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POV Regarding War

Conversations

How Much Do You Tell The Kids?

written by Jennifer See
on October 28, 2010

It was a conversation that came up during the early morning hustle, during the last-minute running around, as I was getting backpacks, instruments and signed folders together, trying to get us all dressed, ready and out the door on time to school.

The question came from the innocent face of my 8-year-old daughter. The morning news was droning on in the background, with some sort of story of Iraq being reported. I try to keep the news off. I really, really try. This morning, though, it was on. And of course, I thought no one was listening to it.

"Daddy's in Iraq, but he's not fighting in the war, right?" she asked. "Because he's a doctor."

This was a conversation I was not ready to face at 6:45 a.m.

"Doctors don't fight in the war, only soldiers do, right Mama?" she probed.

Her older brother stepped in to try to help me out. "Daddy is a soldier, not just a doctor," he explained.

Her look became a bit more panicked. "Honey, this is something that you don't need to be worrying about right now," I said. I was completely avoiding the topic, I know, but this was not the place or the time to delve into greater detail.

I have always been a realist, especially when it comes to my kids. I try not to pull punches and tell them the truth instead of making up some sort of fabricated, sugar-coated version. Kids are too smart for that, anyway. They instinctively know, I have learned, when adults are not being straight shooters.

Even though my husband, a general surgeon, is not deployed to engage the enemy directly, he travels between secure sites, he is exposed to rocket and mortar attacks, and at times, treats enemy prisoners of war. So I certainly can recognize the inherent risks, but how much do I reveal to our kids?

After school I brought it up again, over apple slices and peanut butter. "Daddy is fighting in the war, honey." I said. "Remember this morning when you saw that news story?" She nodded. "Daddy is a doctor, but he is in the Army, and he is helping over in the war, just like all the other soldiers."

So, she wanted to know, could he die over there just like other soldiers had died?

I explained it like this: I told her that cars crash every day, and people die in car accidents, but every time we get in the car and drive somewhere, we can't think about that. The chances of it happening, I said, are slim. Could it happen? Yes. I told her that yes, Daddy is in Iraq and he could get shot, but the chances of it happening are so small that it is something that we can't worry about all the time.

She seemed to accept that explanation; it was as simplistic as I could make it. As she munched on her apples, she said, "Ok, then we won't worry so much." Then, as kids do, she moved on to more pressing concerns, such as the flavor ice cream she could eat for dessert after dinner that night, and who she should invite to her next sleepover.

Did I explain it well? I don't know. I did the best I could, with a brutally hard and complicated topic. Because the reality of it is that, God forbid, if Daddy didn't come home, I felt I would do her more damage and lose her trust if I had told her that "Oh, no, honey, that won't ever happen."

Military parents and family members have been fielding these kinds of questions from children for the past nine years. It's a hard balance between being truthful and shielding our kids from the harsh reality of war. While our loved ones are protecting and serving overseas, we do our best to protect and serve at home.

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