How to … support children with parents in the military

Cath Eatherton – RAF Wife

Every career brings with it unique challenges for family life and for a service family this is particularly true. My husband John has been serving with the RAF for the past 12 years and we’ve been married for nearly 9 years now and have four children.

During that time we’ve moved 5 times and have lived in Oxfordshire, Northern Ireland, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire and have several more moves due in the near future. In addition, John has been sent abroad on various exercises and operations during his career.

We have been richly blessed by the many churches we’ve been involved with so far and have very definitely known God’s goodness to our family in guiding us to churches where we’ve been welcomed, accepted, supported and encouraged to grow in our faith. The Military life is a strange one and hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it first-hand. We hope that the points below will help to highlight some of the challenges faced by
the children of service families and so help you better support any children you may come across in your youth work.

Instability

Service life can bring many moves around the country and even the world. Children have to learn to adapt quickly to a new school, new area and new church and this is not always easy. They will have left behind many good friends and the prospect of starting all over again in a new place can be daunting, both to the parents and children. Don’t be surprised if children from service families are shy and hold back – they may need some extra encouragement to join in and form friendships.

Friendships

For some children forming initial friendships in a new area will be made a lot harder by the frequent moving around, as mentioned above. However, some children cope with the instability by learning to make friends quickly and they may instead, struggle with forming deeper friendships. If a child of a service family appears to be very confident and form friends quickly, it’s worth being aware that this might be a coping mechanism. It’s easy for children to be afraid of developing strong attachments to friends because of forthcoming moves.

Uncertainty

This might seem to be a repeat of the first point about instability, however, many military families not only have to deal with the instability of moving around, but also the uncertainty of not knowing when and where that might happen. Additionally, there is the worry of the serving family member being sent away last minute. The experiences of military families can vary greatly; for some the future is mapped out and they know their every move well in advance; for others they can receive a posting to a new area with only a few weeks’ notice. This can have a profound effect on the whole family, children included. In our experience our future has often been beyond our control and we have personally found that it has helped us have a greater trust in God’s sovereign control over our lives. Children (and adults!) may need help understanding and trusting this great truth.

Deployments

When the serving family member is sent away, those who remain at home can find it especially difficult to cope with the separation. While the children may appear to continue as usual, the stresses and challenges of living with a parent away should not be underestimated. Children will obviously miss their parent and contact can often be irregular. Anxiety about the parent’s safety can further increase stresses on family life. What’s more, when the parent returns, adapting back to normal family life is not always as straightforward as one might think.

Despite the many challenges, being part of a service family brings many wonderful opportunities. We have been privileged to be members of a variety of different churches and have been encouraged by the many faithful Christians we’ve met across the country. We are also privileged to be a part of the tight-knit RAF community, which has opened up many opportunities for sharing our faith with others.

For further help for those being deployed see here