Veterans – have parents too. Updated.

Those of us who have had our child leave the military after serving, either in a war zone or not, are now VetParents.  And Parents Zone is here for us too.  I’ve been watching, with a great deal of pride, my own son and daughter in law navigate the difficult waters called “The VA” and persevere.  I watched them both go through the frustration of medical and psychological evaluations and the appeals process.  I’m watching them heal, watching my son take classes and work full time and take care of their adorable daughter, watching my daughter in law work full time and then some, take care of said wonderful child, while they both deal with their deployments and what they brought back with them.

Some Soldier’s Mom, in her previous post, listed a group of websites to assist Vets.  I’d like to add to that, and I’m asking you for help.  If you know a site, an organization, a group, that helps Vets, list them here.  We’ll set up a page for them as well (right, Tech Mama??)

The American Veteran video site

IAVA Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

American Women Veterans ( this is a FaceBook based group)

LAW

A lot of attention lately has been focused on the health and adjustment process faced by vets returning for the last time from deployments in the Middle East. Not much time has been spent considering the way in which parents have to cross this hurdle. Many will tell our staff at PZ that the dread leading up to a deployment is the hardest part of the process, but the period in which we are needed most is oftentimes the return. Family play an enormous role in easing the homecoming experience of a soldier, and we need to be both supportive and open minded. A pervasive reluctance to seek support for PTSD and other psychological problems can hinder the recovery of a loved one. We encourage readers to be open and frank in the interest of their families, including if necessary, the willingness to broach difficult subjects such as wellbeing.

 

Help Your Kids Learn to Deal with Their Emotions

· Filed Under Family, Health, Military Parents · Comment 

Reflective girl

If as an adult you struggle with your soldier being deployed, try to imagine for a moment how your children feel about this confusing and stressful time. Or perhaps you were a military child yourself and you understand the angst that goes along with waiting for a deployment to end and wishing for a sense of normalcy to return. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers often face the challenges of caring for children who struggle with understanding their emotions about their soldier’s deployment. They do this all while trying to deal with their own roller coasters of feelings during deployment. Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to help children understand their own feelings and keep communication open between you and them.

Establish a Safe Method of Communication

Kids sometimes simply don’t know what is OK to talk about and what causes people to become agitated or frustrated at the mere mention. As they try to handle their own emotions, they add to that worrying that brining up their own sadness will make others sad, so they avoid the conversation altogether. Try some of these activities to keep kids talking and give them safe zones for doing so.

Invest in an inexpensive conversation ball, like the ones available here. There are numerous vendors who offer these fun, inexpensive conversation starters. There are dozens of phrases or questions listed all over the ball. It gets tossed around and when given a prompt or when the music stops, the person holding the ball reads the question under his left thumb (for example), and provides an answer. These can be as basic as: “When I grow up I want to be a…” to something more significant such as, “The last thing I prayed about was…”. These balls give families opportunities to have active fun together but still incorporate conversations. You might be surprised at what your child reveals during this game.

Whether you play a game or not, find a way and a time each day to let your kids know that you would like to hear from them how they are doing. Make sure you are not rushed, there are no spying ears around to overhear, and you come into the situation without your own overwhelming emotions.

Help Your Kids Understand their Emotions

Find a method that works for your child to record her feelings. For some kids this is a simple as a diary or journal, but for others it might be recording their own stories onto the computer, keeping a collection of drawings and artwork, or using a camera to capture pictures that reflect how they feel. They can use the camera to take reverse images in the mirror, seeing themselves and the emotional faces they can make.

Give words to emotions and build your child’s emotional intelligence. Instead of using general terms to sum up emotions, such as sad, happy, OK, scared, and fine, elaborate on deeper feelings. You can do this by discussing the feelings that others display, even on television or in a movie. Say something such as, “It looks to me like that man is feeling frustrated that his family didn’t listen, and he might be feeling scared about what he will do next. What do you think?” This is an example of how you can show your child that sometimes we are feeling more than one thing at a time, and it is not always easy to figure that out and find a way to deal with those emotions. Then you can ask for their thoughts and ideas. It is safer sometimes to discuss what someone else might be feeling and how they deal with that, and then apply those examples to our own lives.

Keep Trying

Children move through transitional stages physically, emotionally, and mentally, and it is challenging to raise them even in the best of circumstances. Work to acknowledge their feelings and give them opportunities to share them. If you are ever concerned that you just can’t give them the help they need with their emotions and concerns, bring someone into their lives that can help – a friend, neighbor, or even therapist. Our children’s emotions require more care than all of the glassware in the world, but you can do it through persistence and patience.

Photo credit: Andy

Creative Ways to Connect Your Child and Your Soldier

Fun with Flat Stanley

It’s never easy for children to be separated from their parents and loved ones, whether it is for military duty or something such as serious illness or injury. Keeping connections between close family members can be just a little bit easier by using a new twist on the traditional Flat Stanley project. Instead of just one Flat Stanley having adventures with lucky individuals, children and their beloved soldier will both get to have adventures and make memories with this Flat Fellows activity, easing the physical and sometimes emotional distance separating them.

How to Make Flat Fellows

If you, your child, or your soldier, have never read the classic Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown, begin by sharing this story together. You can read the book aloud to your young child, recording your voice, or your older reader can record his own voice. Send the audio file to your soldier, or if it is easier, send the actual paperback book and let him read it for himself.

Once everyone is familiar with the tale, the new twist on the project, Flat Fellows, can begin with these first steps.

  • Take a full-height picture of your child or have her draw one of herself on cardstock paper. If you are using a photo, print the picture on white cardstock or other heavyweight paper. A sheet of 8.5” x 11” is an easy size to mail when folded in thirds.
  • Arrange to either receive a full-height picture of your soldier, have your soldier draw one himself, or have your child design one.
  • Take 2 folders with brad bindings on the inside (add paper to the folders), 2 journals with pockets, or even 2 scrapbooks, and add a Flat Fellow to each one.
  • You can copy the following phrase into the journals or on pages in the folders, have your child write it out, or come up with your own (just make sure to do it for both journals).

I am your new Flat Fellow friend

And I can’t wait to see where you roam.

Take me along wherever you go,

And bring me back to your special home.

Make sure to write about it for                           (fill in with name of child/soldier)

He/she can’t wait to hear all our tales.

Even though we can’t always be right there

Our special love never fails.

Once you have your new poem inscribed, you can explain to your child and your soldier how this is going to work. Your child will keep the journal with the Flat Fellow who looks like your soldier, while your soldier will get the journal with the Flat Fellow of your child.

Why Flat Fellows are Important

The idea behind this project is that your soldier and child will each record notes about what the Flat Fellow saw, what the Flat Fellow might have eaten, and anything the Flat Fellow might have done. Your child can take pictures of her Flat Fellow going down the slide at the park, sitting in your child’s bike basket, or riding in the car going to Grandma’s. If you go to a movie, your Flat Fellow can take the ticket stub and add it to the journal. Let your child be creative. Your soldier can be inventive as well about his activities, perhaps taking a picture with his Flat Fellow in a bunk or writing about how many friends the Flat Fellow has met.

The main goal of doing this activity with your child and your soldier is to build another opportunity for them both to feel connected with each other. Even though they are far apart, their Flat Fellows can be witnesses to the little things in life that make all of the difference. You can continue this project for any length of time, but doing it for at least 2-3 weeks should give you a good supply of memories for the journals, but the longer you continue the project, the more interesting the adventures might become. It can also make a great Christmas present for both your child and your soldier to receive the newly created Flat Fellow journals or scrapbooks so they both know what the other has been doing. Separation from loved ones can be difficult for children (and adults), but finding positive ways to form new types of connections will help bridge those distances and keep kids thinking about new ways to have their Flat Fellows share their own adventures.

Photo credit: Jason

Suicide prevention – for all.

· Filed Under Gold Star Mom, Military Parents · Comment 

A friend of mine, who blogs at Gold Star Mom Speaks Out wrote this and graciously allowed me to post it here.

When the military talks out loud about suicides in the military, it’s a good thing. This week in Washington DC 1,000 people are attending a four-day Suicide Prevention Conference sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki were among many military leaders and medical experts in attendance. The highest level of leadership and the array of experts should indicate that the military is looking for solutions to solve this terrible trending problem of suicides in the military.

I have attended numerous meetings discussing veterans issues where one of the topics is military suicides. I have always been amazed that a military representative always acknowledges military suicides as an pressing issue but cannot figure out why. I’m no expert, but let’s try this short list. Repeated deployments, shortened dwell times, or time at home, stop loss, PTSD. I could go on, but that’s a whole other story. So, I was glad to read that Admiral Mullen told the audience at the conference “I know at this point in time, there does not appear to be any scientific correlation between the number of deployments and those who are at risk, but I’m just hard-pressed to believe that’s not the case,” Admiral Mullen said. “I know we are and hope to continue to look (at deployments) first to peel back the causes to get to the root of this.”

Deborah Mullen, Admiral Mullen’s wife, accompanies him to many events that are military family related. I met both the Admiral & Mrs Mullen at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2009 where I was makring the 5th anniversary of my son’s death. They were both walking through Section 60, where more than 800 members of the military who were killed in Iraq & Afghanistan are buried. They were offering condolences to family members and friends, they offered hugs or a hand in friendship, so it was no surprise that Mrs Mullen attended the Suicide Prevention Conference. SFGate reports her message to the attendees:

Don’t forget the spouses.
Deborah Mullen said Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel. “I was stunned when I was told there are too many to track,” Mullen said, speaking on stage at a military suicide prevention conference next to her husband, Adm. Mike Mullen.
She urged the military to get a better handle on the problem and implement prevention measures with spouses in mind.

“There’s another side to this and that’s family members who commit suicide,” Mrs. Mullen said. “It’s our responsibility. These are our family members.”
Military-wide, she said, it’s not clear exactly how many military family members killed themselves last year. Some military spouses, Mrs. Mullen said, are reluctant to seek mental health help because it still carries an unfortunate stigma.
“Spouses tell me all the time that they want to get mental health assistance,” she said. “As incorrect as this is, they really do believe if they seek help it will have a negative impact on their spouse’s military career.”

Mrs Mullen’s message is spot on altough I would add one more thing. Don’t forget the parents.

I’m pretty sure that most parents who get that knock on the door consider suicide as one of their options, if only briefly, during those difficult days after they receive the terrible news of the death of their child. I know of too many parents who want to crawl inside at the first view of the flag covered coffin. One more hug, one more embrace. If only they could trade their life for their child’s.

Please do not forget the Gold Star parents!

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