Filed under: Military families
Deployment and other military-related separations can be tough on families, but many families can (and do) learn how to adapt to them. The regular rounds of separations that come with military life require constant adaptation. Naturally, when a partner is away from the family for a certain period of time (such as during deployment or training), those at home have to shift their roles and responsibilities to cover for the person who’s away, especially with regard to childcare. When the service member returns home, then the family must shift roles again. These “accordion families” continuously contract and expand as members of the family are physically present or absent. Some families handle this smoothly, but others find it to be one additional hurdle to overcome again and again.
There are two important things you can do to help manage these repeat transitions:
- Work on everyone in the family communicating well.
- Try to stay as emotionally connected as you can while apart.
Of course, these tips are easier said than done. Think about how you usually handle separations: Do you emotionally distance yourself from your partner? Do you become more “needy”? How does your partner respond? Do you both do the same things, or do you have opposing emotional needs when apart? If you have children, how do your children respond?
If you have different emotional needs, this can create instant conflict and feelings of distance. One way around this is to talk about what you each need, figure out where there’s common ground, and make a game plan that can fulfill each person’s needs as much as possible while at home and when apart.
You can use the strategy on HPRC's card on communication skills to help better navigate these kinds of conversations. Plus, remember to not fall prey to these common thinking traps that create misunderstandings in relationships.
Want to see your children equipped to persevere in the face of challenges? To instill “grit” in your kids, the trick is challenging with care, not just pushing harder.
Here are some tips to help your children develop grit:
- Praise your children for working hard and using their talents, not for already having talent. Calling them “gifted” or “talented” doesn’t help if these labels become an excuse not to work hard.
- Reward commitment by giving your children more chances to develop their interests. For example, if your child is always painting, try to encourage it by sending him or her to art camp.
- Big goals usually require a lot of sustained effort for a child—more like a marathon than a sprint. Encourage persistence with words such as “Hang in there!” or “You can do it!” But remember that children have a much shorter attention span than adults.
- Teach your children that failures and setbacks are an essential part of learning. Remind them that excellence comes from both triumphs and mistakes.
- Give your children some space to become independent, so they can be self-reliant and self-motivated and learn from their own choices.
Grit doesn’t develop overnight. It takes time. But remember that children are children and need lots of free time and play time to develop optimally. For more insight into specific parenting styles, check out HPRC’s article about how to be a warm leader, not a drill sergeant.
Tired of having family members “push your buttons” or inadvertently pushing theirs? You’ll be glad to learn it’s something you can fix. How you relate to people as an adult is shaped by the relationships you had early in life. It’s easy to get drawn into old patterns with family members. But there are some things you can do to stop taking the bait and stop putting bait out there for your loved ones to take.
For example, an old rivalry can re-emerge between siblings, even if you don’t do this with any one else in your adult life. Or it can feel like you’ve gone back in time, and you’re an adolescent again rebelling against your parent. Keep these old patterns in mind, because they can creep into your present.
Here are some tips to avoid reliving familiar conflicts or other unpleasant interactions:
- Don’t put out bait: You can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control yours. Be aware of what you feel drawn to do, and stop yourself if you know your next move might cause friction (such as calling someone a name, or more subtle moves).
- Don’t take bait: Others will (consciously or unconsciously) do things that trigger your emotions (such as a snarky comment or an overly long story). Slow down and take a breath rather than responding out of impulse.
- Assume good intentions: When you feel baited, assume that the other person isn’t intentionally triggering you and that he/she means well. Even if this is untrue, your different style of interacting with him or her can help break the pattern. And it could even start a new, more positive dynamic!
Instead of being a “perfect” parent, strive to be “good enough.” As a parent, you want the best for your children. At a minimum, you know you shouldn’t neglect or abuse your children. Ideally you’re a caring parent who sets good boundaries for their safe development. But some parents overdo their involvement.
The problem with working too hard to meet your child’s every need is that your child doesn’t learn to become independent. When children experience some frustration along the way or have to figure out things on their own, they become more equipped to tolerate frustration and face adversity. And they learn how to solve problems for themselves. That said, don’t leave them hanging, but gently guide them to figure out solutions for themselves.
Read HPRC’s “Need to update your parenting style?” to learn more ways to be “good enough.”
The U.S. military celebrates the Friday before Mother’s Day every year as Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Initiated in 1984, this national event acknowledges and honors the commitment, courage, and sacrifice of the wives and husbands of our nation’s service members.
Military spouses are the backbones of their families and are key to the success of our warriors, both on and off the “job.” President Obama reflected this in a speech when he said, “At the heart of our Armed Forces, service members’ spouses keep our military families on track.”
So not just today, but every day, we offer our thanks and appreciation for all that you do—for keeping yourself, your children, and your spouse strong!
Visit the newest section of HPRC’s website—“Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships.” It includes strategies for communicating and managing conflict, building and maintaining strong relationships, and fostering parent-child relationships.
Here are some kinds of questions you can find answers to:
- Is there such a thing as a healthy argument?
- How can I be a better listener?
- Why do I get so angry that I can’t think clearly?
- Can I win more arguments than I lose and still have a good relationship?
- How can I change my attitude and focus less on the negative?
- How can I help my children get through challenging situations?
You can use these strategies in all your relationships—friends, coworkers, bosses, leaders, etc.—not just your intimate and family relationships.
You can find more questions and answers in “Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships.”
High-intensity exercise is no longer a new fitness fad, and your children can benefit from this type of exercise too. It’s established as the most efficient way to improve overall fitness. And with this month’s focus on military children’s health, now is the time to teach yours good habits for the future.
This doesn’t mean that you need to take your children to a trainer for high-intensity interval training. What it does mean is that they should be getting the type of exercise or play that makes them breathe hard and gets their heart thumping. Both traditional and high-intensity exercise improve fitness in children and teens. This can be useful if you find your children getting bored doing the same kind of exercise or play all the time.
Remember when encouraging your child or teen to be active to let them find the kinds of activities and play that are most enjoyable for them. If your child is a competitive athlete and/or being trained by a professional, keep an eye out for symptoms of overuse, overtraining, and other injuries. Developing kids can experience the same kinds of injuries as adults. Help your child stay fit and healthy, and keep your family ready and resilient.
Most military children will at some point experience stress related to being part of a military family. Fortunately, there are numerous online resources to help military kids and their parents learn important coping skills, especially for when a parent returns from a deployment. A parent can load apps such as the following on their phone and then hand it to their child:
- Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (for Apple and Android) teaches children coping skills through breathing and more,
- The Big Moving Adventure (for Apple and Android) teaches children about moving (how to pack up their toys, say goodbye to friends, etc.).
- Focus on the Go (for Apple and Android) teaches children how to manage their feelings in helpful ways.
Military Kids Connect (MKC) is a Department of Defense program aimed at improving quality of life for military children of various ages. The site helps parents, caregivers, children, and the child’s peer community to talk about issues and learn coping skills through a variety of apps (Apple, Android, and Kindle) and online tools.
HPRC’s Family Resilience “Tools, Apps, & Videos” section includes links to more programs (such as FOCUS World and Sesame Street) and apps. But don’t forget: As with any online activities, monitor your children and be vigilant against cyber threats.
If you’re in the military, you know you may have to move at almost any time, so you try to avoid accumulating things you don’t want to move with you. But whether you’re moving or not, spring is a great time to get rid of the clutter in your home.
There are many resources to help you get organized. But the hard part can be letting go of “stuff” you may be attached to emotionally. The memories pull at you, so the closets stay packed. So why get rid of things? It can save your sanity and lighten your load.
Consider a “mindful” approach to your spring cleaning. The self-compassion and non-judgment of many meditation practices can help you deal head-on with the emotional connections you may have to your stuff. This approach raises your awareness of attachment to belongings. You can see the memories, connections, love, and bonds that the items represent. And then you get to practice self-observation in the moment of letting things go.
How do you do it? Try this meditation: As you sort through items that literally weigh you down and debate whether to keep something, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this object really adding value to my life?
- Do I need this thing to remind me of a pet, friend, or special time?
- Can I accept that the object is not a substitute for a person or memory?
- Can I take a photo of it and then let it go?
- Can I imagine myself free from this object?
- Would letting it go mean I no longer care?
Only you can answer these questions for yourself. The balance between holding on and letting go is very personal. Use gentleness and compassion with yourself as you move through this exercise and practice being mindful.
All families need to spend some time together to help build strong family bonds. There is no right way or ideal amount of time. Some families like to spend all their free time together, while others may spend a bit of time together throughout the week or dedicate some family time on a consistent basis. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in other things so we spend all our time on work, bills, cleaning house, scheduled activities, or other responsibilities, and family time goes by the wayside.
Think about your own family. Do you have enough time together? What kind of time is it? Is everyone on a phone, computer, tablet, or television? Try unplugging and going outdoors, playing a board game, or getting together and giving everybody five minutes to talk about what they like about each other. You could let your children (if they’re old enough) pick what they want to do on their family day out, and then everyone else needs to come along and make the most of it. If part of your family is deployed, you should still schedule family bonding time. Some of your family time can be spent making things to send to your deployed family member or documenting your fun time with photos or videos.
Stressed just thinking about how to add in some good family time? Just make the most of what you have by focusing on each other without extra distractions!