Troops in the Persian Gulf will be coming home changed b...

Coping/Mortal Matters

March 18, 1991|By Universal Press Syndicate

Troops in the Persian Gulf will be coming home changed b their experiences. That often happens when people face the possibility of death or even the prospect of witnessing the deaths of other people.

But the effects of war spread far beyond the battlefield; they also change the people back home. Service men and women returning from the war will find a warm welcome from the country and from their families. They may also find some pleasant surprises -- and some that make them uncomfortable.

For many wives and husbands left behind, the absence of a spouse has meant many things -- a cause for anxiety, extra responsibilities with children and chores and, especially for the families of many reservists, heavier financial burdens.

But there's an old proverb that a crisis is also an opportunity, and for many of these people, the fears and confusion of the initial separation gave way to the need to cope with everyday realities.

Husbands coming home may find that wives who previously depended on them to sort out the family finances, make decisions about household purchases or to keep the car running or the yard in shape have learned to manage on their own. Wives may find that their husbands have turned out to be capable of taking over parts of the household routine they considered their own.

As one young military wife put it, she has "grown up" during this war.

Relationships between spouses will have changed in other ways as well, but these changes don't have to be negative. "Growing up" in a marriage, or changing in other ways, can challenge the relationship. But handled in a positive way, it can also help cement it.

In dealing with these changes, it's worth remembering the alternative: The only sure way to stop growing and changing is to die.

Relationships with children will need special attention. One of the positive outcomes of this war has been the attention paid to its effects on children -- effects that have generally been overlooked before.

But never before have so many young mothers shipped off to war, leaving infants and small children behind. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, the eminent pediatrician, has been one of a number of people calling for a reassessment of a policy that would send mothers of young children to war.

It's hard on children to see either parent leave for war but, he argues, it is harder for a young child to be separated from a mother. Fathers have always marched off to war. That's not true for mothers.

We'll be hearing more of that debate. In the meantime, however, what can parents -- especially mothers -- of young children do to ease the transition back into their parental roles?

"Any child left, especially by a mother, is frightened," Dr. Brazelton says. "They should be prepared for this, particularly if they are a single parent."

The child will also be angry about the separation and wonder: "Doesn't she care about me?" Deep down, the child may suspect that the separation happened because she was "bad." (Children often assume that their behavior has caused traumatic events in their lives, such as a separation or a death.)

Re-establishing a strong relationship will depend on the circumstances of each situation, Dr. Brazelton says. But all parents should be aware that children will need time to recover from the vulnerability they have felt.

They'll also want reassurance that they won't be left again. If the parent can't be sure of that, they should help to prepare the child for the possibility.

The challenges of war don't stop when the guns fall silent.

PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

By: Sara Engram

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