Daddy’s Home Explains a Military Parent’s PTSD to Kids
By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator
The battle for many U.S. troops returning from war does not end once they return to their homes and families. For many, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illness will continue to have a negative consequence long after they have left the field of battle.
While getting help and trying to adjust back to day-to-day life is difficult for the individual who has been diagnosed with PTSD, the effects of PTSD have a great impact on his or her family as well. The process of reuniting a family is not an easy task after a parent has been engaged in a long-term, extremely stressful and often terrifying situation.
The task of explaining PTSD to a child, however, is frequently overlooked. In her book, Daddy’s Home, (Mookind Press, 2011), Carolina Nadel provides a beginning point for parents to discuss the difficult subject matter with their children.
The book tells the story a young boy’s father who returns home from war. The boy is jubilant at first, but as days pass his father’s behavior leaves him confused and angry. The story reflects on the young boy’s up and down experiences with his father’s return.
Carolina was kind enough to take a moment and respond to why and how she decided to write Daddy’s Home:
What motivated you to write Daddy’s Home?
I’ve been hearing a lot of news reports about soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD and how many of them are not receiving the treatment they need. Many of these soldiers have children and I suddenly pictured all these children, sitting at home, very confused about their parents’ changed behavior. I was afraid that, since children tend to feel the world revolves around them, they might be blaming themselves for their parents’ odd behavior, and then feeling guilty for not being super happy that they have come home. I also imagined that the other parent was probably overwhelmed by the situation and probably was not able to focus on the child at this moment.
Did any personal experiences help convince you of the need of this book?
Yes. I could very much relate to this situation, since I grew up in a household that revolved around my father’s mental illness. My father has bipolar disorder and my mother lived from depression and anxiety and, I believe, was overwhelmed with dealing with my father and the needs of four children. I reacted to the anxiety and uncertainty in our household by being the “perfect child” at school. So, since I wasn’t acting out or misbehaving, outside adults could not recognize that I really needed help.
As an adult, I wanted to write a book explaining mental illness to the children of adults living with mental illness—a book I wish I had had as a kid. But, the problem with a book like that is how it would get to the child in need. It’s unlikely that the ill parent would look for a book like this and since things have always been this way, the caretaker parent may not even realize that this is situation that needs to be addressed for their children. With a military situation and PTSD, there is a definitive change. The parent acted one way before the deployment and quite differently after. This situation makes it more likely for the issue to be addressed. In addition, there exists a large network of organizations that help military families deal with the issues of deployment and reintegration.
How did you go about choosing how to present PTSD in a children’s book?
I did a lot of research about PTSD, looking up articles and attending conferences and classes about PTSD and its effects on family members. I also received feedback on the book from military spouses and therapists and psychiatrists who work with military families.
Why is it important to tell children about a difficult subject such as PTSD?
Right now, there are many children living with parents struggling with PTSD. And while there is information out there that addresses the difficulty of having parents deployed or who return with physical wounds, I don’t see much, if anything, that helps children understand ‘invisible’ wounds such as PTSD. But, if a parent is not able to interact with their child in a healthy way, I am afraid that some children will come to the conclusion that it is because of something bad that they did. I want children to understand that this situation is not their fault.
What is most important piece of advice you would give to a family with a veteran living with PTSD?
I am not an expert on PTSD, but as a former child living in a household with an ‘invisible wound’, I would want the child to know that if sometimes they feel they hate their parent or are embarrassed by how they act – that is ok. Other kids in similar situations feel that way, too. And that the way the parent is acting has nothing to do with them. It’s not their fault. It’s not even about them at all. They need to focus on their own needs and not take on the responsible (even if they really want to) of making their parents healthy or happy. But, I also want them to know that there is hope and that with treatment their parent can usually get better.