We need to honour our soldiers’ families
Many people criticised Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire for refusing to stand up in honour of the Kenyan soldiers who were recently killed in Somalia.
The critics only focused on the soldiers. I considered the MP’s slight as aimed at the wives and children of the soldiers, who sacrifice spousal presence and parental love and bear a huge part of the social and emotional cost of Kenya’s war on Al-Shabaab.
Not many of us consider the unique psycho-social and emotional conditions that the children and spouses of the soldiers abroad live with every day as they wait for the return of their fathers and mothers.
So, as we applaud the gallant work that our men and women in uniform are doing in Somalia to keep us safe, let us also honour the spouses and children of the troops for their bravery in soaking up the emotional pressure.
These families face unique psychosocial and emotional challenges that call for a structured intervention.
If we are in agreement that more than ever before, young people today live in complex, challenging, and diverse circumstances, then we need to pay extra attention to those whose parents, guardians, or spouses serve in the military because they are confronted with challenges that are especially unique. Most of the spouses of these soldiers are also within the youth category and, therefore, need double care to help them surmount the many challenges that they face.
Hence, there is a need for urgent and well-coordinated measures to ensure that the children and spouses of the soldiers who guard and fight for us in Somalia and elsewhere are assisted to deal with the emotional challenges that they routinely encounter.
A study focusing on the effects of the US/Iraqi war reveals that youth aged between 11-17 years had a higher prevalence of emotional and behavioural difficulties than children in the general population.
The youth with parents in the military were at a higher risk of adverse mood and behavioural changes such as anger, apathy, anxiety, depression, decline in school performance, and loss of interest in normal activities that their peers find pleasure in.
Further, being at an age where peer affirmation is crucial, such youth were more likely to suffer social isolation due to the fact that their peers could not relate to their stressors.
The children of military families often experience multiple stressors before, during, and after their parents’ deployment. These stressors are intensified further on three levels. One, when returning soldiers are severely injured, commonly suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
Two, when the soldiers return home in body bags and, three, an even worse scenario, where their loved ones are classified as “missing in action”, thereby denying families closure.
The challenges that the children and spouses of military personnel have to contend with are compounded by social media, most of whose users have an appetite for gory coverage of war stories.
It is important that we come up with mechanisms to support immediate family members, especially youth, whose parents or spouses are on the war front to enable them to deal with the routine emotional and psycho-social challenges.
This category of youth is in dire need of a sense of security. Further, interventions should be empathetic, allowing sharing and offering of practical advice.
This requires more than the knee-jerk responses that come after a disaster, as happened recently after the Somalia tragedy.
It is urgent that we develop such initiatives because research from war situations elsewhere indicates that families that enjoy support experience less deployment-related stress.