More than half of today’s military service members are married, and nearly 2 million children live in military families, which is a significant increase from years past when roughly 70 percent were single. With the stress that military life can bring to families, including periodic absences for duty, frequent moves, childcare issues, etc., nearly half of military marriages end in divorce. This stress also can be elevated when troops transition to civilian life and pursue higher education. With this in mind, the following are a few tips to help build and maintain a strong military family.
Talk — and listen even more
Communicating about the challenges of transitioning back to civilian life is much different than communicating about a military mission. Similar to the military, the family unit is a team and should work together as one. That said, it’s important that spouses discuss their feelings — good and bad. At the same time, it’s critical that you listen twice as much as talk to understand and process what family members are sharing with you.
Make time for family meals
With busy schedules, it can be difficult for families to sit down together for a meal – especially if service members are on active duty. However, just 20 minutes of time together as a family to recap the day, discuss the ups and downs, and talk about what activities are forthcoming can have a world of positive effects. Help your children solve problems and show them that you love them.
Build a social network
Military and non-military alike, friends, family members and neighbors can provide encouragement, offer good parenting advice, and serve as a support system. Knowing that you’re not alone and making a connection with others can help improve self awareness, which allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in the moment.
The stresses of military life can take a toll on even the most resilient families. Managing life’s stressful moments, overcoming challenges and practicing self-care are all strategies that you can use to build resilience.
- Take time to care for your health and well-being. Exercise, try to eat healthy foods and take some time to relax. Everyone needs time to recharge. Schedule time for yourself at least once a week, ideally every day.
- Maintain a positive outlook. The responsibilities of military life, transitions, frequent separations, and stressful deployments can drain everyone. Look for the positive in day-to-day life. Connect with spiritual leaders to recharge your soul and considering volunteering to help others.
- Focus on parenting. Remember to save some time to focus on being a parent. Along with learning new skills, using the wisdom you have gained along the way, tapping into your natural strengths, and focusing on parenting will help you raise and nurture healthy and happy children.
Ask for help
Military families tend to be great at helping one another out in times of need, but the same families who always provide help may struggle to ask for assistance when they themselves are in need. One of the most important ways you can keep your family strong, healthy and happy is to make sure that you can cover your basic needs, from diapers to daycare. Knowing where to find help — and knowing people who can help you access support — can make this process easier.
Check out local and national organizations that provide help to military families
A few good places to start include:
- Operation Homefront provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors in 43 states.
- The Red Cross helps military members, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to the challenges of military service.
- Our Military Kids offers tangible support to the children of deployed and severely injured National Guard and Military Reserve personnel through grants for sports, fine arts, and tutoring that nurture and sustain the children during the time a parent is away in service to our country.
- Strong Bonds is a unit-based, chaplain-led program that assists commanders in building individual resiliency by strengthening the Army family.
- Family of a Vet provides real-world resources that help heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive in life after combat.
- Child Care Aware of America works with state and local child care resource and referral agencies and other community partners to ensure that all families have access to quality, affordable child care. They have a specific program for military families.
Many of these tips were provided by One Tough Job Manager.