There are endless ways to define the stages of deployment, but here is the basic breakdown: pre-deployment, deployment, post-deployment reunion. If you’re from a military family, it’s likely you’re familiar with the deployment cycle, and it goes a little something like this - the service member gets a warning order for deployment, the family prepares, the service member leaves, the family adjusts, the service member returns, the family adjusts. Those words represent stages, but what those stages are made up of is mixed emotions such as sadness, fear, and anxiety, as well as uncertainty stemming from all of the changes required to make your home function smoothly.
Unsurprisingly, the deployment cycle often affects the mental health and behaviors of the family members left on the homefront. Many parents experience depressive symptoms, such as sadness, numbness, lack of motivation, sleeping too little or too much, and/or eating unhealthy. Depressive symptoms can make it difficult to accomplish daily tasks, pay attention to children’s needs, or even get out of bed. Although these depressive symptoms tend to decline as post-deployment union approaches, deployment can still have consequences on parenting behaviors. For example, parental responsiveness (e.g., cheering up a child when they are sad, making a child feel important) has been shown to decline throughout the deployment cycle, but continues to decline even after reunion.
With these challenges in mind, it is not surprising that parental depressive symptoms and responsiveness can affect child behavior. Specifically, more parental depressive symptoms have been associated with more child aggressiveness and agitation as well as depression and anxiety problems. Conversely, parents who were more responsive tended to report fewer depression and anxiety problems for their children.
After reading this, you probably get that deployment is hard on at-home parents. In an effort to make parenting easier throughout the deployment experience, here are a few tips for fighting sadness while also helping to enhance your responsiveness to your children.
Allowing yourself to process your thoughts and feelings in a journal can help get some of them out of your head and onto paper. Your journal might be a stream of thoughts or drawings. Each one is unique, so find what works best for you.
2. Consider professional resources
Professional resources, such as therapy, can be used as support before problems become too difficult. Military Onesource is a great place to look for a therapist that can meet your needs.
3. Be consistent
Consistency and structure make life predictable, which helps lower stress and feelings of chaos during deployment. In parenting, be consistent in your response through words and actions. Follow through on plans and discipline. This helps children know what to expect on a daily basis, and feel as if their parents are dependable and supportive.
4. Engage in activities together
Try going to the park, catching that new movie, or working on a project together at home. Engaging in activities together can foster closeness and boost morale in your home.
5. Regularly praise your child
Verbalize your recognition of positive behaviors, or perhaps write your child a special note acknowledging a few things they have been doing well (e.g., good grades, helping around the house). This can help promote positive internalizing and externalizing behaviors.