Yesterday, I read a report about recent research that showed kids who have a parent on military deployment are more likely to suffer mental health problems. According to the research, children who have experienced a parental deployment, are more likely to exhibit signs of depression, behavioral problems, sleep disorders, anxiety, and stress. The article cited the study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine wherein researchers examined medical records of 307,520 U.S. children, aged 5 to 17, who had at least one parent on active duty in the U.S. Army and had received outpatient care between 2003 and 2006.
As of 2009, 44 percent of active duty military members have children. That’s a lot of kids who could be potentially negatively affected by a parent’s deployment. So, what should these parents do? Should they leave the service? Can you imagine 44 percent less military personnel in the U.S. armed services? Just for fun, let’s say all those parents quit. Then what? The kids could be negatively affected by their parent’s unemployment, or their parent’s depression at leaving a job they love.
Something about this article struck me. It wasn’t the topic specifically that made me think, but the whole idea of yet more research designed to make moms and dads question their parenting and worry about its effects on their kids. I mean, don’t you think that military families are already aware that an extended absence could affect their children? Do you think this is news to them? I bet if you ask any military family, they’ll tell you they’re completely aware of this (while perhaps rolling their eyes at the absurdity of it). In fact, I’m sure they all do what they can to keep life as normal as possible during deployment, including seeking mental health care if need be.
But because a bunch of money was spent to do research on this topic, you just know that someone will come along and say that military parents who know their children’s mental well-being is at stake and yet remain on active duty are negligent or abusive. There are people out there who would criticize a parent’s choice of occupation. Just as people would criticize the mother who took a nap when her toddler did, awaking to find her toddler had sneaked out of the house which resulted in her arrest. Just as people would criticize a mother who chooses not to breastfeed. Just as people would criticize a mother who breastfeeds in public, or who breastfeeds her child after what they consider an acceptable age. Just as people would criticize parents for being too strict while at the same time, criticizing another parent for being too relaxed. Just as people would criticize a parent for letting their child go to the park by himself. Just as people would criticize a parent for hovering over their child and not letting him have the freedom to go to the park by himself. Just as people would criticize a parent for getting divorced while criticizing another for staying in a bad marriage and thus setting a poor example for their kids.
My point is that we, as parents, have enough to worry about on our own without new research suggesting more ways in which we can screw them up. Every day there’s another article warning parents of this and that. Now, don’t get me wrong, some articles can be helpful. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be aware of potential problems and risks so you can react accordingly. However, I know way too many parents who spend their days freaking out about how their kids are going to be screwed up from something they’d never even considered before.
I think I’m going to write another parenting book. It will be one page long and will simply say, “Research suggests you should stop reading all that parenting information out there. Relax. Go with your gut. Use common sense. And enjoy your kids!”