Helping Kids Through Mom’s Deployment

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The Pentagon recently announced that women soon will be able to serve in virtually all combat roles. Subsequent reports seemed to create a flurry of confusion — were female soldiers to occupy new positions, or were they finally getting recognition for positions long occupied?

“It’s important to note that while women have been officially excluded from combat roles, they have been serving bravely in combat throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said. “There are no clear front lines in these conflicts. Almost 300,000 women have served, [more than 600 have been wounded in action] and over 150 have lost their lives since 2001.” Clearly, women already occupy substantial positions in combat.

NPR noted that “the years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan have blurred, if not erased, the traditional notions of combat versus noncombat positions. Battle fronts are fluid, and the concept of a defined front line is virtually meaningless.”

With women serving on the battlefront throughout the Afghan and Iraq wars, surely our concerns must also be with the children left behind when mom goes to war.

For Janice Griffin Agazio, Ph.D., U.S. Army (ret.) and associate professor of nursing at The Catholic University of America, Mothers Going to War became a focused area of research. Through a series of interviews with active-duty members and reservists, she addressed how deployment affects moms and children under 12 years old. She noted that the research had largely focused on how “father separation” impacts children in deployment.

Prior to the first Gulf War, pregnant women were given the choice to carry out service obligations, or honorably leave the military – I was one of those women. It’s a different climate for mothers in today’s military. More than 40% of women in the military have children and at least 30,000 single mothers have deployed over the past 10 years of wartime operations.

For the thousands of children left behind, it’s imperative that deployment preparations address mother-child separation with the same qualitative research as the father-child deployment separation. Every child experiences every deployment differently, even if a parent has previously deployed. Age, as well as emotional and social maturity, play a significant part in deployment resiliency.

Research studies and hands-on tools (such as children’s books and interactive workshops), can ease common anxieties, fears, stressors, and other inherent fall-out. Equipping families with positive coping strategies at home is as important as equipping soldiers for the job down-range.

Maryann Makekau is an Air Force veteran, spouse of a retired member, and mother of two grown military children. She’s also a children’s author and founder of Hope Matters.