When military parents deploy, kids can feel anger, sadness, fear
Posted November 17, 2011
Fort Bragg, N.C. — The U.S. has been at war for more than a decade. In that time, tens of thousands of North Carolina service members have deployed multiple times. They are not just men and women in uniform – they are moms and dads. For their children, the long absences can have an impact.
When Tim Blake’s wife left for deployment, the stay-at-home dad did everything he could to keep life as normal as possible for their four children, which meant sticking to a routine.
“I made every effort I could to make sure their life did not change at all when mom left,” he said.
As for himself, Blake tried to make life a little easier by using disposable paper plates and plastic utensils at mealtime. Grayson Blake, who is 10 and the oldest of the four children, said the toughest part about his mom being gone is that he has more work to do, which is “really hard.”
Lt. Col. Devon Blake is on her third deployment. While she is overseas, an extended military family is helping her husband and children.
“In military families, everybody seems to want and desire to help each other, because we all know what we’re going through. We’ve all been there,” Tim Blake said.
Staff Sgt. Ryan Howard is on his fifth deployment in seven years, which means his wife, Teddi Howard, is home with their four boys.
“He’s done two to Iraq, and this is his third to Afghanistan,” Teddi Howard said. “I have an awesome support system. We don’t have a family here, but the church family is awesome.”
Cindy Brooks, a veteran herself, is a licensed psychotherapist who counsels military families. When parents deploy, children can experience sadness, anger, confusion and fear.
“They cope as well as the adults cope. They kind of take their cue from how well mom is doing or how well dad is doing,” she said.
Brooks says some children have difficulty focusing and concentrating and that, sometimes, their grades can start dropping in school.
Teddi Howard says she experienced something similar with her oldest, 7-year-old Jonathan, who “had some trouble in school with behavior,” she said. She had him make a photo album of all the things he likes, which he kept in class and could look at when he was having trouble.
“He said he didn’t want to put dad in there, because when he sees the picture of his dad, it makes him want to cry, and he doesn’t want to cry at school,” Teddi Howard said.
Technology has made it easier to keep in touch with parents. When a WRAL News crew went to Afghanistan in October with Fort Bragg’s 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, they saw soldiers talking with their loved ones on computers.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chris Jenkins, whose wife and three kids live in Lillington, says the distance is “very hard.”
“I feel bad when she calls me and asks me to help her out, and it’s just hard. I’m not there to help her out,” he said.
WRAL News went to Lillington to meet Jenkins’ wife, Holli, and three sons. Ammon, 8, is the oldest and says he wants to play Legos with his dad, talk with him and give him hugs when he gets back.
Deployment has become such a fact of life that there are children's books about it, such as "Over There" and "Coming Home." Sue O'Brien heads the Army's New Parent Support program at Fort Bragg.
“For a long time, we didn’t think that kids … that it mattered to them that dad and mom weren’t here, and that’s not the case at all,” she said. “Even the little ones know that something is different.”
Local counselors say most schools in the Fort Bragg area are aware of the signs of struggling military children and have support systems for them.