Resilience. Grit. Perseverance.
These words are often used to describe the attributes of military spouses, kids, and families.
They are also a hard mantle to continuously uphold move-after-move, deployment-after-deployment, community-after-community.
A few years ago, as our lease ended on our rental house, my husband was given orders to remain at our current duty station. It was not something we planned. In fact, I didn’t even unpack all of our things because we were only supposed to be there for ten months. Yet, we were being asked to stay in the area.
A frantic search for a new residence began. After several open houses and a few scheduled showings, we found our new place - which was actually just right across the street from our rental. Our kids got to stay at the same school, keep their friends, and remain in the comfort of our neighborhood. The hardest part of the move was physically moving our belongings, or so I thought.
About a week into living in our new house, I started noticing things in my children that had begun at the other house but were not as blatant. My first and second graders were throwing toddler-like tantrums. They no longer slept through the night. They always seemed to be on high alert. At any creak of a door our youngest would shout in a panicky voice, “Mom, where are you? What are you doing?”
At first, I was annoyed. I simply wanted to be able to walk from my kitchen to my garage for paper towels without getting the third degree from my six-year-old. The more frequently and loudly he questioned - the more annoyed I became. He hadn’t been this clingy in years. I didn’t get it.
What I know now that I didn’t know then was that my children’s behaviors were not a reflection of my inability to parent. Instead, they were manifestations of years of change, of millions of things they could not control, of months of missing a parent.
In short, this is how kiddos express both anxiety and depression.
Military life affects every member of a military family’s mental health differently. For my children, it looked like regression–a sudden loss of mastery of skills. Learning this helped me be kinder to myself as a parent – I was not failing my children. It also alerted me that my kids needed help with their own mental health.
We have lived in the same house now for three years. The tantrums, the sleepless nights, and the questioning have eased up in intensity and regularity. But those things didn’t ease up on their own, or simply because time in one place is on our side.
We found a team of mental health professionals that supported our family’s needs. From these professionals, we’ve learned strategies for everything from self-regulation to intimacy building.
Being a military family is sometimes a tough gig, but we don’t have to do it alone.
At the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Veterans Village San Diego, we provide mental health services for military families of post 9/11 service members, veterans, Reservists, and members of the National Guard. Our mission is to help our clients get back to better with services that are tailored to their needs and goals.
We provide individual counseling sessions as well as couples therapy and family therapy for all ages, through the use of evidence-based practices. We are equipped to help the whole family unit not just survive but thrive in their military lifestyle.
Resilience. Grit. Perseverance.
These words are true. And we don’t have to do them alone.