Raising Military Children Part 1: Resiliency

Mapela Motshabi-Custodio, MS Military Spouse and Mother

Mapela Motshabi-Custodio, MS Military Spouse and Mother

In today’s world raising children is not an easy feat. There are a lot of external factors that affect parenting styles. Adding the adversities brought on by a military lifestyle complicates everything even more. Our military children are forced to deal with a lot of life challenges at a very young age and it is our job as parents to help them overcome these life stressors and teach them how to be resilient. How can we as parents help our children and teach them how to survive this lifestyle through resiliency?

1. Take Care of Yourself

I truly believe that you cannot help others until you can know how to help yourself. You cannot love others until you learn to love yourself and you cannot take care of others until you learn to take care of yourself. The military lifestyle can be stressful, it is full of change and challenges and not only do the children feel the pressure it brings, we as parents feel it too. As a parent, I have realized that when I am feeling stressed, my children also show signs of stress. They throw tantrums and are not cooperative. I found ways that work for me that help me reduce stress.

In my case, I have found exercising to be a great way for me to release stress, as a result, I exercise most days of the week to give myself a way to escape and rejuvenate. I always advise military parents to find outlets that work for them andto make time for these activities. I know that it can be hard at times because we are left to be single parents and most of the times we do not have help with our children, but I urge you to be creative and find a way to always make your escape.

I love exercise, it is my major outlet, and I know that I have to make sacrifices to partake in this activity. As a result, I am always up before the break of dawn to get in my exercise before my children wake up because I know if I do not get it out of the way before they are up, I will never have a chance.

As a military parent, self-care goes hand in hand with making sacrifices. Be kind to yourself, find your outlet, find creative ways to make it happen and blow out your steam.

2. Do not be Ashamed to Ask For Help

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. I am a naturally stubborn and do not like asking for help, but when my family had our first PCS, my daughter had a hard time adjusting to the new environment. We relocated overseas, a different language was spoken, she was only 2 years old and life, as we knew it changed overnight. I realized that no matter what I did, I did not have the knowledge to help her; I expressed my concern to a friend who suggested contacting the FOCUS Project program (Families Over Coming Under Stress). Through this program we received the help we needed, I learned lifelong tips to help me succeed as a parent and my daughter was able to find age appropriate ways to express her feelings. We came out of that session stronger and closer.

3. Be Consistent                                                                          

We are all creatures of habit, establishing routines help make the days go by faster and easier. Our children are very smart and if you take time to teach them routines, they will adhere to these routines and it helps bring normalcy into their lives. Having this normalcy helps them be in control of some aspect in their tiny lives. Be consistent, establish morning routines, bedtime routines, and day routines and make sure to keep these routines the same whether the other parent is present or not. Even if our lives have a lot of moving parts, routines help keep everyone stay on the same page and this knowledge is very empowering to the children.

4. Set Limits and Expectations

As military parents we sometimes feel guilty that our children have a rough life. They can go for long periods of time without seeing the active duty, military parent. They grow up living too far from their grandparents and extended family: the list is endless! No matter how hard this life is, we are still responsible to parent with love, care and kindness and never with guilt.

Teach your children the reality of consequences, and be consistent with them. My preferred method is time out, whereby they will be in timeout for one minute per year of age. Even if we all miss Daddy or Mommy, this is not the reason to disobey the rules. I teach them to deal with their feelings through communication and not acting out. If you do not know how to do this, seek help. Programs such as the FOCUS project can equip you with the tools you need to succeed.

5. Communication

Communication is the key to success regardless of age. Talk to your children and always show them that you are interested in what they have to say. If you love consuming media, challenge yourself to not use your phone while you are around your children, show them that you value their time and enjoy conversing with them. Everyday ask yourself did I ask my children how school was today, did I ask them which part they enjoy from our play date? Be present with them; show them that you are listening and that what they have to say is important to you. This will teach them how to express themselves using words and is a much-needed skill for when they get older and understand more.

6. Keep Them Busy

When we are busy, we find a sense of fulfillment, we tend to be more optimistic and find it easy to focus on the positive and not the negative. As tired as you can be being a pseudo single parent, you need to always remind yourself that your children’s well being falls on your shoulders. Keep your children busy, take them to the library, to the park, and if you can afford it, sign them up for extracurricular activities. Keep their little minds occupied, create new memories with them and this ends up being a “hitting two birds with one stone” situation because these activities will then be conversation starters when the other parent is home.

Our children always look to us for inspiration and guidance. In order for them to be resilient; we too have to demonstrate that behavior. We need to lead by example, be consistent, show confidence in our own selves, be optimistic, always lend a listening ear, spark conversations with them, always challenge them, and teach them to make their own choices no matter what their age. Keep in mind that it takes time to learn good behaviors and they are never too young for us to teach them.