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Ciara Hill

Project Coordinator for the National Council for Behavioral Health

Honoring our Military Families, Supporting Their Children

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Every November, we honor American veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve for the common good. We celebrate their service with events such as parades and recognition ceremonies. National Veteran and Military Family Month is a time for American citizens to show their support for our military personnel, but once the official holiday ends how do we continue to show them our appreciation, particularly for deployed military personnel? Taking it one step further, how can we ensure that we support not only those who are deployed, but their families as well?

In 2016 Military Families Learning Network interviewed a military father of three to share his unique perspective as a deployed parent and spouse. He told how he prepared for deployment by holding honest conversations and spending special time with each of his children prior to leaving, the concerns he had for his family during deployment, strategies to stay connected during his time of service and finally, the often overlooked realities of the transition back home. Overall, he said, “Healthy discussion and expectation management has helped me [with the deployment process] tremendously.”

Deployment comes with frequent moves, absent parents or spouses, potential negative financial impacts, feelings of fear, concern, loneliness, academic and behavioral challenges for children, and other mental health disorders. So, it comes as no surprise that more often than not, service members and their spouses find that it’s one of the most stressful aspects of military life.

Many experts have studied the cycle of emotions that members of the military and their families experience during deployment and found that certain emotions were reported more frequently than others and, certain emotional characteristics have been identified through different phases of each deployment, the Emotional Cycle of Deployment. This model describes the behavioral and emotional changes experienced by spouses and families of deployed military personnel. The Emotional Cycle of Deployment divides deployment into seven identifiable stages, each with an estimated timeframe and unique set of emotional challenges. The stages include:

  1. Anticipation of departure
  2. Detachment and withdrawal
  3. Emotional disorganization
  4. Recovery and stabilization
  5. Anticipation of return
  6. Return adjustment and renegotiation
  7. Reintegration and stabilization

Although a majority of military families experience these stages, we understand that the impacts of deployment vary with each family.  Likewise, each family will have their own reaction(s) to each stage they experience. For children and adolescents in particular, the impacts of deployment can be exaggerated. Military OneSource offers many resources and guides for families to support children of all ages through all stages of deployment including the Sesame Workshop Toolkits and Military Kids Connect. Additionally, in April 2020, during Month of the Military Child, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network released a list of notable resources and guides to assist parents, educators, advocates, policymakers and health care professionals with positively engaging children of military families.

While there are many services and resources available to support military personnel, veterans and their families, it’s important to ensure that service providers provide care that is foundationally trauma-informed and resilience-oriented.  Deployment is tough, to say the least, but not only for the deployed. They have children, spouses, family and friends they’ve left behind, and their absence is felt by all.

All service providers caring for military members and their families should keep the principles of trauma-informed, resilience-oriented care (safety, trust and transparency, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment and choice, peer support and gender, historical and cultural differences) at the forefront and integrate them into all aspects of their services. The experience and impact of deployment is unique for everyone involved and it’s important for care providers to keep this in mind during every interaction.