Whether your partner was already in the military when you met or just finished basic training yesterday, raising kids with a parent in the armed forces is a daunting task. You can have the best partner in the world and still feel like you’re going it alone. There are bound to be plenty of challenges along the way, but that’s what you sign up for when you become a parent- military spouse or not. Here’s how to navigate the military parenting world and come out unscathed. (Well, mostly!)
Come to peace with semi-solo parenting
The tricky truth of being a military spouse is that most of the parenting will fall to you. You might have to celebrate birthdays and holidays alone. Make big decisions alone. Take care of a houseful of kids with the flu alone. In some cases, you might even have to give birth alone! While you have the financial support of a partner, you’ll also have to deal with the loneliness of a partner who you love and respect, but isn’t physically there.
Once you embrace that reality, come up with a system that works. While your partner is home, prepare for as many future milestones as possible. Are you going to work or stay home with the kids? Where will they go to preschool? What traditions can you create to ensure Mom or Dad is still a central part of the family unit? By planning ahead, you can avoid future conflict and show your kids that you parent together- even when you’re apart!
…and putting a career on hold
The biggest obstacle to having a career as a military spouse isn’t raising kids while holding down a job. It’s navigating long-distance moves while trying to settle into a new job. You might just get that big promotion you wanted, only to get uprooted again. If you work from home, that’s one thing. If your career requires making a long-term commitment to stay in one place, it might have to wait. See if you can find ways to gain experience in the meantime. Then, you’ll be ready to climb the ladder when time is right.
Help kids cope with frequent moves
Moving isn’t any easier for kids than it is for adults. To help them adjust, do your best to establish constants. Having weekly routines, including quality family time, nightly dinners, a consistent bedtime routine and special days out together can make all the difference.
Enjoy the perks
Being a solo parent has a few benefits. While you’ll still try to get your partner’s input on the important stuff, you don’t have to agree on every little thing. You’ll develop your own routine, get the kids to bed without someone igniting a 9 p.m. wrestling match, and won’t have to argue about whose turn it is to take the trash out. You’re doing a lot of the work yourself, but in some ways, it’s easier than trying to get someone else to pitch in!
During deployment, reach out for help
Fewer fights are great, but sometimes you’ll want nothing more than to have your partner home safe. Deployment is scary, and it will never stop being scary. When your partner is in potential danger, the added stress makes it harder to handle the rigors of life on the homefront. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Have a friend, family member, or close neighbor keep an eye on the kids while you take some time for yourself. Have a girls night in. Hire a sitter to handle after school pick-up, or a housekeeper to lighten your load. Being strong for your family doesn’t mean you don’t need to take care of yourself, too.
Find your village
If you’re far from family, have few friends, or just moved, finding a network of people who get it makes a huge difference. The best place to find that sense of camaraderie is with other military families. They’ve been through the same struggles, and many of them are more than happy to go the extra mile to make a new family feel at home. Military families are some of the warmest you’ll meet, so don’t be a stranger! When your partner finally comes home, he or she will get to be a part of a close-knit community, too.