Odds are that you know some of the two million military-connected children whose parent is serving in our all-volunteer forces. The situation briefly is that ongoing conflicts have created a generation of 21st century military children whose parents have been repeatedly deployed (sent into action, usually overseas). These parents haven't been able to share important parts of their childhood, missing developmental milestones and opportunities to offer guidance. Non-deployed spouses have needed to act largely as single parents.
This is a resilient population that has by and large endured this with grace, but resilience does not mean invulnerability. The stresses on family life have been prolonged, and the families are tiring.
Research demonstrates that military families, particularly adolescents, do better when communities and neighbors recognize the contribution of the parent who serves. Your awareness will be an important step toward creating the supportive environment that contributes to these families’ well-being. If you want to know how you can best help these children, the answer may be in showing genuine appreciation for their parents and for their shared sacrifice.
The military-connected family teaches all of us about values, strength, sacrifice, courage, resilience, sense of service and purpose. Under stress, they even teach us about the frailties of the American family and the importance of connection to the larger community.
These children and families are not alone in needing to worry about the well-being of one or both parents as they serve. In your own communities and within your own lives, consider first-responders and other professionals who are regularly called on to take risks for us, such as police and firefighters. We tend to take them for granted instead of honoring their commitment and thinking about their families.
It is vital that we recognize the real heroes in our midst, rather than those who get excessive media attention because of their money or athletic talent. When we recognize that heroes are those who offer service to society and their communities in one way or another, we build children with stronger character and a desire to contribute.
The next time you say “Thank you for your service” to one of our men and women in uniform, please think about the family members who also serve our nation. Only a small portion of our populace chooses to serve, and their families deserve our gratitude for sharing the burden. Their children benefit from the well-earned pride of having a parent who has given so much for our nation.
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg is the author of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings.”