Military Kids Suffer During a Parent’s Deployment

kids with deployed parents more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol

Dear Mr. Dad: A few weeks ago, you wrote about how PTSD after deployment affects spouses in addition to servicemembers themselves. You talked a little about how it affects kids too. But what about families where PTSD isn’t an issue? My brother is in the Army and he and his wife are both being deployed in a few weeks. Their two children, a boy age 11 and a girl age 13, will be staying with my husband and me. How do kids do during the actual time when dad or mom is deployment?
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An Uneven Playing Field for Parents with Disabilities

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I both have disabilities. He is blind and I suffer from a traumatic brain injury I received serving in Iraq. I’m pregnant and we’re due in about a month. We were both so excited, but a friend told us that there’s a chance we could lose custody of the baby because we both have disabilities. Now, instead of looking forward to becoming parents, we’re both in a panic. Is that true? If so, what can we do?

A: Thank you so much for your question. I often hear from parents with special needs kids, but rarely from disabled parents themselves—which is surprising for two reasons:

First, there are more than four million parents in the US who have disabilities and children under 18. Second, those parents are far more likely than non-disabled parents to have their children removed from their home or to lose their parental rights. Parents with disabilities are also more likely than non-disabled parents to lose their children in a divorce and they face many obstacles when trying to adopt.

I have to admit that this surprised me. I grew up in northern California, which has always been the center of the disability rights movement. And the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed more than 20 years ago, was supposed to ensure that disabled people—including parents—have rights. But then I read an eye-opening report from The National Council on Disability (ncd.gov), called “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children.” The report shows that when one or both parents have a psychiatric or cognitive disability (which could include your traumatic brain injury), removal rates can be as high as 40 to 80 percent. In addition, “Parents who are deaf or blind report extremely high rates of child removal and loss of parental rights.” The report also tells a number of heart-wrenching stories of people with disabilities who had their children taken away and lost their parental rights.

he big issue, of course, is whether the children of disabled parents are more likely to be mistreated or less likely to be properly cared for than children of non-disabled parents. If the kids are in danger, I’m all for removing them. But the criteria should be the same whether the parents are disabled or not.

One of the best ways to determine how well parents do their job is to ask the kids. And that’s exactly what two researchers at the National Center for Parents with Disabilities and their Families have been doing for several years. Paul Preston and Jean Jacobs have interviewed more than 1,000 people 17-21 who were raised by at least one parent with a significant physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disability. Fifty-eight percent said their experience having a parent with a disability was positive or very positive. Thirty-four percent said it was mixed, and 7 percent said it was negative. Doesn’t sound much different from the answers kids with non-disabled parents would give.

Interestingly, most of the young people in the study said that having a disabled parent gave them some specific advantages over their peers, such as learning better life skills and resourcefulness, and becoming more compassionate and independent. Only 39 percent felt they had too many responsibilities at home.

Next, connect with other parents with disabilities in your area and familiarize yourself with your legal rights. Through the Looking Glass (lookingglass.org) is a great resource for all of that.

Dads in the Military: Supporting a Pregnant Wife

My wife and I are expecting our first child. The problem is that I’m in the US Marine Corps on tour in Iraq. I have been here since the beginning of the pregnancy and I might not be there for the birth of our child. My wife is having a hard time doing this on her own and I feel that there’s nothing I can do to support her. I’m reading your book, The Expectant Father, which I find very helpful. But do you know of any resources that are specifically aimed at military dads and/or their families?

There are over 700,000 children under five in military families who are separated from their father or mother. As a former U.S. Marine myself, my heart goes out to all of them. Here are some great resources you and your wife can use to get the support you need. And because I know many military dads will be reading this column, I’m also including some tips on staying in touch with the kids and maintaining relationships while away. [Read more...]

Military spouse of the year: And the winner is…. a dad!

A stay-at-home father of two has just received one of the highest civilian honors we can give: the 2012 Military Spouse of the Year from Military Spouse magazine. Jeremy Hilton, whose wife is in the Air Force, is the first man to ever receive the award.

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Dads in the Military: Bonding before Birth

I’m in the military and I’m going to be sent overseas for at least a year. The problem is that my wife is pregnant and due to deliver right about the time I’m supposed to ship out. I can probably finagle things so that I’ll be here for the birth of our child, but the year abroad is unavoidable. What kinds of things can I do to try and bond with our infant early on, before I am deployed overseas? Equally important, are there things I can do to try and maintain a bond with such a young baby while I’m away?

What terrible timing. Try to spend every second you can with your baby as you possibly can before you have to ship out. You don’t need to plan any special activities with newborns-holding, changing, bottle-feeding (either formula or breast milk), reading to her, taking her out for walks, etc–the most mundane and basic stuff but that’s what relationships are based on.
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The Army? You Want to Join the Army?

Dear Mr. Dad: My 18-year old son wants to join the Army, but neither my wife nor I want him to enlist. How do we communicate that without sounding like we want to control his life? Is it wrong to tell him we think he’s making a big mistake?

A: First, my congratulations to your son: wanting to join the military shows courage, responsibility, and a desire to do good and protect others (although, as someone who enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17, I’d have to question his choice of the Army). Second, understand that at 18, your son is a legal adult. If he’d have wanted to, he could have signed on the dotted line, packed his bags, and asked you for a ride to the airport. The fact that he raised the issue at all is huge. It means he’s really thinking things through and that he respects your opinion.

Before you say anything to your son one way or the other, consider these two things: 1) Why he wants to join in the first place, and 2) Why you’re against it.

People join the military for a variety of reasons, including the enlistment and reenlistment bonuses (which can be in the 10s of thousands), getting a job, getting an education, having a chance to travel the world, and the amazing benefits available to veterans. You can familiarize yourself with some of these benefits at military.com/benefits.

The best way to find out your son’s motivations is to ask. So sit down with him and talk about the issues. And by “talk,” I really mean “listen.” Don’t hog the conversation and don’t try to force your viewpoint on him. If you come across as judgmental, you’ll be giving him yet another reason to enlist: to get away from his controlling parents.

Since your son hasn’t made his final decision, I suggest that you, your wife, and your son go visit a local recruiter. They’re generally very open to including parents in the process. At the very least, this will show your son that you respect his decisions and that you’re concerned that he make the best choices. If he hasn’t already seen a recruiter, this meeting will give all of you a chance to find out what positions (called MOS—military occupation specialty) your son is qualified for. Not everyone has to be a grunt (an infantryman). Speaking with a recruiter can also help your son clarify his goals and give you some insight into what’s driving his desires.

Now, to your issues. As parents, we all want to protect our children from danger, and there aren’t many jobs in the world where your son could be more in harm’s way than the service, particularly these days. In addition, you may have some strong issues with the military. But your natural instinct to protect your son (or to express your political views) isn’t a good enough reason to try to change his mind.. Again, he’s an adult and harsh criticism could very well drive him even further away than boot camp.

If at all possible, find some support for yourself. Talk with family members or friends whose children have served. Try to get both sides of the story—some parents who were unhappy about the decision and some who supported their child’s choice.

But at the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is support your son. Sure, tell him you’re afraid for his safety—he is too. But also tell him how proud you are.