Tips for helping the children of soldiers
Military kids live in a different norm than their civilian counterparts. Whereas many military youth love the lifestyle that comes with their parents’ service, some feel rootless and unstable in a military world. All too often, service members’ moves that are done for the good of the military, disrupt a child’s friendships and home life.
In my career, my family and I made 13 major moves, which is below the norm for many who have served 30 years. But five of the moves occurred during a seven-year period in the center of our daughters’ high school years. Those were challenging times, and it was very important for us to team up with student pastors to help navigate this season in our lives.
It goes without saying that children need quantity and quality time with their parents, as well as regular heart-to-heart talks. This is true in any family—civilian or military. Military moms and dads, however, deal with categories of stress unique to their world, and must go the extra mile to stabilize the lives of their children.
The following actions were critical in our home, and I recommend them for any Christian family. Pastors and church leaders can reinforce these efforts and help kids develop healthy friendships in a new church.
First, from the earliest stage of life, teach God’s Word to your children.
As kids progress through stages of faith, they will assimilate the word into their own lives, and learn that it provides wisdom for life, and power to overcome temptations and difficulties. The examples of biblical leaders who trusted God in hard times will provide encouragement in their own struggles. Because of the trends of society, especially in education and entertainment, parents and pastors must be intentional and consistent with their efforts in this area.
Second, expose children to life-changing worship.
Worship invites the presence of God into one’s home and brings peace into situations. It also allows for individuals to express deep emotions. Children who may be stressed because of a parent’s absence will learn to turn to God in worship and find help in times of need.
Third, make prayer a natural part of life.
Teach kids to pray, and encourage their every effort. Pray as a family and as individuals. Encourage spontaneous prayer and the written prayers of others. Then be sure to record answers to prayer for encouragement. Remember that God tells us to come boldly before His throne to receive help in times of need.
Fourth, set a godly example in all situations.
Children know what is important to their parents. When parents are consistent and steadfast in difficulties, children will follow in their steps. As in any home, military kids frequently carry secondary stress when they sense their parents are burdened. Deployments and long training separations intensify this stress. If they observe, however, that mom and dad bear this stress with determination and faith in God, they too will learn to meet life head on with confidence and faith.
During my first deployment to Somalia in 1993, my wife Rhoda heard numerous rumors about the dangers of the environment and mission. In a very dramatic encounter with the Holy Spirit, God reassured her that His purposes included each one of us, and she could trust His will and plans for our lives through the best or worst scenarios. Later experiences during two tours in Iraq caused Rhoda to revalidate this word from the Lord.
After retirement, our daughters look back on our moves, deployments, and separations, with equilibrium and satisfaction. They were not easy they acknowledge, but knowing that God called us and sent us to different communities to fulfill a larger purpose for ministry made each assignment a mission of hope.
Our oldest daughter, Kristina, married to an Army officer herself, watched her husband leave home numerous times. In reflecting on her earlier years, she said: “For me specifically, seeing you and mom in the Word daily, and in fellowship with other believers, made a huge difference. I always knew that no matter where we went, God was always going with us—that was the crux of it for me. Wherever we went, whether we were together, or apart, God was with us. I never felt like you were dragging us around because of your job; it was a family mission.”
Our other daughter Elena, who endured five moves in her middle school and high school years, encourages military kids to make friends and reach out to others. She writes: “You have no control over circumstances you have no control over. Every time you take risks and put yourself out there, you are becoming a stronger individual. You never know the benefits one vulnerable act can have on your future. Shutting down is never a good option. Life is truly what you make of it, so always look for the positive in everything and in everyone.”
In the military, it is not just the adult who serves. Children and spouses stand shoulder to shoulder with their service member, providing strength and encouragement. When families serve as a team with faith in God, the challenges of deployments and absences become bearable. Churches and pastors can come alongside these families during these times to offer friendship, community, and spiritual encouragement.