Filed under: Military life
Caring for elderly parents, even in the best of situations, can be difficult for anyone. But it can be even more of a challenge for military service members. Trying to make long-term care and emergency decisions for elderly parents while simultaneously carrying a great deal of responsibility at work can cause a lot of worry. Military service members are also often deployed overseas, far away from their aging parents, which makes it more difficult to monitor their parents’ well-being. As parents age, they may need assistance with daily activities such as home maintenance, personal hygiene, and meals. And if a medical emergency occurs without a contingency plan in place, it adds to the burden of guilt and anxiety over what could happen in the service member’s absence.
A service member’s worry increases as the age of his parents increases, according to a study of senior-ranking male officers aged 40-49, especially if the parents have had any prior illnesses. The uneasiness of a service member decreased if he had other siblings and a solid parent-care plan in place.
Here are some preemptive steps that a service member can take to make sure his or her parents are well cared for, even from a different continent:
- Research what community and government resources are available for information and support services in your parents’ neighborhood.
- Ask siblings, extended family members, neighbors, and friends to help with your parent-care responsibilities.
- Schedule regular phone calls or Skype chats for updates on your parents’ health.
- Develop a care plan together with your parents before a medical emergency occurs.
With so many people counting on you, it is important to be organized, mentally solid, and in control of every situation no matter what happens. Strategic planning and communication can make all the difference in caring for your elderly parents from afar and help you maintain performance while dealing with additional stress loads. For more information on caregiver support and eldercare, please visit the National Resource Directory and the Armed Forces Crossroads.
When my own husband returned from deployment, I was thrilled but anxious as I stood on the airstrip waiting for his helicopter to arrive. I thought about all of the birthdays, holidays, and special events he had missed during his time away. I wondered what it would be like to share a home with him again after I had become so independent.
This is an experience felt at some point by most military families, and it has a name: “boundary ambiguity.” Boundary ambiguity can affect military families in two ways: ambiguous absence (during deployment) and ambiguous presence (post-deployment).
When one member of the family is deployed, the rest of the family knows that their service member is absent physically but senses psychologically that he or she is present. The family continues to focus on its service member by seeking information about his or her location and well-being. When deployment information turns out to be uncertain, feelings of hopelessness, confusion, and at times resentment may increase among family members.
As with most families, flexibility is important for military family success and happiness. When the service member leaves for deployment, the usual roles and responsibilities he or she once filled now have to be filled by the other family members. This can cause additional uncertainty because, although they still consider their loved one is a viable family member, the other spouse must take over decision-making responsibilities that affect the family unit. The spouse at home can also feel a loss of emotional support, which heightens the stress load he or she is carrying.
Additionally, once the service member has returned from deployment, the rest of the family knows that he or she is physically present yet still perceives psychologically that he or she is absent.
The reunion, although joyful, may bring about the added and unanticipated stresses of trying to get back to the family’s pre-deployment lives or adjust to new roles. Role confusion may increase if the family is not comfortable communicating with each other regarding each person's roles, responsibilities, and needs. And at the same time, the returned service member may feel disconnected and may not know how to re-engage without interfering with the family’s new roles.
Researchers of military reserve families in wartime interviewed 16 reservists and 18 family members (spouse, significant other, or parent) upon the reservists’ return from deployment, and they found that all family members experienced boundary ambiguity. Family members sought to cope with these feelings during deployment by:
- Continuing to seek additional information from the media, even though too much information sometimes caused additional stress; and
- Attending a military-sponsored Family Support Group (FSG) for family members of reservists, which provided emotional support.
When reunited after deployment, family members and reservists adjusted over time. Once the reservist went back to civilian employment, the family’s routines became “normalized” and roles were established. In addition, open communication about issues such as reestablishing previous tasks or assigning new ones helped to stabilize the family unit.
Once home, my husband wanted to resume certain family roles immediately, while I was hesitant to give up my new capabilities so quickly. Fortunately, after reestablishing open discussions over the next several weeks, we began to speak honestly about our preferences. Once we opened up clear lines of communication and listened to each other, our stress levels diminished. We made some compromises and were able to establish an even better household environment than we had pre-deployment.
So be flexible, take advantage of available counseling and support resources, and be patient with your spouse when reestablishing your family roles. After all, there aren’t many things more important than the happiness of your family.
Soldier 360° is a resilience program being implemented by the Army for Warfighters who have combat experience and their families. In fact, Warfighters take the second half of the two-week class with their spouses, while childcare is provided for those who need it. It’s aimed at non-commissioned officers who are nominated by their commanders. The course provides Warfighters with information and strategies on stress management, anger management, relaxation, health, communication, conflict resolution, nutrition, sleep, combat stress, and management of non-optimal behaviors. It also teaches physical fitness, yoga, meditation, conditioning, injury prevention, and pain management. The program combines financial counseling with Military and Family Life Consultant Program counselors, acupuncturists, physicians, and a myriad of others. Read another article from Army.mil for more information.
The military celebrates the Friday before Mother’s Day every year as Military Spouse Appreciation Day. In 1984, former president Ronald Reagan initiated this event to acknowledge and honor the commitment, courage, and sacrifice of the wives and husbands of our nation’s service members. Military spouses are the backbone of their families and are key to the success of the Warfighter’s military performance. President Barack Obama reflected in his 2010 Military Spouse Appreciation Day speech, “At the heart of our Armed Forces, service members’ spouses keep our military families on track.”
The Military Family Resource Center reports these statistics about military spouses and/or families:
- Almost 60% the active-duty force has family responsibilities of a spouse and/or children.
- 93% of the spouses of active-duty members are female.
- 54% of the spouses are 30 years of age or younger; 72% are under age 36.
- 56% of active-duty spouses are employed. 14% of active-duty spouses are Armed Forces members themselves.
- 43% of active-duty members have children; the average number of children for active-duty members who have children is two.
- Among active-duty members who have dependents, the average number of dependents is almost 2.5.
- More than 50% of the children of active-duty members are seven years of age or younger.
(Source: 2008 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community, published by the Military Family Resource Center.)
For more information about President Obama’s speech, see:
In a study of military youth, risk-taking behavior was compared to national and state averages. The researchers found that risk-taking behaviors among military youth—specifically, sexual activity and substance abuse—were much lower than national and state averages. However, there were still reports of risk-taking behaviors among military youth, so the authors caution not to misinterpret this information—even military children still need guidance. For more information on risk-taking behaviors, visit the HPRC's Mind Tactics "Performance Degraders" section.
All successful athletes have routines: bouncing the ball three times and pausing before shooting a free throw, having a warm-up routine before every game, or chanting together in a group to get pumped before a game starts. As elite athletes, Warfighters also engage in routine activities to get into a mindset for success: cleaning their weapon the exact same way every time, having a pre-combat check prior to engagement, or putting their gear on in a certain order every day. Likewise, all successful families have routines. Spending time doing fun family activities, chores, or other quality time (like mealtime) together creates stability within the family and opportunities to connect. In fact, these findings have prompted researchers to assert, “Families who play together stay together.” Research has shown that couples who spend their leisure time together are less likely to divorce or separate. For military families, being apart (for deployment or training) can make it more difficult to maintain family routines, but it makes it even more important. Research has found that it is important for children to maintain a consistent routine while a parent is deployed. Some families mark a calendar, have special bedtime routines, or write in a diary while their family member is deployed. It’s equally important that deployed spouses and/or parents develop routines that keep them connected to their families at home. All of these strategies build family strength and closeness, both on the home front and during the heightened stress of separation.
For more strategies to help build family resilience, see the Family & Relationships section of HPRC's website.
Recently, the White House announced new initiatives to support military families in four key areas: overall well-being, education and development of military children, career advancement opportunities for military spouses, and improved availability of quality childcare. Multiple agencies have partnered to support these efforts with the following goals:
- Focus on suicide trends to offer targeted preventive training and counseling to meet the mental health needs of military families;
- Offer child care resources;
- Combat homelessness;
- Expand communication across rural communities;
- Expand career opportunities for military spouses;
- Expand access to financial aid and needs of military students; and
- Expand facilities to help military families recover, integrate, and support their youth during and after deployment cycles.
Having children help out with dinner and keeping the same routine when a parent is deployed; marking a calendar with an X for every day their parent is away, and having a great support system are just a few of the strategies that the Sesame Street Workshop's program on "Preparing for Deployment" offers.
They also have age-appropriate workshops for younger children on "When Families Grieve," "Coping with Changes," and "Homecomings Family Routines."
Jumping rope is a good way to maintain fitness, particularly in confined environments such as on board a ship. If the pace is fast, the energy expenditure is similar to running. The Navy Seals Fitness Guide suggests the following ways to add variety into your jump rope routine:
- Boxer’s Dance: Shift weight from right to left with both feet together.
- Run: Jump to the right while lifting the right knee, then switch to left side.
- Jumping Jack: Jump 2 times with feet together then on the third time, do a jumping jack.
- Knee-toe: Tap right toe on the floor, jump to your left foot while lifting left knee up high, then switch.
When reuniting with your family, the “Soldier and Family Guide to Redeploying” offers tips for maintaining successful family relationships. A few of their suggestions:
- Take time to re-establish communication with each of your loved ones.
- Use romantic communication to help transition into love relations easier.
- Reinforce the good things your family has done.
- Move slowly in making adjustments.
- Discuss division of the family chores.
- Spend time alone with your spouse.
- Focus on successes and limit criticisms.
- Expect some changes in your child(ren).
- Spend relaxed time with your child.