Expert Interview: Military Parenting

This week we are looking at the huge task of parenting while one of the parents is in the military. Raising multiples is hard enough without having to worry about your spouse who is on active duty or deployed. Today we are talking with three different experts Neil McNerney, Mary Corbett and Nannies4hire.com. Neil is a licensed professional family counselor and the Director of Training for The ScreamFree Institute (www.screamfree.com). He has done a number of parent trainings on military bases and has seen the difficulties that parents face when one is deployed. Mary specializes in families of National Guardsmen and has a book coming out in April 2011 entitled, National Guard 101: A Spouses Handbook. Finally, Nannies4hire.com has tips for how to stay one step ahead that really all of us can use.

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I’ve done a number of parent trainings on military bases and have seen the difficulties that parents face when one is deployed. Since there are so many stresses on families with multiples, the difficulties are increased. Add on to that the fact that any family help (grandmother, aunt, etc.) is probably in a different state or country, and the stresses are increased even more.

What to expect:

Expect that the first week or two might go pretty well, which might lull you into a feeling that this isn’t going to be so hard. “That wasn’t so tough. I’ll be able to handle this.” Maybe I’ll cancel that babysitter.” Then reality hits and energy fades, and it gets much, much harder. Being prepared for this is really helpful. Be ready for the fact that it might take a few weeks for the tough part to set in. That’s when you should think about who could help. Is grandma close enough to spend a few weeks with you? Is there someone else you know who would love to visit and you know is great with kids? Now is the time to cash in those chips.

Coping:

The biggest suggestion is to find some other parents who have been through this before and become best friends with them! They can be a great help in learning how to deal with things, being a shoulder to cry on, and just having someone who gets how hard this is. “I felt like I was alone, even though I was on a base of 10,000 people. If I had just reached out and realized how many people were there to help me.”

The Return:

The return home is a wonderful thing, and it’s often like a second honeymoon (but with twins and probably other kids as well..). But just like real honeymoons, this one can end quickly. The soldier will want to get back involved, and will often do that in a way that doesn’t sync with the system that you have been working on. “Things were easier when you were deployed!” is a feeling that many moms feel when their husband returns. It’s a normal feeling, but avoid saying it at all costs. It will take time for the family to readjust to the new way of doing things.

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Mary Corbett is a National Guard Spouse and author. Her first book, “The List: 7 Ways telll if He’s Going to Marry You in 30 Days or Less” was published in 2006. Her upcoming book “National Guard 101: A Spouses Handbook” is due out in April 2011. She has appeared on The Today Show, Fox News Channel, and local media outlets.

 

When people think of military deployments they often think of our men and women that our active duty living on bases, not our National Guardsmen. How often are they deployed?

The Guard makes up half of all Army forces. Every unit in the Guard has been activated to support the Global War on Terrorism—the first time since WWII that this has happened.

Are the deployments as long as other branches of the military?

Yes. When a Guard member is activiated for Title 10 duty (i.e., mobilized for a federal mission such as deployments in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan ), he or she is indistinguishable from the other military personnel in the eyes of the government. They are paid the same amount of money (based upon rank), receive the same combat and housing allowance pay, are eligible for the same medical/dental treatments (as are their dependents) and receive the same death benefits as all Army Soldiers. The length of deployment is based on the mission performed and is subject to extension. Guardsman deployed to Afghanistan/Iraq are typically away from their families for one year. They train on an active duty military base The Soldiers will train for their mission at one of the Army‘s active duty installations for weeks or months before being deployed oversees. Typically, “boots are on the ground” for a minimum of nine months.

Since our National Guardsmen aren’t typically living on a military base, what types of support systems are in place for their families?

We have “official” resources to provide support and information such as Family Assistance Centers (FACs), and Family Readiness Groups (FRGs), but the truth is that most of our support comes from our family, friends, neighbors, and communities. But most Guard spouses don’t like to ask for help. They will take it if offered, of course, but they don’t want to ask. As a result, they may overtax their most ardent “helpers” or put them on the spot when there is an emergency.

The key is to build a network in advance of the deployment and take whatever help is available — on the helper’s terms. Deployments last a year, typically. The ideal support system provides small bits of assistance throughout the duration of a deployment versus doing huge things and getting burned out early.

Providing occassional meals, helping out with childcare, and assistance with yardwork and other chores that the deployed Soldier was responsible are great ways to help a Guard family. My book outlines the details of creating a Personal Assistance League (PAL) to provide support during deployment. The plan even has instructions on how to appoint a person do do the asking (and coordinating) for you!.

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Parents with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) have their hands full. Below are some steps many parents of multiples take to keep ahead of things.

* Fathers may become more involved in child rearing (relative to fathers of single births).

* When accepting volunteer help from friends or family members, consider if the volunteers are healthy and physically able to help. Also consider if they are exposed to contagions through their friends, family, or work environment. Never allow smoking around your children. Once the best candidates are chosen, delegate routine tasks to them: cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, basic childcare, etc.

* Consider hiring a full-time nanny. You can hire based on the recommendation of a friend or family member, you can use a nanny agency, or you can tap into a web-based nanny resource such as Nannies4hire.com.

* Go back to basics. When you first bring your new babies home from the hospital, and for quite a while thereafter, you will have your hands full juggling the necessary day-to-day tasks. Do not try to take on additional tasks. This is not the time to paint the living room, finish crocheting an afghan, or re-seed your lawn. It will take all your energy to master the basics at hand.

* Get plenty of rest. This is especially important when your multiples are babies and are requiring round-the-clock care. It may be easy to let sleep deprivation and normal post-partum emotions get the best of you. You may wish to designate time frames in which your husband or volunteers are the first-responders for middle-of-the-night cries.

* Take occasional breaks. Your life has become a flurry of responsibilities. You may miss the comparative peace of the life you had before . . . so, periodically, take time away from the children to go on a date with your spouse, spend an afternoon at the art gallery, or do something else that you enjoy without the children.

* Create an infant chart. You can use the chart to track which infant consumed how much and when, which infant threw up and when, who had diapers changed when, etc. This information will prove invaluable not only for ongoing care and feeding of the babies but also for your periodic appointments with their pediatrician.

* Breastfeeding is good for the health of your babies, fosters a stronger mother-child connection, and is cost-effective as well (formula is so expensive!). Premature babies may have some difficulty with breast feeding at first, but perseverance pays off. You should do your best to get each baby to nurse successfully before each is discharged from the hospital: you will have the greatest resources within your access while you are still at the hospital, so it’s best to tap those resources while you can. Double nursing (nursing two babies simultaneously) is a great time saver: it may take some time to master this skill, but again, perseverance pays off. You may supplement direct breast feeding by using breast pumps. Pumping every 3 hours is ideal to build up your supply. By having a reserve supply of breast milk available, your husband and your volunteers can help feed the babies. (Make sure that each baby is directly breast-fed – not just pumped breast milk – at least every day or two.)

* When your multiples are old enough to eat “grown-up food”, it is best to plan family meals by the week. By planning what meals you will have each day for the next week, you can plan what groceries you will need for the entire week (thus preventing multiple trips to the grocery store each week), you will save time trying to decide what to prepare each day, and meal time on a daily basis will generally go much more quickly and smoothly.

* Be especially careful when baby-proofing your home. You may not be able to supervise three crawling babies as closely as you would be able to supervise one single-birth crawling baby . . . so it is especially important that every potential household hazard be identified and removed or mitigated as best as possible.

* Purchase or have donated to you a vehicle that accommodates the number of car seats that you need. If possible, leave the car seats in the vehicle at all times. Putting the car seats in, taking them out, and putting them back in again can be very time consuming. Also, it is ideal if your vehicle has a rear DVD player accessible . . . this will keep your toddlers multiples from going stir crazy on longer car rides.

* Purchase or have donated to you a few spare car seats that can be used when your children are transported in other people’s vehicles. This prevents you from having to shuffle car seats between vehicles unnecessarily.

* Purchase or have donated to you a stroller that is intended for the number of multiples you have (if possible). Twin and triplet strollers are readily available.

* Use cloth diapers and a diaper service.

* Delegate household chores to children, when age appropriate. Typically, children can start with simple chores as early as two years of age. As each child’s age and maturity increases, their household responsibilities should increase in a commensurate manner. Keeping track of what chores are to be done, by what time, and by whom can be tracked on a chore calendar. Make sure to provide feedback to children regarding their performance of their chores: praise for a job well done, redirect/re-train for a job not done well, discipline for a job intentionally not done well or not done at all.

* Dedicate one day per week or month for each child. On that child’s day, he or she is king or queen of that day. He/she gets to choose games to play during the afternoon. He/she gets to choose what to have for dinner (within reason) that evening. He/she may even have a special “date” night with one or both parents. By giving each child their own day to reign, you are able to forge a unique relationship with each of your multiples.

* Be frugal: clip coupons, buy items on sale, purchase clothing at consignment shops or gratefully receive donated or hand-me-down clothing, and request multiple-purchase discounts whenever and wherever you buy.

* Have a birthday party that is shared by the multiples. Birthday parties can be expensive. Since your multiples obviously share the same birthday, a shared birthday party is a time and cost saver. You can recognize the unique nature of each of your children at the party, however: if Johnny likes one particular cartoon while Janie likes a particular dolly, two separate themes at the one birthday party is appropriate.

* Do your best to keep control of media involvement/intrusion. Some media coverage is unavoidable, and you may (at least initially) be flattered by the attention paid to your little ones. But media involvement easily becomes media intrusion. Be careful.

* Keep things in perspective. There will be good days and harried or downright bad days. But each day will pass and a new one will begin. Try to take each day in stride. These days with your little ones are precious. They may not always seem precious while they are happening, but they are precious indeed.

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What tips do all of our military families have?
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2 comments

  1. Wow! I really enjoyed this post. My husband is actually out to sea at the moment and won't be home until the 15th while I am home with 3 year old twins and an 11 month old. Being a military spouse is hard, then you add in the factor of multiples (and other children) and it's enough to make a person crazy.

    I also agree about being aurrounded by so many other woman and mothers, yet feeling SO alone. It's hard!!

  2. Wow – this is a post close to my heart! My husband will be leaving for Afghanistan next month, and our four-year-olds have started getting very upset every time he enters the guest room (where they know his military gear is stored). His last deployment started when our twins were 5 months old, and he returned home right before they turned two.

    I think I'll have to write a real response to this thoughtful post on my own blog!

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