among military children.
Tending to Relationships With Children in Military Families
Addressing veterans’ relationships with their children upon discharge from active duty demands dedicated effort. Overcoming difficult and harbored feelings of resentment, abandonment, and lost time is incredibly complicated. Children may carry these feelings into their adulthood, affecting their own perspectives and mental health. Taking active steps to address these complex relationships and overcome their effects on children is paramount.
First, it is important to openly acknowledge these challenges that children face to create an effective dialogue of understanding and support. Children may have many questions about a veteran’s time in the military, why they were gone so long, and more. While there may be rational responses to these questions, it is important to address them on an emotional level, acknowledging their profound effects on children and expressing how such feelings of missing out can be mutual. Talking to children as equals with their own challenges is paramount to begin healing, especially as children age into teenagers, young adults, or adults.
Exploring the changes in identity is also important to reconnect with children upon a parent’s return from active duty. It can be easy to expect a child to still have the same interests and hobbies upon a veteran’s return. However, this is not always the case. Trying to hold on to these aspects can damage a veteran’s relationship with their child in the present. Rather, exploring new hobbies and interests alongside a child is paramount for creating a healthy and supportive relationship in the present rather than clinging to the past in lost time.
Engaging in Family Treatment
Familial dynamics in military families are incredibly complicated. Children and spouses alike are all affected by such a lifestyle. Family therapy may be necessary to safely and effectively address these challenges. Feelings of anxiety and depression are difficult to emotionally process. Likewise, there is often a number of trying feelings, traumatic experiences, and difficult challenges to overcome upon a veteran’s transition to civilian life.
Family therapy for navigating familial dynamics, developing communication strategies, and overcoming traumas may be necessary. Getting the entire family involved at our treatment centers in Hawaii can be a great way to express how each member was affected by military life while creating a healthy plan for the future relationship with each veteran’s child.
Military life is complicated for all involved, and overcoming the challenges that military children face is essential for creating a healthy home atmosphere in civilian life. From overcoming trauma among veterans to rebuilding familial relationships, the professionals and dedicated veteran care available at Hawaii Island Recovery can help you today. We are committed to serving veterans and their families, with a unique community of veteran peers and support available to help you navigate addiction, trauma, and more. Additionally, we have effective family programs to address the needs of military families as a whole. For more information on our dedicated veteran treatment centers in Hawaii or for information on how we can personalize your program, call us today at (866) 390-5070.