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Navy ports of Southeastern Virginia and other military towns across the country bustle with activity when ships leave for deployments overseas. Piers are continually lined with children and spouses waving their farewells as the ships pull away on their six-month missions.

But what happens to the children when mommy or daddy leaves on a Navy cruise? Michelle Kelley, an associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University, has just finished a unique study looking at those issues.

Kelley's research reveals that children of deployed mothers experience higher levels of sadness and anxiety and exhibited higher levels of behavioral problems than children with non-deployed Navy mothers.

Kelley says that while there is a good amount of documentation on what happens to both parent and child when fathers deploy -- she herself did a study on fathers deploying during the Gulf War -- there is virtually no research on the impact when mothers deploy.

This is an issue of importance as women continue to fill the military ranks and increase in numbers aboard deploying vessels. Kelley's research has studied women from virtually every ship with mixed-gender crews in the Norfolk area that deployed during the last three years, including the aircraft carriers Theodore Roosevelt and the John C. Stennis, the destroyers Hayler, Barry, Laboon and Briscoe, the cruiser Vella Gulf, the salvage ship Grasp, the amphibious assault ship Wasp and the dock landing ship Tortuga.

Today, there are more than 50,000 women sailors, 40 percent of whom have children and 2,500 of whom are single mothers. For deploying mothers, issues include missing developmental milestones; dealing with negative child behaviors before, during and after deployment; the quality of child care during her absence; and feelings of guilt about deployments.

In addition to discussing her findings and some of the problems, anxieties and difficulties these children encounter, Kelley highlights warning signals and offers suggestions and solutions for military parents.

This article was posted on: October 21, 1999

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