Category Archives: military families

Military Families

Holiday Tips for Families with Special Needs

Boy with Down Syndrome playingThe holiday season is a wonderful time of the year but it can also become a stressful time, especially for  families with special needs. Below, we compiled a few holiday tips for families with special needs, military families, and family caregivers.

Lower your expectations.

Often times we build up this idea in our head of the holidays. We create this fantasy about the perfect holiday, then work hard trying to create it. This tip is essential for families with special needs, however it is a good tip for everyone – lower your expectations. When we are trying to create the perfect holiday, party, reunion, etc. What we are really creating is a load of stress for ourselves which can quickly make the holidays less joyful. Things might work out better than you expected with your lowered expectations, or they might not. But, you will enjoy the time with your loved ones more when you are not trying to live up to high expectations.


Reflect on the season.

Remember that the holiday season is a time for reflection on the year, celebrating being together and a time of joy. Keep the joy in the holidays, by remaining focused on what they mean to you.


Pick two.

If you have a family member with special needs, it likely that you are already very busy with things to do for them and the rest of the family. Don’t intentionally add to the list trying to recreate your perfect holiday. Pick two traditions that are manageable to you and your family. Just focus on implementing or maintaining those two traditions, and enjoy the time you have with your loved ones. Sometimes families try to do too much just to make the holidays perfect, when in reality being together and happy are what makes the holidays perfect.


Be OK with bowing out of events and saying no.

As with all things in life, you have to pick and choose what is best for you and your family. There might be holiday parties that would be more stressful to attend than is necessary. Politely bow out of the event and trust that your family and friends will understand. When preparing and planning for big parties or gatherings volunteer for what you know you are capable of and say no to the rest.


Ask for a break.

It is okay to ask for help and take a break. Use respite services if you qualify, ask for a night off rather than a gift. It is okay to take care of yourself, in fact it’s extremely important.



What other tips do you have for military families, caregivers, or families with special needs?


This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on December 2, 2016.


Payday Loans and Rent-to-Own: How to be an Informed Consumer

By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Payday loans and rent-to-own options are appealing to many families because payday loan lenders and rent-to-own storefronts are often able to offer you what you need quickly without much hassle. However, before entering into an agreement with either of these businesses, there are several important things that you should be aware.

Payday Loans:

Payday loans offer quick cash to consumers. In general, the requirements for obtaining a payday loan include that you have a job, bank account, and personal identification. A payday loan typically works the following way: the payday lender gives the borrower cash with a promise that the loan will be repaid in two pay periods when the borrower receives his or her paycheck. When the money is due, the borrower can choose to pay the lender in cash or to allow the lender to cash their check. Easy enough, right?

While there are pros to getting a payday loan including fast cash in and no required credit check, there are also many drawbacks. Many of the people who obtain a payday loan are unable to pay back the lender in the agreed upon timeframe. As a result, borrowers are often left with little choice but to take out more loans in order to pay back earlier ones leading to a significant amount of debt.

Rent-to-Own Stores

Rent-to-own stores allow consumers to rent a household item for a monthly cost that is usually much lower than what a monthly payment would be at a major retailer. These stores allow consumers to rent the item on a weekly or monthly rental. After completing payment over the term of the rental, the consumer then owns the item.

This option may seem particularly appealing to families who are in need of temporary furnishings. However, what rent-to-own stores often fail to inform consumers is that their rental periods are often longer and the buyer will end up spending much more than they would have if they had obtained a conventional loan or bought the item outright without any type of financing. Consumers often spend three to four times what the cash price would have been when all is said and done! Additionally, if a consumer were to choose to return the item before the rental agreement is completed, a fee is charged.

As an alternative to choosing the rent-to-own option, consider the following:

  • Buy the item from a garage sale, consignment shop, or friend.
  • Borrow the item temporarily from a friend or family member.
  • Deliberately set aside money each month until you have saved enough to buy the item outright.
  • Look into layaway plans at major retailers.

It is easy to see why so many families choose to take out a payday loan or rent-to-own household items. However, it is also easy to see why you should use caution when considering these options. In the long run, you will end up costing yourself a significant amount of money.

Keep in mind that payday lenders and rent-to-own stores are in business to make money. If you choose to take out a payday loan or rent-to-own a household item, do your research first so that you can make an informed decision. Do not be afraid to ask these businesses to clearly share their policies with you. After all, you are your own best advocate!

Watch the recording of our Predatory Lending Practices & How to Avoid Them webinar from July 2015 here. 

Contact Jennifer at








Light up your Holidays: Helpful Survival Tips for the Holiday Season

Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

Holiday Lights
pixabay[Christmas Lights by Ash_barr, December 19, 2015, CCO]
Okay, folks… it’s that time again! The holidays are just around the corner. And, with that comes the following:

  • Spending time with people we love and with people we don’t
  • Cooking, eating and the hope that our pants will still zip
  • Trying to figure out what to do with the kids while they are out of school for a few weeks and what it will take to get them to stop begging for every single toy they see in the store from now until the actual holiday you celebrate
  • (For some military families) Figuring out how to navigate the holidays while a loved one is deployed
  • Having to manage a completely packed schedule full of school events, family gatherings, extracurricular activities, work holiday parties and all of the other things that might come up!
  • Planning ways to see everyone in the family over the holidays so that no one gets their feelings hurt
  • Budgeting appropriately so that you can buy everyone nice gifts without going into complete debt


Do any (or all) of these sound familiar to you? And, if you are anything like me, I somehow manage to have most of this list pop up every single year without fail. You would think that we would have all of this down to a science by now, right? Well, don’t you worry! You are in good company! Here are a few tips that might help you this holiday season! And, try to remember where you put this when you are feeling it all come back around next year.


  • Spending time with people we love and with people we don’t- This is a tough one, we know. But, try to think of it as a balance, the yin and yang, if you will. Spending time with the people we don’t like all that much will help us appreciate those we do even more. Want a tip? Challenge yourself this year and try to find ONE thing that you really like about the person (or people) you are not looking forward to seeing. We often end up getting caught up in past feelings that we have towards certain people in our lives. Try and use this strategy as a catalyst for changing your relationship to that person. Sure, it may be tough, but that’s why it’s called a challenge. 
  • Cooking, eating, and hoping that our pants will still zip- You thought the Family Development team would be able to give you tips on this?! We will leave it to the experts over at MFLN Nutrition and Wellness to cover this one. 
  • Trying to figure out what to do with the kids while they are out of school for a few weeks- I know the story all too well. It seems like the holiday breaks from school sneak up on us so fast. And, before we know it, we find ourselves struggling to find childcare for our kiddos. Want a tip? At the beginning of the school year, instead of only putting the dates that the kids are out of school in the calendar, put a reminder about 1 month ahead of time for the holiday break. This way, if you are like me and only look at one week at a time, it won’t sneak up on you and come as a complete shock when the kids get out next week and you have no one to keep them. Be kind to yourself by inserting lots of little reminders and post-it notes to help you keep track of it all! NO ONE can retain that much information without some assistance. Additionally, this tip will help the kids that have harder times with transitions. You can give them ample opportunity to prepare for their holiday break plans!
  • Trying very hard not to lose your patience with the kids when they are constantly begging for every single toy they see in the store from now until the actual holiday you celebrate- Yes… it happens to us all! And I can pretty confidently say that you did this to your parents when you were a kid too. Want a tip? Stay in your house, locked away until all of the holidays are over. JUST KIDDING! Suggesting that you stay away from any toy section in a store is really not helpful. Most stores these days have figured out the ingenious marketing strategy of placing toys throughout the entire place, starting in October. Want a tip? For your kids who know how to read and write: give them a notebook and pen and allow them to take it with them when you go shopping. Tell them that they may write down things that they see that make them want to yell out to the world that they want it. But, tell them up front that the paper is where they must share this, rather than out loud. You are helping yourself and them in a couple of different ways here. You are helping them with their reading and writing, you are helping them exercise self-control by using their hands to communicate rather than their mouths. You are helping yourself by having some quiet time, by saving yourself from having to repeat the same phrases over and over again (no, you can’t have that or maybe you will get that for Christmas or Hanukkah), AND you are having them make a wish list for you instead of having to dig deep down into those memory banks to pull out which toy it was that they went nuts over.
  • (For some military families) Figuring out how to navigate the holidays while a loved one is deployed- The truth is, this stinks. And, it would be amazing if all members of our families could be with us during the holidays. But, it’s just not always possible. Want a tip? Try to find other families experiencing the same absence during the holidays to have some moral support and be able to reciprocate that support. Include the absent family member by sharing stories about them during your gatherings. Come together as a family and make care packages that include family-made crafts.
  • Having to manage a completely packed schedule full of school events, family gatherings, extracurricular activities, work holiday parties and all of the other things that might come up- You know this happens every single year without fail. It’s like the flood gates open on November 1st and it looks like you won’t have one single free moment until the end of January. Want a tip? Remember this- you don’t have to attend everything. In fact, it might be a good idea not to do it all. If it feels too overwhelming, try to prioritize the functions. You can even make this a family activity by sitting down with everyone and sharing each other’s top 3 activities that they would like to attend. Then, decide as a family on what you will attend and what you will not. Take some pressure off of yourselves by taking a couple of activities off of your list.
  • Planning ways to see everyone in the family over the holidays so that no one gets their feelings hurt – Yes, folks, I brought it up! I mean, why not? They make movies about it, right? We have all been there at some point. We want to try our best to please everyone and to see everyone. But, here is the truth: It just may not happen. The best way to manage this it to take turns each year or each holiday. But, make sure that you write it down somewhere so that you don’t have to try and remember what you did the year before. And, make the plans ahead of time rather than on the fly. If you can work out times that you can have holiday celebrations on dates other than the actual holidays, that’s okay too. Try to just appreciate the fact that you can get together at all rather than getting too caught up on the actual date.
  • Budgeting appropriately so that you can buy everyone nice gifts without going into complete debt- We aren’t too great at this topic either. So, read up on what our friends at Personal Finance have to say about this! 


Now, save this to your phone or computer or print yourself a copy so you can pull it out next year on November 1st! We will remind you! Happy Holidays from all of us at MFLN Family Development!

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the social media and programming specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website,Facebook, and Twitter.


Q&A: The Financial Side of Retirement

By Molly C. Herndon

Watch the recording of Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families here:
Watch the recording of Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families here:

Many of you had questions that we just didn’t a chance to respond to during the Nov. 1 webinar, Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families. Here, Dr. Barbara O’Neill addresses those questions.

Q. Is it always better to wait for full Social Security benefits?

A. Famous financial planning answer…It depends. But some people don’t have that luxury. They need their Social Security benefit money right away to pay their bills or they are in poor health so there is no point in waiting. Absent these two issues, workers will receive a higher benefit if they wait until full retirement age and even more if they continue to wait to age 70 (delayed retirement credits). In addition to benefiting themselves, a decision to wait can also benefit workers’ spouses.

Q. Is it true that if you are divorced, your former spouse can receive 50% of your Social Security earnings without  your Social Security being reduced?

A. Divorced spouses will get the higher of a benefit based on their own work record or their ex-spouse’s work record. The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. Here are the rules: Your benefit as a divorced spouse is equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (or disability benefit) if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age. The benefits do not include any delayed retirement credits your ex-spouse may receive.

Q. Other than going to Social Security website, is there a calculator to be able to enter numbers to see the breakeven for Social Security (when is it not worth waiting any longer) particularly for those individuals that will fall into Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)

A. For some helpful break-even resources, see

It should be noted that the WEP will NOT take effect until someone collects a government pension. If they collect SS while still working after FRA, they’ll get a full SS benefit until they retire.

Many more of you had questions about the new Blended Retirement System, and we will address those too! Questions shared in the chat pod in today’s discussion were sent to the presenter of our scheduled Military Blended Retirement System webinar on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 11 a.m. ET so make plans to join us.

AFCPE Symposium: Best Practices for Conducting Webinars & Facilitated Discussion

Molly C. Herndon

The Personal Finance team will be presenting at the AFCPE Symposium on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 17. We hope you’ll make plans to attend our session Best Practices for Conducting Web Conferences and Facilitated Discussion Thursday in Salon 7 at 4:30 p.m.ET.

National eXtension Conference, 2016: From left: Dr. Martie Gillen, Dr. Barbara O'Neill and Molly Herndon
National eXtension Conference, 2016: From left: Dr. Martie Gillen, Dr. Barbara O’Neill & Molly Herndon

During this presentation, we’ll cover the steps we take to prepare for our monthly webinars, and share best practices and lessons learned so that practitioners and educators can replicate our efforts in their educational outreach. We are also eager to hear your tips. What have you learned when producing webinars or streaming educational content? What has worked well? What hasn’t worked as well?

Social Media Specialist, Molly Herndon will introduce the project and the presentation. Outreach Coordinator and veteran webinar presenter Dr. Barbara O’Neill, will begin the discussion about process of creating a webinar. Project Investigator Dr. Martie Gillen will continue the discussion on engaging webinar participants and fostering discussion. Practitioner Consultant Jerry Buchko will wrap up the presentation by taking a look at the technical details of producing a webinar.

From left: Jerry Buchko, Molly Herndon, Dr. Barbara O'Neill & Dr. Michael Gutter
AFCPE Symposium, 2015. From left: Jerry Buchko, Molly Herndon, Dr. Barbara O’Neill & Dr. Michael Gutter

Can’t make it to our presentation on Thursday? That’s ok – stop by our table where we’ll have copies of the presentation, an archived webinar handout and a technical webinar how-to guide.

Can’t make it to the AFCPE Symposium this year? Check out all the materials we’ll be sharing:


Go Beyond the Webinar: Costs, Considerations, and Resources on Military Retirement Shared by Participants

By: Sara Croymans, M.Ed., Molly Herndon, MS,  & Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

Edited Sunset
Adapted photo: Pixabay[Sunrise Ocean Sea Coast by MartyNZ, November 7, 2015,CCO]
MFLN Family Development, Family Transitions, and Personal Finance teams presented a two-part series on Military Retirement titled “Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families”. Part I on November 1 was a traditional webinar while Part II on November 8 offered an opportunity for participants to continue the discussion that was initiated during the first event. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the topics that generated a lot of interest and discussion, indicating the importance of the topic. Many resources are highlighted that were shared by participants and facilitators. In addition, we want to continue the discussion on the retirement topic so please share your thoughts, ideas, resources and strategies by commenting on this blog!

The Transitional Side of Retirement

Q. What strategies can be used to help Service members and their families realize that the stages of grief experienced during the retirement transition are “normal” and that they are not alone?

A. Participants provided the following responses:

  • People are often relieved when they realize that others are experiencing similar challenges and stressors …
  • They should attend TGPS! (Transition GPS) as it is really good at preparing them and reminding them what is in store, out there (civilian world). And being with others who are having a similar experience provides a great informal support system!
    Sometimes it can help to digest big changes in little pieces so then it’s not overwhelming
  • Not sure exactly how it would show in the retirement situation, but I deal with Surviving family members of deceased Soldiers and we find that the grief isn’t a straight line, and it can come up years later as new life events happen. I.E. when a child gets married, the grief may re-emerge as the family wishes the DSM was there for the event.
  • Each individual goes through the stages at different paces and varying levels of progression & regression during the process.
    Grief is very personal.
  • The grief cycle is not a linear transgression.
  • If we’re not paying close attention we can interpret frustration, grief etc. (especially in men I think) as anger

The Psychological Side of Retirement

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges faced in military retirement, from a psychological perspective?

A. Participants provided several responses to this question, including:

  • The longer the member is in service, the harder it is to get back to civilian life
  • Something that civilians may have never even considered is the fact that SMs now have to change their wardrobe entirely, which can be stressful and frustrating.
  • The higher the rank in the military one has, the harder it can be to adjust to civilian life where that rank probably doesn’t matter. SMs oftentimes find themselves having to prove themselves all over again to the civilian world after retirement.
  • Many younger retirees are faced with the challenge of finding a new career altogether, as their job in the service may not have a “match” in the civilian world.
  • For those people who were raised in the military and then married into the military or became SMs themselves, they may not have any idea how to be a civilian or live in the civilian world.
  • Finding a purpose that is similar to serving in the military.

Q. What have you found to be helpful in working through the challenges listed above?

A.  Participants provided several responses to this question, including:

  • If you are a service professional, assist the families in compartmentalizing their challenges and focus on one at a time rather than all of them at once. This helps with the anxiety that can be felt in trying to “fix” everything all at one time.
  • Providing opportunities for the retired SMs and their families to participate in functions and activities to assist with the transition and in making them feel less isolated.
  • Assisting SMs and their families early in the process of retirement (like right when the decision is made to retire) and covering every aspect of retirement rather than just the financial piece or just the psychological piece.
  • Helping SMs feel like they have a purpose by encouraging them to reach out to organizations or people in the community that mean something to them so that they can get involved somehow.

The Financial Side of Retirement

Q. What are some concerns service members have about retirement issues?

A. Webinar participants offered the following responses:

  • Where do they want to live?
  • Questions about state benefits and I suggest they check out; they have a benefits library that lists state taxes and waivers for car and homestead exemption. Also school benefits and more.
  • Questions about VA disability.
  • Will the money last?
  • Questions about Social Security.
  • Service Member can start off on Active Duty and transition into National Guard or the Reserves and retire with 20 yrs, but they become a “Grey Area Retiree” & their retirement starts at age 60.

Q. Where will income come from in retirement?

A. Webinar participants shared these comments:

  • Some are counting on GI bill money for income.
  • Almost all people I counseled planned to get another job after military retirement. The concern was “how much do I have to make to be comparable to military pay?”
  • I hear from a small portion of service members that they want to start a business, which is great if they have ideas, drive and initiative. But many service members are somewhat short on knowledge of industry and business to make their idea turn into a small business that survives the initial start-up phase.
  • The Small Business Administration centers in most states can help military personnel who might want to start a business.

Q. What about IRAs?

A. One webinar participant offered this tip:

  • IRA to TSP: many service members have been told they should roll their TSP over to an IRA. Watch out! It might be a better choice for some to roll their assets INTO their TSP account, which will still belong to them long after they leave federal service.

Keep the Conversation Going!
If you missed Part 1 of the Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families program, watch the recording of the webinar here. To view the conversation in Part 2, the recording can be accessed here.

In addition to the resources identified above in the Q & A section many others were shared throughout the conversation, including:

We want to know! What concerns do you hear from Service Members as they plan for retirement? What strategies & resources do you utilize when working with them? Please share your insights on these topics by commenting on this blog.

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT Sara Croymans, M. Ed. , and Molly Herndon  of Military Families Learning Network. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network  on our websiteFacebook, and Twitter.


A Day to Remember and Honor our Veterans


Originally intended to honor the veterans of World War 1, Armistice Day was established in November 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson. Although the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919 officially ending “The Great War,” fighting had ceased seven months prior when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

On May 13, 1938, an Act was approved making the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily dedicated to veterans of World War 1, however in 1954 following World War II the Act was amended to become Veterans Day, honoring American veterans of all wars.

Today we would like to thank all service members who have served and who are currently serving, for their patriotism, sacrifice, love of country and willingness to serve.

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on November 11, 2016.


Tax-Deferred Retirement Savings Plans

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension,

The Military Families Learning Network held Retirement Ready? Strategies for Military Families on November 1, a webinar about retirement readiness. Today, we will host a hour-long follow-up session at 11 a.m. Included in the Nov. 1 session was a segment about personal finances and tax-deferred retirement savings plans that are available to military families. Below is a summary of these plans:

  • IRAs- An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) enables workers with earned income (i.e., salary from a job or net earnings from self-employment) to invest for retirement. IRAs are not an investment, per se, but, rather, a special classification for tax purposes. The actual investment will be in different types of securities such as stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, or mutual funds. Arrangements to open an IRA account are made with a financial institution such as a bank, brokerage firm, or mutual fund. Federal tax law limits 2016 maximum contributions to a traditional and/or Roth IRA to $5,500 for a worker with earned income ($6,500 for those who are age 50+). An additional $5,500 (or $6,500) can also be saved for a worker’s spouse, regardless of whether or not the spouse is employed.
  • myRA- Short for “my retirement account,” a myRA is a Roth IRA that invests in a new U.S. Treasury savings bond that earns interest at the same rate as investments in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Government Securities (G) Fund available to service members and federal government employees. Workers can transfer a myRA account balance into a private sector Roth IRA at any time. When myRA balances reach $15,000 or accounts have had a lower balance for 30 years, they will also be transferred to a private sector Roth IRA. myRAs were especially designed for workers who don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work but can also be used by other workers. Deposits can be made from a worker’s paycheck, from a checking or savings account, or with a federal income tax refund.
  • Retirement Savings Plans for the Self-Employed- These plans can be set up by workers who are self-employed as a whole source of income and those who engage in freelance work in addition to their “day job.” Options include a simplified employee pension or SEP, SIMPLE plans, and Keogh plans. SEPS are often used by freelancers and sole proprietors and are the least complicated account to administer.
  • Employer Salary Reduction” Plans- Many employers today offer defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, where employees voluntarily reduce their salary by a specific dollar amount (generally, a percentage of gross income) which is set aside for retirement. When it’s time to retire, workers have available the amount they have saved, plus or minus earnings (or losses) on their selected investments. The account balance is portable and can be taken when employees leave a job and rolled over into an IRA or a new employer’s retirement savings plan.

Available savings plans include the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for service members and federal government workers, 401(k) plans for employees of for-profit corporations, 403(b) plans for public and private school and non-profit employees, and 457 plans for state and local government workers. 2016 maximum contributions are to $18,000 (24,000 for those who are age 50 or older before the end of the year). Unlike IRAs, the “menu” of investment options for employer retirement savings plans is limited to securities selected by the employer or the employer’s retirement plan provider. Therefore, investment advisors often recommend balancing investments that are selected within tax-deferred plans with different types of investments that are held in IRAs and/or taxable accounts.

Don’t let the large annual maximum contribution limit numbers scare you. The required minimum can often be as low as 1% of a worker’s pay or a small dollar amount such as $10 per paycheck. Simply save whatever you can, subject to minimum deposit amounts required by a plan custodian. Any savings is better than no savings! Minimum deposits required to set up an IRA vary with the financial institution and type of investment. For example, a bank may require $500 to purchase a CD for an IRA and a mutual fund may require a $1,000 minimum deposit or higher.

Make the most of tax-deferred investments by saving as much as you can and assembling a well-diversified portfolio that includes different asset classes (e.g., stocks, bonds, and cash assets). Want to know more about investments available for retirement savings? Visit the eXtension Investing for Your Future course and click on Unit 7.

Settling the Unsettled: Ambiguous Loss through Military Retirement

By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

NEW YORK - A Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, bows his head and reflects in the shadow of the Ground Zero construction site, May 31. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit led a run to Ground Zero. The majority of Marines with the 24th MEU joined the Marine Corps after the attacks of Sept. 11. More than 3,000 Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen in the area participating in community outreach events and equipment demonstrations as part of Fleet Week New York 2011. This is the 27th year New York has hosted the sea services for Fleet Week. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michael Petersheim / RELEASED)
Flickr [Marines Lead Run to Ground Zero– Fleet Week New York 2011 by DVIDSHUB on May 31, 2011 CC BY-ND 2.0]
It was Pauline Boss who noticed the particular struggles of those who have suffered losses where finality and closure have not been accomplished. She recognized that while all losses have some element of ambiguity, there are some that are saturated in it. Dr. Boss contends that there are 2 types of Ambiguous Loss. Type 1 occurs when there is a physical absence and psychological presence; examples would include kidnapping, missing bodies due to traumatic events, divorce where one parent leaves the home, and giving a baby up for adoption. Type 2 occurs when there is physical presence and psychological absence; examples would include Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury, autism, and depression.
During my quest for information and resources about military retirement, I noticed this underlying theme of loss. And then I started to think about ambiguous loss and how this seems to fit perfectly with the descriptions of feelings associated with what newly retired service members and their families were experiencing. While it may not be a perfect fit in one of the two categories that Dr. Boss describes, I think it would fit most appropriately under type 2. This is what is experienced during retirement and why I think it’s a fit:
Team loss:   We all know the comradery that is found within the military. While service members may continue to stay in contact with their former fellow SM’s, they are no longer serving the same purpose together. They no longer have the physical and emotional support that they were offered on a daily basis.
Loss of Resources: Physically and emotionally, the resources may dissipate after retirement. If a family lived on base, for instance, they may no longer have physical access to the resources they had before. They may also experience a loss in the physical presence of their friends who lived and worked nearby.
 A Different Environment:  The tone of the civilian world, both physically and emotionally, is different.
 A Struggle with Identity:  Service members and their families may struggle to find where they fit now. They may have to learn who they are without the military.


While the list above is not even close to exhaustive, it provides you with an idea of how retirement from the military can be a good example of ambiguous loss. So, when we are working with families going through this loss, how can we help?
Start talking immediately: Once the decision to retire has been made, we need to start talking with the service member and their families right away. This will allow the families to process and prepare and the service professional to assist in the preparation.
• Assist in finding resources and making connections: A very large part of our jobs as service professionals is making sure that the people we serve are aware of resources. Always be on the lookout for things that may assist your families. Reach out to people in your community and talk to them about the services they offer. You may even learn about new resources from the families you serve. Keep a notebook of all of your favorites to share with families!
Use resources to guide your own work: Do you have a favorite book or other resources that help with application in your work with families? Perhaps you have read Pauline Boss’ Loss, Trauma, and Resilience about Ambiguous Loss. Or, maybe you find journal articles and conversations with other professionals helpful. No matter what it is, you should always have something that helps you in your work and keeps you current on the latest strategies and research!
• Personalize, do not generalize: Last but not least, ALWAYS tailor your work to fit the family with which you are working. While it is important and necessary to stay on top of research and to have resources that assist in guiding your work, you should never use them to dictate everything you do. While families may experience similar situations and scenarios, no two families will be identical. Listen to the presenting issues specific to each family and proceed accordingly.


This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the social media and webinar coordination specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

10 Ways to Say ‘Thank You’ to a Family Caregiver


November is Family Caregiver Appreciation month. In appreciation of all family caregivers we would like to share with you 10 ways you can show your appreciation.


1. Ask if there is something specific you can do for the caregiver.

Often when we ask a caregiver, “What can I do to help you?,” there are so many things that come to mind. If you make a request to help with a specific task, the caregiver may be more likely to accept your help, without adding additional stress. Examples of specific tasks that you can ask caregivers to help them with might include: picking up dry cleaning, getting the car washed, clean house or fixing a meal.

2. Raise awareness within your community.

Unless you personally know a family caregiver; caregiving in general may not always cross your mind. You can raise awareness about family caregivers within your community by working with your city council or county commissioners to get them to issue a local proclamation to honor and recognizing caregivers in the community, similar to the national Presidential Proclamation.

3. Shorten the caregiver ‘to-do’ list.

Family caregivers can get bogged down trying to keep up with everything around the house while also caring for their loved one. Take something off of their ‘to-do’ list. Mow the lawn, shovel snow, or go to the grocery store. If you are not near enough to do this yourself, hire a service to help out on a regular basis.

4. Offer compassion by spending quality one-on-one time with the caregiver.

Many family caregivers can become isolated from friends and family while caring for their loved one. Be available to the caregiver and make sure they understand that you are there as a support system. Talk to them, let them vent their frustrations, worries and fears, while offering compassion and understanding.

5. Send a little ‘Thank You.’

Send the caregiver a little token of your appreciation. For example, you could show you care by sending a hand-written thank you note, flowers, a gift certificate to their favorite coffee shop or spa. The item of gratitude doesn’t have to be big to be meaningful.

6. Bring the ‘get away’ to the caregiver.

Sometimes caregivers need to get away for their own health, but may not feel comfortable leaving their loved ones. Bring the “get away” to them. Pick up a meal from the caregiver’s favorite restaurant. Rent a new movie they would like to watch and bring snacks for a movie night.

7. Offer to take the caregiver’s children to different events.

For many caregivers, they are not only responsible for their loved one, but other members of their family, such as children or aging parents. Offer to take their children to soccer practice, birthday parties or school events. If they are caring for aging family members, offer to take their loved one to doctor appointments.

8. Prepare freezer meals for the caregiver.

Make dinner an easier task for the family caregiver by preparing freezer meals with instructions on how to reheat. Be sure to talk to the family caregiver before putting these meals together to ensure that the meals are meeting dietary restrictions and are something that they will actually eat. Consider making the freezer meals small enough to fit in their freezer and appropriate serving sizes for their family.

9. Offer to stay with the care-recipient.

Although there are respite services available to family caregivers, often times caregivers are weary to have someone they are not familiar with care for their loved one. Offer to stay with the care-recipient so that the caregiver can have a night off or a weekend away.

10. Stay in touch.

The simplest way to say thank you to a family caregiver is to actually say “thank you” and to stay in touch with them. Check in regularly and see how things are going.


What are other ways to say “thank you” to a family caregiver?
Let us know in the comments!

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on November 4, 2016.