Families of loved ones in the military often deal with the heavy lifting of their loved ones. They struggle with the ways military life and stress collide and challenge them to cope on a day-to-day basis.
Some military loved ones struggle with PTSD, but other family members can also have PTSD from dealing with a loved one’s addiction and struggles. Trauma and other stressful situations can cause PTSD to emerge for loved ones of military veterans. When the whole family is affected, it is important to know how PTSD looks and how to offer support.
Exposure to trauma is one-way children are impacted by PTSD. This kind of stress may be triggering for family members. Mothers who watch over the children may face stress while their partner serves long tours in the military.
Maybe they are gone during the week and only home on the weekends or serve long distance in other countries for months at a time. This distanced contact from family makes it hard to stay connected.
It is normal to be stressed when considering all the side effects of this way of living. Movements, constant deployments, new assignments, children switching schools, losing friends, having loved ones die and not being able to attend their funerals, and many other things can impact a child’s development.
Their environment, while maybe as stable as possible, can still feel really difficult to navigate when the choices being made are not theirs. Most military-connected children build resilience and are flexible and strong when they face constant change and stress.
The community typically surrounds them and offers to help. However, they are at higher risk for PTSD and stress-related disorders as adults due to challenges they may face growing up in the home of a military veteran. This is especially true if that veteran also has PTSD.
Stressors in Lifestyle
Children who grow up with parents on tours of duty may not realize how stressful it is until they become adults themselves. While it takes time to adjust to new cultures, it can be hard to deal with weird work schedules, working through the night, not seeing the parents too much, and watching them argue and fight if they are struggling.
If they are a strong family, there can still be stressors from not seeing a parent for long periods of time. Constant change can be a source of fun and excitement or stress and too much change over time.
Although people say they are resilient as adults, it may be difficult to constantly let go of friends they meet and not see family.
When PTSD Shows Up in the Family
Symptoms of PTSD are common in some children who experience traumatic events, neglect, or painful past histories. This may be from the family, extended family or other circumstances.
Typically they experience a lack of interest in things, feeling jittery, depressed, trouble connecting with people, experiencing flashbacks, and they are irritable or aggressive. Children will have problems in school, physical symptoms, and worry about not making it to old age.
Children with PTSD may have experienced bullying by other kids, abuse or harm by others outside the family, or saw events take place while parents were on the assignment they could not process until they were older. These events can trigger PTSD symptoms and also addictive behaviors when they get older.
Parenting with PTSD
Nothing is more challenging than dealing with mental health issues and parenting. Going to work, getting kids ready, dealing with school issues, supporting their growth, and keeping them healthy are important endeavors.
Parents who don’t work but stay home with the children while their partner serves in the military also deal with tremendous amounts of stress that pile up over time. They may silently suffer, especially women, with postpartum health risks and issues, mental health challenges, substance abuse and more.
The toll it can take on everyone is astronomical. Parenting is hard enough work, but try doing it while in the military.
Sometimes people forget women and men need extra support while their spouses and partners are serving. A good step to help children cope when a parent has PTSD is to look at why it happened.
Talk about how it occurred and steps being taken to support them. If it is the parent who served or currently serves that wrestles with it, talk about it.
Explain some of what happened that is age-appropriate. Look to some people who can help like therapists for children, families, and spouses with PTSD.
Seek out military intervention programs for veterans with PTSD and look to others who have similar experiences to help guide the way.
Don’t Feel Isolated
Awareness of the signs of PTSD only starts with knowing what to look for. Beyond that, it helps to talk to each other about the next steps. If the person won’t seek help due to stigma, shame, or denial, seek additional support from interventionists trained to work with veterans.
Find programs, groups, and therapy for families that struggle with mental health issues in loved ones and find hope there. Do not isolate and stay home. Do not fear going out to ask for help. Work on letting go of fear to find hope again on the other side of recovery for everyone.
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