May marks National Military Appreciation Month. Congress designated it as such in 1999 to ensure we have the chance to publicly show our appreciation for past and present troops. This is a special month both for those in and out of the military.
Not only do we pause on Memorial Day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but we honor the service of members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, and National Guard throughout the month. It’s also important to recognize the sacrifice and service of military spouses and families during this time.
In North Carolina, military families live in every county. When we come together as a community to support military related children, their parents, and the professionals who work with military families everyone benefits. Let’s discuss concrete ways you can show your support this month and beyond!
What You Might Experience
Some military personnel are on active duty living on military bases here at home, like Fort Bragg. Others are deployed to U.S. bases around the globe. Still others may be in the National Guard or Reserves awaiting their call to serve active duty.
Life as a military parent, military spouse, or child of someone in the military means living with uncertainty. This can cause unique stresses that make parenting more difficult:
The military parent must deal with periodic absences and preparing for active duty or reentry into civilian life.
Children must adapt to life away from a parent (and many times a parent in harm’s way) and then a parent’s reintegration into the family.
Many children also deal with frequent moves, new schools, and new caretakers.
Spouses, partners, or extended families must deal with periodic absences, new and increased responsibilities when the military parent is away, and adjustment when the parent comes home.
What You Can Do
If you know of a military family at your child’s school or in your neighborhood, there are some simple actions you can take that will go a long way toward easing the burden on those who have taken on so much stress.
1. Express appreciation for the family’s service to our country.
It always feels good to know that others are paying attention and appreciate our selfless actions. Showing our genuine gratitude to those serving our country is a small but significant step. So, when you see our service men and women in uniform, a quick word of appreciation is a lovely gesture. If you want to do more, consider coffee/a meal on you when you’re out and see someone in uniform.
2. Get to know your military neighbors, particularly if they serve in the National Guard or Reserves.
Being in the National Guard or Reserves can be difficult because it sometimes requires being called to duty with very little notice. If you know of military families in this situation, make a special effort to include them in neighborhood and community activities. Don’t wait for your neighbor to ask for help—offer to mow the grass, share a meal, help with small household repairs, or care for the children for a few hours. Remember, it can be hard to ask for help.
3. Share information about community resources that provide support in times of need.
Ask military parents what would help them most when they are facing a military-related separation, and help them to connect with these supports early.
Here are some resources to get you started:
Blue Star military families put together this helpful guide called Everyone Serves.
The FOCUS program helps military families in specific locations around North Carolina to learn techniques to bolster family resilience.
PROSPER partnerships is a Durham-based project involving surveys, interviews, and focus groups designed around developing programs to better address the needs of military families. They have a family program especially for parents and adolescents (10-14 years old) in military families.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has tips and resources for families.
The Military Child Education Coalition offers resources on a variety of topics for talking with kids at all developmental stages.
4. Help military parents and the other caregivers in their family understand how transitions, separation, and anxiety can affect their child’s behavior.
Particularly for caregivers and professionals working with children, an objective perspective can help parents see their children’s behavioral issues in a different light. Hearing that acting out or withdrawing are normal reactions can make these challenges easier to deal with.
5. Invite military children in your neighborhood to share their thoughts and feelings about the separations and transitions they may be experiencing.
Sometimes all a child or young person needs is a listening ear. Don’t be afraid to check in with a child you know about how things are going for them. Maybe they don’t want to talk, but you can ask them to draw you a picture or let them know you are there if they ever want to share.
Remember: Military families need to feel supported and included in their neighborhoods and communities. You can help!
At the Exchange Family Center, we salute our military parents and families! Our parent and caregiver programs are designed to meet Durham’s families and children where they are. If you know of a family, military or civilian, in need of support, our Parenting Coaches and Family Therapists are here. Request information or assistance by filling out this contact form or calling Marcia Brown at (919) 403-8249, ext. 230.
This article was adapted from information created by experts in national organizations that work to prevent child maltreatment and promote well-being. At https://www.childwelfare.gov/ topics/preventing/preventionmonth/resources/tip-sheets/, you can download tip sheets like this one and get more parenting tips.