If I could go back and do it again for my two eldest, what would I have done differently and how am I doing things differently for the younger two? There are several things…
Being an Army parent (and I suspect any other Service parent) means answering to a difficult master. Generally, so much is demanded of the parent in Service that the other parent (or another relative) becomes the “primary” caregiver. My own father was a single Service parent of three after my mother passed away from cancer. Experiencing my father’s struggle through the uncharted waters of parenting as a Service member, I thought I had a slightly upper hand when we decided to have children. I researched the regulations and the services provided to parents. I even worked with others who had failed in these responsibilities, but I still wasn’t fully prepared. Based on learning from my own personal issues raising my first two children, here are some things I’m doing differently with my younger two:
- I spend more INTERACTIVE time with them: Kids want your time - not your money, not your gifts, not your constant scolding or correcting. It doesn’t need to be a $1000 trip to a theme park. It can be a $0 walk around the block or 20 minutes on the playground when you pick them up before homework and next day prep takes over. I try to make special time for each child independently, and encourage my husband to do the same.
- I listen to them: I make a point to engage in honest face-to-face listening after bringing them home from daycare. This gives me the chance to really listen to each child and how things went that day while I’m not distracted driving or doing other things. With the older two I am learning to communicate better by text, but trying to make them verbally speak to me or Skype me regularly.
- I put them first now: Sometimes it is just not possible to be at every event. For example, I missed my first daughter’s prom, but I arranged someone to do her hair and makeup and a good friend to be there for her. Sometimes in units stuff happens. The unplanned inspection comes down, or the commander gets ticked and does mass punishment. Use your leave. Don’t save it for a rainy day that may never come. Take the long view—the military is at most a 20 to 30-year commitment, but your children are a lifetime commitment. Make sure you have a good relationship with them BEFORE they leave your house.
- I teach them what appropriate affection looks and feels like: Tell them you love them every day and hug them every chance you get. Even when “correcting” or “disciplining” make sure it is coming from love and not from anger, and be consistent. After a time-out, I have my child explain what it was that went wrong and then I tell them I love them, hug them, and forgive them. This was not easy at first! The very first timeout session was almost two hours long (watch Nanny 911 for the technique). Now I barely have to put either of the two little ones in timeout!
Remember, your children will pattern relationships based on the type of affection they get from you! What personal changes have you made to be involved in your children’s lives? What were the more difficult adjustments?
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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.