The day a son or daughter comes home from combat is a precious moment for any parent. Our anticipation is great, whether this is their first combat experience or just one of many times that their military service has exposed them to the dangers of combat. As parents,“coming home” relieves our anxiety and fills us with joy.
Reflecting on our experiences, I compiled some ideas that I would like to share with other parents in the hope that they will benefit from our family’s experiences. Quite simply, I suggest that parents of returning service members:
- Hug them hard and allow yourself to cry – remember your son or daughter just came home from combat – you all need the physical and emotional contact
- Remember that there is a “honeymoon” period when they first come home, enjoy every minute of it – it may last an hour, a day, a week and for each of us this experience will be a bit different
- Give them space, they need it. Give yourself some space and time as well, you need it
- Some of those who return want to talk about what they have been doing and others would rather not. Let your son or daughter be the guide
- Remember that they have lived under very stressful conditions, some more than others, depending on where they have been deployed or what their military occupational specialty is
- Understand their remarks and attitude often reflects a way of life they had to adopt to survive – don’t take it personal
- Understand that they may be overwhelmed by questions and having to interact with too many people – if they look for privacy don’t take it personal
- Give your son or daughter the space to acclimate to being home in the United States and recognize that they will have to set their own pace – you can’t rush it
- Give them your unconditional love, as parents it is the greatest gift we have to offer our sons and daughters. Again, don’t take it personally if they can’t reciprocate, give them time, don’t take it personal.
Finally, I have coped with the past three and a half years by writing essays on how all of this has affected our lives and, even more importantly, reaching out to other parents of those who serve. A most profound moment was when we, the support group of moms I belong to, discovered that we all think about our deployed son or daughter nearly every minute of every day (and every night). Sometimes our kids linger in the back of minds and more often they are in the forefront – we feel consumed with worry and concern. In our world we found this was normal behavior, and as an Army mom so aptly stated it is our “new normal”. As parents who share a special bond, we need to support one another.
Mary Ward, MS, MPA – mother of a soldier