Today we continue our series, “Insights from a Military Parent,” an ongoing discussion in which Rhonda, military spouse and mom of two young boys, responds to questions that arose from her telling of her family’s experience living through two deployments with two young children during our webinar presentation, “Intentional Connection: Establishing Positive Relationships Between Child Care Providers and Military Parents.”
In today’s post, Rhonda talks to child care professionals about a critical aspect of building and maintaining a positive relationship with parents: understanding the parenting choices that they make, especially in times of stress and disruption.
Question: In talking about your family’s experiences, you’ve mentioned that at times you made parenting decisions during the stressful times that were more lenient, accommodating, etc., than usual. As a teacher, I might see that parenting choice and be critical of it, especially if I am unaware of all that you are dealing with. What message would you like to communicate to providers about the parenting choices they observe?
Rhonda: During the various phases of deployment the stress levels fluctuate greatly from feeling like you have it under control to feeling wildly out of control and at your wit’s end. At times I have made choices to alleviate stress on myself or on my children. As a parent, there were times when I took personal leave from work to simply have a day to myself. Sometimes, I used personal leave and kept the boys at home for their emotional and mental health as well. This is a choice that might seem controversial if one of the goals is to provide children with a routine and stability. It might help to understand that sometimes I made that choice following a particularly bad night for the boys, when nightmares or insomnia kept them from feeling rested. Other times I made that choice following three or four days of increasing conflict between us. While it might appear that I am rewarding their bad behavior, in reality I recognized, after many months of banging my head against the wall, that they were experiencing separation anxiety and fear. Having a day, other than a weekend which was usually dedicated to household chores, to simply play or go to the park with me usually put us all in a better mood. Yes, it was a break in the routine, but afterwards they usually behaved better in school and at home.
Working full time, raising two boys, and dealing with everything else in the household takes a toll after a while. Mornings can be especially rough trying to get everyone dressed and out the door to beat the traffic and get to work on time. Some mornings it just wasn’t worth battling over clothes, shoes, or how many toys could ride in the car on the way to school. This included breakfast options as well. There were mornings when the boys would enjoy left over pizza or bags of dry cereal because I forgot to get milk the day before. Thankfully, there was usually a good breakfast waiting for them at school. These aren’t parenting choices we would make if my husband were home. I made these choices to keep myself from losing patience and getting upset over small things that really don’t matter.
Issues with homework may be the most upsetting for educators to hear about. I can almost hear the collective “hmmmm” as you prepare to read this next bit. When my husband first deployed at the start of the school year there were nights when my oldest and I went round and round on the homework. He would cry to the point of hysteria and I just didn’t have the heart to push him. You see, his dad usually did homework with him, while I worked with his younger brother. I wrote a note to his teacher to let her know what we were experiencing. Because he is in special ed and was at that tipping point of either loving or hating school we didn’t push it hard. She helped him catch up at school, gave him a list of homework to be accomplished and then put him in charge of telling me what needed to be done. Once he realized he had ownership of his homework, he allowed me to help him. The crying stopped within the first two weeks. Every now and then we don’t get the homework done in the evening and both boys understand they have to wake up early to finish it. If dad were home, there would be no option but to complete the homework before bedtime or playtime. As the sole peacemaker, disciplinary, comforter, task master, maid, cook, medic, etc. I don’t always feel like battling it out. Surprisingly, it only takes waking up at 5:00 AM to do homework to realize it is better to do it the night before and sleep-in.
One other thing to note during the pre- and post-deployment phases is that sometimes we take three or four day weekends to do things as a family. During the second deployment I took the boys out of school for a week so I could travel to a job interview in another state to be closer to family. We always felt supported by the school in these matters because we communicated in advance and tried to make sure all class work and homework was completed – most of the time we were able to get it done, sometimes we didn’t. I am not advocating taking children out of school on a whim; I am simply sharing our specific circumstances that called for a more flexible way of life.
Remember, all home front parents have unique circumstances. The age of the children, their emotional and academic needs, stress, family support, community support, access to resources, financial issues, etc. can all effect our parenting decisions. We are doing the best we can, and we want to do what is best for our children. Clear and supportive communication, knowledge of child development, and compassion are the characteristics and skills of child care providers and educators that make them ideal partners for home front parents during deployment.
Next week’s question: Why do you think some military parents may be uncomfortable talking to child care professionals?