Parenting in the military is not without some unique challenges.
Navigating new schools, learning new areas, and adjusting to new cultures can be a lot for adults, but it’s even more challenging for kids.
Throw in some deployments and constant PCS moves, and it can make for a confusing time for children who are trying to figure out their own worlds.
Your kids may not understand why the military moves your family often, but if you can give them some sense of stability and security, it can help them adjust easier.
Looking for some ideas on how to navigate it all?
Read on to learn how to confidently parent in the military and discover military family benefits you can use at any time.
1. Communicate Parenting Styles
Parents living the military lifestyle have to play on the same team. If you’re on two different pages when it comes to parenting your kids, it can make for difficult daily routines and even harder post-deployment reintegration periods. Teamwork shows you’re a united front to your child, who will likely respect your decision-making more.
How to Do It
Being on the same team can make parenting much easier in the short-term and long run. The sooner you and your partner can get on the same page, the more seamless parenting and child interactions will be.
Here’s a look at how to do it:
- Have regular conversations — Make time to have adult conversations without the kids around to discuss behavioral problems, child milestones, etc.
- Communicate respectfully — Kids imitate what they see. Showcase respectful conversations and interactions with one another.
- Discuss the big things — Talk about wants/needs/goals when it comes to the entire family unit and personal goals. Regular discussions will keep surprises from popping up last minute.
- Take a parenting class — It never hurts to learn from pros like child psychologists or teachers. Consider taking a class together to learn how to navigate raising kids.
2. Treat Everyday as Special
You never know when military deployment orders or temporary assignments are coming down the line. When it does, it can feel like you’ve been submerged in cold water and it takes a bit for the shock to wear off. Because family separations can happen quickly in military life, treat every single day as a special opportunity your family gets to spend together.
How to Do It
Enjoy the little moments when you can together as a military family. Even simple tasks like making dinner or cleaning can become fun when you put some thought into it.
Some ways to spend precious time together:
- Make a game out of doing household chores — Turn on music and see how much cleaning you can get done before a playlist is over.
- Cook dinner as a family — On nights the service member can’t be home, make special treats to bring them or send to work the next day.
- Read bedtime stories together — Pile on the bed and read several books. If a deployment is coming up, consider some of the books off our kid-friendly reading list.
- Make big plans — Plan a family vacation together for before and after a deployment.
3. Talk About Feelings
If you give your kids a chance, they’ll tell you what’s going on in their heads. While they may not always have the perfect vocabulary to express what they’re feeling, letting them open up naturally can generate good conversation about emotions. As a military parent, it’s important to stay in tune with kids, especially during big life changes like moves.
How to Do It
Strengthen your connection with your child by getting into their world. When a child is in their own element — playing in a treehouse or having a tea party, for example — it’s much easier to have a conversation with them that flows freely. Get on their level and join them in their world.
A few ways to connect with them:
- Invite conversations over meals — Cook their favorite meal and ask about their day. You might be surprised what comes out.
- Be available — Sometimes your kids won’t want to talk over dinner. Take note of when they are most likely to open up.
- Encourage your kids to ask questions — If you have a big move coming, ask them about their concerns or questions they may have. It can alleviate their anxiety.
- Talk about your own feelings — Lead the way by being open about your feelings, too.
- Be prepared for difficult questions — Kids are curious. Try to prep in advance!
- Sharing is okay — Let them know they can share their feelings with you anytime.
4. Build Your Military Tribe
They say it takes a village to raise a child. In the military, it takes the whole community coming together to support one another, especially during deployments. Finding support in other military families who understand your journey is key to thriving as military parents.
How to Do It
As soon as you move into your community, get out there and start making friends! You’ll feel more supported knowing you have fellow parent friends who can relate to military parenting.
A few ways to do it:
- Host a BBQ — Whether you live on base or not, host a BBQ. You can do this at your home or at a local park.
- Have a game night — Bring together other military parents from your command and have a few couples and their kids over for a game night.
- Attend on-base events — There’s always an event to attend on base. Check out the event calendars and introduce yourself to people there.
- Join a spouses’ club or play date group — When you get to your new command, see if there are any groups you can join to socialize for yourself and your kids.
5. Give Kids Creative Freedom
Kids have very little control when it comes to their lives, but especially military life. As a military parent, give your littles some sense of control back by letting them get creative with their hobbies and extracurriculars.
How to Do It
Ask them what they’d like to do to make their new place feel more like home. They may want to have a dance party every night. Or maybe they want to makeover their entire room. If it’s within reason, consider granting their requests.
Or, try a few of these:
- Let them try new things — If you’re in a new country or even a new state, let them embrace the culture. Sign them up for language lessons or cooking classes if they want.
- Allow them to dress themselves — Even if your toddler doesn’t like wearing matching socks, let go of the need to control what they wear. They’ll love feeling independent and having a choice in their clothing options.
- Have them play interior decorator — Ask your child how they’d like to decorate their room. While hot pink walls might not be your favorite, it allows them to create a space that they feel safe in and excited to retreat to each day.
6. Try to Build Routines
Routines can make your day flow better, especially when you have kids who are going a million miles a minute. Between PCS moves, school, sports, and other extracurriculars, it’s impressive what a routine can do for the jam-packed schedules of military families.
How to Do It
Once settled into your new location, try to get into a new routine as quickly as possible. Routines mean security and comfort, and it can help kids get back to feeling like themselves again sooner.
A few options to keep a routine going:
- Build-in extra time — Kids sometimes dilly dally. Add some extra time to your schedule to account for meltdowns, lost items, and traffic jams that could put you behind.
- Be flexible — Not ever day will run perfectly. Add some wiggle room to reduce your stress when it comes to routines, which often change in the military.
- Keep similar deployment schedules — With a service member gone, it can be easy to let schedules go haywire, especially if they were the enforcer of schedules. Try to maintain a sense of steadiness once they are gone by keeping your routines.
7. Keep a Positive Attitude
It’s easy to get wrapped up in military community gossip. While the military may be large, you’ll find out quickly how small the communities really are, especially if you live on base. Staying optimistic and avoiding dramatic people will reduce your own anxiety and that of your children by keeping positive company around.
How to Do It
If you want to keep a positive attitude, you have to surround yourself with joy and others who are positive. Looking at the glass half full — instead of half empty — is a lot less emotionally draining.
Look on the bright side with these ideas:
- Hang around positive people – It can make your daily life happier and healthier. Their attitudes and beliefs will rub off on you, and no doubt will leave an impression on your kids, too.
- Read inspiring books — Some of the most inspiring people have experienced hardships most of us never wish to go through, yet they thrive and are positive. Read their stories for daily encouragement!
- Start a gratitude list — Science shows when you’re grateful for what you have, it leaves a lasting impact on your daily perception. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day.
8. Give Yourself Grace
Parenting isn’t easy. As a military parent, you’ll find yourself up against some big challenges — like multiple moves through the school year at times. You may find yourself losing your temper, getting frustrated, and just feeling burned out. When that happens, try to extend yourself some grace. You’re human after all.
How to Do It
Sometimes military parents think they can do it all, especially if you’re solo parenting while your service member is away. Asking for help is perfectly ok.
Here’s how to give yourself a break:
- Get a babysitter — Ask a friend to help with the kids, and take time away to rejuvenate yourself. It’ll put you back on top of your parenting game.
- Let go of mistakes — No one is perfect. You might yell at the kids or the house might be a mess. It’s okay.
- Accept compliments — When someone tells you that you’re doing a great job with your kids, accept the compliment with grace. You’re doing your best!
Take Advantage of Military Family Benefits and Resources
As a military parent, you have access to resources that can help you better handle family issues unique to the military lifestyle. Here are a few that you may find helpful throughout your experience as a military family:
Take advantage of this free online course at any time. It offers six different modules covering everything from positive approaches to discipline to managing stress as a military parent.
This organization focuses on getting military children college, workforce, and life-ready. The coalition website offers resources for parents, including how to best support kids through big life changes like moves.
This fantastic resource offers insight for military parents on how to talk to kids about upcoming deployments, common reactions about deployments, anxiety in children, and extra resources for emotional support raising kids.
Your command also has a family support center to guide you through getting settled into your new area. Be sure to stop by when you arrive in your new town. Additionally, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) can help you get your children placed into DoD schools.
Parenting in the military can be hard, but it’s not impossible when you surround yourself with a good support system and take an active role in your parenting style.
And if at any time you feel lost navigating through it all, reach out to your base’s family support center for guidance. They’ll be happy to get you the help you need!
Getting ready for your first big military move? Check out our post First PCS Move? Here’s How to Prepare!