When you’re in the thick of military life, you tend to get tunnel vision. Whether you’re coping with a deployment, figuring out a PCS or dealing with yet another TDY, military spouses have gotten very good at putting their head down and barreling on through. On the plus side, this helps the military family continue on with life during difficult moments. On the negative side, it can often make it harder to see the needs of people outside the immediate military family.
Moms and dads also miss and worry about service members! They need to be included in thoughts and plans for coping with the many aspects of military life, including deployment. After all, they are a part of the military family too!
I recently had a chat with my mother-in-law to learn a little more about military life from the parent perspective. She had some really interesting insight to share with me!
Where do you find support as a military parent?
With friends who are also military parents. Also, church ministry which focuses on all our military family who are deployed.
What kinds of support do you wish existed for parents of service members?
Not to be selfish, but I wish parents had more opportunities to see their service members. They are usually very far away and so family time is very limited.
During deployment, how do you cope with feelings of stress/worry?
I never watch the news. I pray a lot for his safety and there is a safe place for him to come home too once he returns.
How do you stay connected to your child during deployment?
I try and communicate through Skype and other means. I love sending care packages, especially the one he gets just before coming home, which is filled with things full of peanuts. I try to keep in touch with his family members as well and let them know we are here, even if they have support from others.
What do you wish military spouses knew about being the parent of a service member?
We miss them just as much as they do, maybe sometimes more, because we never know when we will see them again. Holidays, special events, birthdays are never a given.
Anything else you’d like to share about being a military parent?
The best day and the worst day was the day the van took my son away. He returned a man, never to be mine again.
My biggest takeaway was that many of her answers would be so similar to mine as a military spouse, which is just proof that all members of a military family experience this lifestyle.
Ways to involve parents during deployment
All of this advice may not work for you (the military spouse), the service member or their parents, but hopefully these ideas give you somewhere to start with better including the entire military family!
Include them on the hard conversations that come before deployment, if they haven’t been part of one already.
If this is your loved one’s first deployment, the entire military family, including his or her parents, may have a lot of questions and fear of the unknown. If they don’t have previous military experience, they may be very unfamiliar with the procedures in place for notifying families in the event that something unfortunate happens.
Make sure they are also aware of any plans your service member has put in place should something happen to him or her.
Laying out those details are uncomfortable for everyone involved, but may be really helpful for easing some of the anxiety related to the unknown.
Set boundaries early and stand by them.
Relationships with family can be complicated and sometimes helpful inquiries can quickly feel like intrusions. Setting firm boundaries and a communication plan prior to your loved one’s deployment can help significantly. You could set boundaries around how frequently you’ll update extended family members, how you’ll communicate with them, what types of information you’ll share with your service member and who will be present at homecoming or invited to visit shortly thereafter.
Encourage your service member to Skype or call other members of their family, especially on important days.
While it can be especially hard for your loved one to be gone for birthdays, holidays and other special occasions, you are not the only one missing those moments with someone they love. Paying special attention to the calendar and encouraging your service member to call/email other family members when possible can be a huge step to making parents feel included.
Important dates to be on the lookout for: birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day and key holidays, like Christmas or Easter.
Keep them updated!
This could be anything from a quick text after a phone call to let them know your loved one is ok or regularly forwarding them communication from your loved one’s unit or sharing your loved one’s unit’s social media pages for them to follow. Just make sure they understand the importance of OPSEC prior to sharing updates with them. Find the balance that fits your situation best and it’s ok if it takes a little trial and error to get there!
Ask them what they may need.
Just like every military spouse approaches deployment differently, so does every member of the military family! The only way to really know what someone needs is to ask them. You may be surprised by how much you learn.
Your service member’s parents are key members of the military family and need to be including in military life, including deployment.
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