Dear Parents of Lone Soldiers,
When your son or daughter informed you of their decision to join the Israeli Defense Forces, you may have had any number of reactions: pride, confusion, fear, anger, frustration, joy or possibly all of the above! Up until now, you have likely experienced moments of anxiety and concern for your child’s safety and now, suddenly, seemingly overnight, the stakes have become significantly greater and those anxieties and fears amplified many times over, as you learn your child is part of an army that has gone to war.
We are sending you lots of love and support from Israel and wanted to put together some tips and advice for getting through this difficult time.
What to know:
First, there is NO normal response to an abnormal situation – having trouble concentrating, sleeping, eating more or less, feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, easily upset are all expectable responses when you are adapting to a new reality. Be kind to yourself and those around you.
Things you can do to help yourself and loved ones:
Emotions such as fear, anger, and feeling “numb” are normal and common reactions to stress. Family members need to make sure these emotions aren’t turned against one another in frustration. It will help family members manage tension if you share feelings, recognize that they are normal, and realize that most family members feel the same way.
Take time to listen to each other
Know that deployment is a painful and frightening time. Spend time listening to family members without judging or criticizing what they say. People may need to just express themselves during this time. The more family members can communicate with one another, the less long-term strain there will be on the family.
Limit exposure to news media programs
Families should minimize exposure to anxiety-arousing media related to the war. News programs often emphasize fearful content and frightening images to create a “story” or to fill a 24 hr news cycle. Find reliable sources of information and stick to headlines and avoid exposure to more that you actually need to know. Keep in mind that watching a lot of footage, for example, can create needless distress and lead to visual images that can be hard to forget.
If there are younger children in the family, remind them that the war is far away and that your loved one has received training to do this job and is helping keep other children like them safe.
Spend time with people
Coping with stressful events is easier when in the company of caring friends. Ask for support from your family, friends, shul, or other community group.
Join or develop support groups
One of the unique challenges that families of lone soldiers face is that they are experiencing a reality different than that of their neighbors, friends, and colleagues. This can feel very lonely and isolating. Share with the people in your lives so they know what you are going through and can help support you. At the same time, seek support among other families of lone soldiers or of Israelis serving in the military. Being with others who share your experience can be extremely comforting.
Keep up routines
Try to stick to everyday routines. Familiar habits can be very comforting.
Engage in things that feel meaningful
Times like this can create feelings of helplessness. It is beneficial for everyone to find ways you and your family can productively channel energy. Engage in the things that generally feel meaningful to you (work, volunteerism, prayer) and consider organizing or participating in efforts to help Israel (fund raising, community action, rallies, support cards or letters to soldiers).
Take time out for fun
Don’t forget to do things that feel good to you. Take a walk, spend time with your pets, or play a game you enjoy.
On an airplane, parents are reminded to put on their oxygen mask before their child’s because we know that a parent’s instinct is to help their child before themselves, BUT a parent without oxygen is useless to a child – so make sure you are putting on your “proverbial oxygen mask.” This means, you should focus on things that help you feel physically and emotionally resilient – get rest when you can, exercise, eat nourishing meals, listen to music, go for walks, call friends, seek out things that bring you comfort under ordinary circumstances and remember, trying to “do it all” can lead to exhaustion so accept offers of help. This will help you support those around you and especially your lone soldier.
(By: National Center for PTSD, USA – adapted for parents of Lone Soldiers serving in Israel)
HOW TO HELP YOUR SOLDIER
While you are likely experiencing many different emotions, if your child calls home they need to hear that while, of course you are concerned, that:
- You are OK and proud of them and the important mission they have chosen.
- Tell them that you believe in them and their ability to do their job well.
- Let them know that they need to only worry about their job and that you are all ok and spending your energies on helping the effort from where you are.
- They need not worry about you, but need to know they have your love and support. Try to avoid expressing your fears to them – that is NOT what they need from you right now.
- YOU are in a unique position to help them feel loved and supported as
ONLY their parents can – this IS YOUR primary mission now!
- After you hang up, you can and should “be real” about your feelings with selected others who can help support you.
Additional Tips for Helping Yourself Cope
(based on “What to Do in a Crisis”, by Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap, 2008)
Slow your breathing – your breathing is the way you control your nervous system. By engaging in slow deep breathing you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system which signals to your body to relax.
How to do this: Place your hand on your stomach and direct your breathing to your lower abdomen (your stomach should rise as you inhale – think about how you’ve seen an infant breath while asleep) – count to 5 as you inhale and then 5 as you exhale. For children, use the example of smelling a birthday cake and then slowly blowing out the candle). There are many guided audio versions of deep breathing online that that you can access from youtube or various Apps (like “Calm”).
As you breathe, mindfully observe the breath flowing in and flowing out. This will help to anchor you in the present.
Take note of your experience in this moment. Notice what you are thinking. Notice what you are feeling.
As you do this notice how your thoughts and feelings are swirling around, and can easily carry you away if you allow them. Try to say to yourself, “I am noticing myself having the thought…” or “I am noticing myself having the feeling…..” and then try to see if you can unhook a bit from these thoughts – not pushing them away, but rather noticing them and then trying to allow them to pass by- they will come and go, but each time unhooking and recentering yourself by returning to where you are in this moment.
Open up around your feelings. Breathe into them and make room for them. Open up to your thoughts too: take a step back and give them some room to move, without holding onto them or trying to push them away. See them for what they are and give them space, rather than fusing with them.
Once you’ve done the above three steps, you will hopefully be in a mental state of mindfulness. The next step is to respond to the crisis by pursuing a valued course of action.
Connect with your values: ask yourself,
‘What do I want to be about, in the face of this crisis? What do I want to stand for? How would I like to act, so that I can look back years from now and feel proud of my response?’
– Do you need, or would you benefit from help/assistance/support/advice? If so, what friends, neighbors, or relatives can you contact? What professionals could you arrange to see? (If necessary, what helpline numbers could you call?)
– Have you experienced anything similar before? If so, how did you respond that was useful and helpful in the long term? Is there anything you learned from that experience that you can usefully apply now?
– Is there anything you can do to improve the situation in any way? Are there any TINY steps you could take immediately that could be helpful? What are the smallest, simplest, easiest, tiny steps you could take:
- a) in the next few minutes
- b) in the next few hours
- c) in the next few days
Note: the first step might simply be to spend a few minutes practicing some mindful breathing – or to take out a pen and paper and write an action plan.
– If there is nothing you can do to improve the situation, then are you willing to practice acceptance – remember acceptance doesn’t mean saying this is ok – its just giving up the effort of wishing it otherwise – just this, it just means , using expansion and defusion skills, while engaging fully in the present moment? And given that the situation is unchangeable, how can you spend your time and energy constructively, rather than worrying or blaming or dwelling?
Again, reconnect with your values: what do you want to be about in response to this situation? What are some tiny values-driven steps you can take?
– You don’t get to choose the deck of cards you are dealt in life; you only get to choose how you play with them. So a useful question to ask is: ‘Given this is the hand I’ve been dealt, what’s the best way to play with it? What personal strengths can I develop or strengthen as I go through this ordeal? How can I learn and grow from this experience?’ Note: any painful experience is an opportunity to develop your mindfulness skills.
– Be compassionate to yourself. Ask yourself, ‘If someone I loved was going through this experience, feeling what I am feeling – if I wanted to be kind and caring towards them, how would I treat them? How would I behave towards them? What might I say or do?’ Then try treating yourself the same way.
Get professional help if needed
When stress becomes overwhelming, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Ongoing difficulties such as exhaustion, apathy, worry, sleeplessness, bad dreams, irritability, or anger-outbursts warrant the attention of a professional counselor.