One thing is for sure when you leave the military and have children at home. Changing your level of involvement is a huge opportunity in military parenting. While on active duty, we are mainly focused on our career with large blocks of time spent away from home. This takes significant swaths of time away from our families and focus from our relationships. Before you know it, that beautiful infant we swore we could not live without is in high school! Unfortunately, we’re left to wonder where all the time went!!
The children’s ages are spread out quite a bit in our family. By the time we retired from active duty, the oldest had only a couple of years left in high school. The middle was entering middle school and our youngest hadn’t been born yet! Talk about keeping things interesting.
As one could imagine, the differences in my military parenting roles were quite broad. Honestly, when I transitioned to active duty retirement, I didn’t even know how to be a “normal” parent. Stepping into an active role as a parent outside of the military was like taking a crash course of some sort. Keeping track of everything going on at home, at school, at church, and with extra curricular activities was quite draining in the beginning. My spouse handled these things while I was on active duty. The revolving door to and from deployments seemed to have taken precedence over my taking a direct role for the most part. However, once things settled down a bit in our new normal I began to take on much more responsibility.
The Stages of Military Parenting
I feel like I missed out on being an actively involved parent with my oldest. However, once we retired from active duty, I prioritized attending as many sporting events as possible. We had a lot of one-on-one college and adult level conversations. These eventually carried into and through college as well. We both did the best we could and it has been a relationship filled with catching up more than anything else. This has grown into more of a friendship now that college graduation has passed and entry into the workforce has taken place. I’m still trying to catch up!
With the middle child, my involvement in the day to day at an earlier age was much greater than with the eldest. We had opportunities to get outside and spend some time together. Being involved in marching band was an activity we enjoyed together through middle school and high school. Having these opportunities to connect were a true blessing. The college preparation discussions began a lot earlier and I was much more involved. We have a closer father-child relationship, and I’m sure that will carry into college as it did with the oldest now that high school graduation has passed.
Raising the youngest has been significantly different from the previous two. It is difficult to express how much, military parenting no more! The dynamics involved in parenting a new born through entry into grade school has been quite the new experience. Sharing the joys of raising a toddler with my spouse has been a very rewarding experience. I try to take my turn with things instead of simply being a part-time assistant. It has been quite a bit more work, but something I wouldn’t trade for anything!
My Perspective on Military Parenting
For a very long time I felt guilty for not having taken more time with the older two children. I definitely felt like I had missed out and didn’t enjoy the limited time we had together. Over the years however, I have come to realize there isn’t much we can do about the past, other than to learn from it. Working really hard at not making the same mistakes has been a focus of mine. I’ve put a lot of effort into being intentional about how we spend quality time together as a Family.
We don’t go on huge vacations and fill every evening with awesomeness and earth shattering experiences. However, we tend to ensure we sit down and have meals together more often than not. We gather together to feed the chickens in the evening. I tend to help out with extracurricular activities in ways I enjoy and my children have expressed they appreciate.
We go camping several weekends a year and enjoy taking the Jeep out on afternoon drives for ice cream. In the winter, we’ll make it a point to put on movies we can enjoy together and hit the popcorn. “Survivor” is a favorite group activity, especially when popcorn is involved. The oldest and I have taken up running together a few times a month. Our time together doesn’t have to be “epic”. We get much more out of simply being together, and being intentional.
Take Advantage of Your Transition to be a New Military Parent
We can’t roll back time and change the past, it is what it is. However, with focused effort, we can learn to pick up the ball where we find it and move forward in very fulfilling ways.
Please share your own thoughts and experiences below!