- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dear Ms. Vicki:

Soldiers and their spouses get to choose their careers and should not be surprised at the lifestyle. I have compassion for the soldiers and their families, and deeply appreciate their sacrifices. However, it is the children I am most concerned about, since they did not make the choice of a military life, and they have no voice to express their loss and confusion when one or both parents are absent for extended times.

I speak as a psychologist and as the grandmother of a precious child from a dual-career military family. Both parents were taken away from their 1-year-old baby for a year. She made the adjustment to us, but when her parents came home, she did not know them.

Now they have [physical training] daily, and this 2-year-old child is awakened at 5 a.m. so they can get her to daycare before PT. They pick her up around 6 p.m., which means 12 hours a day away from family. This is crazy.

To further complicate things, both of the parents have had two-month trainings, again away from the baby. So she becomes acclimated to having her mom around, and then mom is gone for two months. To a baby, that is a long time and cannot be explained. Once mom gets back, dad will be sent away for a month.

How do we help these children feel secure and safe with such a crazy lifestyle? It is not just about the adults!

- Caring about the Children

Dear Children:

You are right, the children are important, and we must focus on the children’s mental and emotional health. Much is being done for children (from my perception) at military bases, i.e., camps and school programs that focus on deployments.

Being in the military at this time means you have to face long deployments and separations. Dual-career military couples find it even more difficult. While I cannot tell someone what career to choose or when to resign from a career, when appropriate, I have advised military couples that someone has to make the choice to have more of a 9-to-5 job for the sake of the children. Over the years, I have seen many single family members and military couples make it work; however, since Sept. 11, 2001, the military commitment requires much more.

I hope your grandchild will adjust. I’m very happy that you are able to provide support as a grandmother.

Hello, Ms. Vicki:

I finally got my nerve up to write you. I am a military wife, too. My husband is in the Army, and since 2003 he has been deployed more times than I can count.

My young daughter is pregnant. She is 16 and a junior in high school.

Ms. Vicki, I don´t want my daughter to keep this baby. I was a teen mother, and my husband and I have been married ever since. I really want a better life for my daughter - finish high school, go to college and maybe be a cheerleader or something other than a mother.

My husband and I agreed that our daughter could date when she was 15. The father of her baby is 18 and a very nice young man.

I have been letting him sleep on our sofa when he and his parents didn’t get along. It became so often that he finally started practically living with us.

My husband got upset with me, but I did not care because, after all, he was not here with us.

The boy has helped fix things around the house and run errands for me. But I think keeping the baby will change my daughter’s life forever. She goes back and forth on whether or not she wants to keep it. What advice can I give her? I can´t help but think I´m responsible for this.

- Mother with her Heart on the Line

Dear Heart:

I think you should take some of the responsibility for your daughter´s pregnancy.

Simply put, you overstepped your boundaries with this young man and your daughter. You can never compromise in situations like this with a teenager.

What else do you think would happen? Allowing her boyfriend to live in your home was like giving candy to a baby. Believe me, he was all over that. Of course he was going to act like he could not stay at home with his parents any longer. Your course of action should have been to say “absolutely not” to his staying in your home. You even could have tried to help him make amends with his parents or find his own place to live. From your report, it´s as if your daughter´s boyfriend became the man of your house. This was totally out of line.

I’m not trying to scold you because I know deployments are tough. Sometimes it´s lonely, frustrating, etc. I really had to depend on my teenage sons to help me through deployments. It was great developing a relationship with them. If you ask them, I’m sure they will tell you I´m a friend to them. However, they also will say I am a parent first, and I never get that crossed.

So here’s the other deal. I can’t be the one to guide you on your daughter’s pregnancy. I think you should seek some support of trusted family and friends, especially her father. You also should seek some counsel of your clergy. I regret this happened, but I must admit I get at least 15 letters a year like yours. Many of them ask me to never print their letters. I hope all goes well for you and your family. Keep me posted.

• Vicki Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three, has been counseling service members and their families for 15 years. Her column, Dear Ms. Vicki, runs in The Washington Times Thursdays and Sundays. Click here to e-mail her.

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