My in-laws have a fantasy with how they view my family.
Their assumption is we have the perfect family. We only enjoy the benefits that the military offers dependents. We get to travel. We visit exotic cities like Norfolk, VA. Our medical care is almost free and we save money shopping at the commissary. It seems we literally have the best quality of life.
Recently, they visited us. We showed them where the kids go to school and where their ballet studio is located. We showed them our local library, where the girls check out their books and attend story time. We also pointed out their pediatrician’s office, and where they attend sessions with their “talking doctor.”
“What’s a talking doctor?” My in-laws were deeply puzzled.
I explained to them that once a month, my children attend therapy with a licensed child psychologist. My in-laws were horrified to realize their granddaughters attend therapy on a monthly basis, and without reservation.
“Why? What horrible thing has happened to them that they need to see a psychologist?” they demanded to know.
I politely explained that my children have rarely seen their father in the last four years. He’s unwillingly missed four consecutive birthdays of both children. He has missed big holidays like Christmas, Easter and New Year’s Eve. Worst, he was never able to send them to school on their first day, attend parent-teacher conferences, and wasn’t home to congratulate them when they finished the school year. He has been on two consecutive deployments, several underway missions, and works long hours, since he has been on his department-head tour.
I told my in-laws that despite sending them cute pictures of us smiling, we experienced many sleepless nights with the girls crying for their dad. There were many school nights where the girls refused to do their homework because they missed their dad. And there have been many times when we all went to emergency room, spending several hours waiting for medical care because one of us was sick, and I didn’t have a sitter or a friend to help me watch the other.
Life for the military dependent is down right hard, but for many of us, we refuse to give up the mission. And we won’t give up hope and help provided to us.
I tried, on my own, to make our daughters lives a little brighter. After many trials and errors, I built a community where I thought my kids felt welcomed. When my daughters didn’t feel like they fit in at their school, I looked for options to transfer them to an institution where they felt they could learn in a supportive environment.
No matter how many people I forced to visit us, how many friends we forged, or how many expensive places I took the girls, none of it mattered. They still missed their father.
Despite all my efforts, I realized my daughters’ anxieties were multiplying. I finally scheduled an appointment with a therapist. It took a while but we found the right therapist that understood our complicated plight.
Our typical military dependent plight:
“Dad is still married to Mom and loves her. Mom loves Dad. Dad loves the girls and works very hard to support the family financially but Dad is not physically seen or present.”
In the civilian world, at least the breadwinner has some flexibility in his or her working hours, but it’s not the same in the military. My in-laws encouraged us not to tell many people that we see a psychologist. They lectured us that people might take it that something is severely wrong with us. I told them there is no shame in receiving help, especially when it comes to my children’s health.
Since we have seen a therapist, my daughters are much happier. They needed to hear from a medical professional that their daddy is safe. The work he does will not necessarily kill him. We also discussed how to manage situations that are out of our control. We learned to how to effectively communicate as a family. I learned that just because I can handle the deployment, doesn’t mean my kids will follow my lead as their mother.
I thank TRICARE for allowing us to utilize resources, like our therapist, to help us understand each other and how to control our fears and loneliness. The girls learned in therapy that even though “deployment” means Dad might enter a war zone, it doesn’t mean he’s actually going to war or will have to shoot guns at anyone. It was a huge revelation for all of us; I think my girls know about modern-day politics and the constant possible wars we are engaging.
Therapy has been heaven-sent, helping us relieve the heavy burden we were all carrying mentally.
Have you ever done something rewarding for your family that others didn’t agree with? How did you handle it?
Posted by Katie M., Military Spouse and Mother