Parenting and Family Advice for a Member of the Military
by Jackson Weiser and Charlotte Cremers
Parenting as a member of the armed forces presents unique challenges that can put even the strongest bonds to the test. Deployments, temporary duty assignments (TDY), and the uncertainty that accompanies military life can put immense strain on both parents and children.
In this article, we’ll first describe parenting while in the military and then discuss practical parenting tips for military members. By implementing these strategies, parents can navigate the obstacles of military life more easily and effectively.
Support Each Other’s Roles
Each parent in a military family plays a crucial role in their children’s lives, even if their responsibilities may differ due to deployments or other military commitments. Recognizing contributions that both parents make is essential for a balanced family dynamic.
At-Home Parent Challenges:
- Solo Parenting: During deployments or extended separations, the at-home parent may take on the role of a solo parent, managing daily routines, decision-making, and emotional support.
- Loneliness and Isolation: Frequent relocations can lead to feelings of isolation from being away from extended family and friends.
- Handling Household Responsibilities: Managing household chores, finances, and other responsibilities alone can be overwhelming.
Military Parent Challenges:
- Coping with Separation: The active-duty parent faces the emotional toll of being away from their family and may experience feelings of guilt or missing out on important milestones.
- Stress and Demands of Service: Military duties can be physically and mentally demanding, requiring resilience and adaptability.
- Reintegration after Deployment: Adjusting to family life again after deployment can pose challenges as roles and routines often shift following one parent’s absence.
Fostering a Supportive Family Environment:
- Effective Communication: Maintain open and compassionate communication, sharing thoughts, feelings, and challenges with each other without judgment.
- Acknowledging Efforts and Difficulties: Express appreciation for each other’s contributions and hardships for the family, recognizing the sacrifices made by both parents.
- Sharing Responsibilities: Whenever possible, divide household responsibilities and child-rearing duties equitably, acknowledging the strengths and limitations of each parent’s situation.
- Respecting Individual Needs: Understand that each parent may have different needs during deployment or homecoming and provide space for personal growth and self-care.
Fostering Resilience in Children
Resilience is not just about “toughening up”; it involves emotional strength, adaptability, and a positive outlook. In a military family, resilience helps children face transitions, separations, and new environments with courage and hope.
Encouraging Open Discussions About Emotions and Experiences:
- Create a safe space for your children to share their feelings openly.
- Validate their feelings and let them know it’s okay to express themselves, whether they’re excited, sad, or afraid. Validating your child’s emotions does not mean that you need to compromise on important boundaries.
- Be attentive listeners and avoid dismissing or belittling their concerns.
Promoting Problem-Solving Skills and Adaptability:
- Involve your children in decision-making processes when appropriate, empowering them to take ownership of their choices.
- Encourage flexibility and adaptability by embracing change positively as a family.
- Teach problem-solving techniques, helping them break down challenges into manageable steps.
Offering Praise and Recognition for their Strength and Achievements:
- Celebrate their successes, no matter how small, to instill confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
- Recognize and praise their efforts in facing challenges and trying their best, regardless of the outcomes.
- Remind them of their past achievements during tough times, fostering a belief in their capabilities.
By encouraging resilience in your children, you help to empower them to face life’s challenges head on. As your children grow, this trait will serve as a powerful foundation, helping them to navigate the difficulties of military life and beyond.
Importance of Self-Care for Parents and Children:
- For Parents: Military life can be physically and emotionally demanding, and as parents, your wellbeing is important for supporting your family effectively. Engage in self-care activities that replenish your energy, reduce stress, and foster emotional resilience.
- For Children: Children also benefit from self-care practices, as it helps them manage stress, regulate emotions, and build their own strength.
Self-Care Strategies for Military Parents:
- Prioritizing Sleep and Rest: Adequate rest is crucial for physical and mental health. Establish a regular sleep routine, as best you can during unpredictable schedules, and prioritize rest whenever needed.
- Engaging in Mindfulness Practices: Practice mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to reduce stress and promote emotional well-being. Mindfulness helps you stay present, manage worries, and enhance overall mental clarity.
- Setting Boundaries and Saying No: Recognize your limits and learn to say no when you feel overwhelmed with commitments. Setting healthy boundaries allows you to focus on what truly matters and prevents burnout.
- Taking Breaks and “Me” Time: Make time for yourself regularly, even if it’s just a few minutes each day. Use this time to relax, reflect, or engage in self-care activities without interruptions.
Addressing Deployment or TDY Challenges
Preparing for reunions and potential adjustments afterward is equally important for a smooth transition. Let’s explore tips to address deployment or TDY related issues.
Staying Connected When Physically Separated:
- If you or your partner is away on a deployment or TDY, there are still ways to stay connected to your family. To read more about how to make your long-distance military relationship work, click here.
Preparing for Reunions and Potential Adjustments:
- Realistic Expectations: Understand that both the separated parent and the family at home may have shifted and developed during this time apart. Try to be patient with the process of reconnecting.
- Transition Period: Allow for a transition period after the reunion, as both the returning parent and the family may need time to readjust to each other’s presence.
- Communicate Expectations: Discuss roles, routines, and expectations openly after the reunion to ensure a smooth reintegration.
Seek Support and Resources
Seeking support and utilizing available resources is an effective way to navigate challenges and foster resilience. The military community offers a wealth of resources designed to assist families in coping with the unique demands they face.
- Embrace the Military Community’s Support:
- Tap into the vast network of fellow military families who understand the journey you’re on: The Modern Military Association of America is the nation’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to advancing fairness and equality for the LGBTQ+ military and veteran community.
- You can find more support programs for military families here.
- Utilize Counseling Services and Support Programs
- Counseling Services: Professional counselors specializing in military family dynamics can provide a safe space for open discussions and offer guidance in handling various challenges. A good resource for this is Military OneSource.
- Relationship Support Programs: The OurRelationship program offers a free, online program for active-duty/Guard/Reserve (through Military OneSource) and Veteran couples to explore and address the challenges in your relationships.
Remember, reaching out for support is not a sign of defeat, but a testament to your commitment to creating a healthy family. Regular check-ins with each other and utilizing external resources can be beneficial.
In military families, strong and supportive relationships are the backbone of resilience. By nurturing open communication, spending quality time together, and supporting each other’s roles, you can build a foundation of attachment and security that can withstand a wide range of hardships.