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Posts Tagged ‘advice for military families’

by Cathy McCarthy

All of us here at Operation Homefront hope that you get to enjoy family time together on Thanksgiving this year. But, we also know that many military families will not be with their loved ones. That is just part of military life, and one of the prices paid in service to country.  You are not alone. Many military spouses and families have been there, done that, and can completely understand how you are feeling.

With my husband who was away for long periods of time on a submarine, I celebrated many different kinds of Thanksgivings. You might see yourself in one of these “styles.”

 

  • Style 1: Family Is What You Make It: In all our years as a Navy family, we were never closer than 5 or 6 hour’s drive from family, and most of the time, no closer than 1,000 miles. I have hosted families who could not make it home and gathered spouses and children of my husband’s shipmates when the submarine was deployed. On one occasion, we had 12 people hanging out in a 900 square foot military housing unit (shout out to Jackson Park)!  Never thought I could have so much fun crammed into a tiny kitchen peeling 20 pounds of potatoes. I was blessed to spend time with so many amazing military families from all over the country, each with unique stories but united in our support for each other (despite their unfortunate choices in NFL teams – Go G-men!).

That’s two units on the second floor there, folks.

 

  • Style 2: Hit The Road Solo: I decided one year when my husband was deployed on Thanksgiving to take to the air and go see extended family. My parents and brothers were literally on another continent at the time, so I went to see my grandma, cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws. A three-day whirlwind tour, pregnant, with toddler in tow.  Many military families are familiar with the “short time, long list of places to be” tour. In hindsight, I might have scaled it back a bit. It was great to see family, but a bit exhausting by the end. That is how I found myself at SFO crying to “I’ll be home for Christmas” at 10PM at night. But I also met a young soldier on a layover who was flying home to see his little girl, having been deployed to Korea for the previous six months.  I still have the coin he gave my 2-year-old daughter in my jewelry box.

Actual coin given to my then 2-year-old daughter by a soldier on his way home to see his daughter. I’ve kept this coin for 20 years.

 

  • Style 3: Dinner at the Command Because You or Your Spouse Has Duty: Not many can say they have had Thanksgiving on a submarine (the boat, not the ship…don’t ever call it a ship). Hubby had duty and we were invited to come have dinner with him. After all these years, I have never stopped marveling at how the guys (gals, too, now) could handle life undersea for so long in those tiny spaces. I’ve had walk-in closets bigger than the mess deck on one of those things. I have also had Thanksgiving at the dining hall when I wore the uniform. And while it may not be Momma’s cooking, our shipmates do a pretty darn good job.

 

  • Style 4: Eat Somewhere That Is Open on Thanksgiving: Because they’re in 12-hour shift work and you have a whopping 10 hours to do anything, including sleep.

 

  • Style 5: Pick Your Own Day to Celebrate: I once had homecoming shortly AFTER Thanksgiving, so many of the division families got together and had Thanksgiving in early December, potluck style. Thanksgivings can be the day before, day after, or week later. I bet someone has had it in October…any day but actual Thanksgiving.

We are very sorry but we are unable to accommodate your Thanksgiving plans this year. Can we touch base in April?

 

Which is why that year on actual Thanksgiving Day I resorted to …

 

  • Style 6: I’m Over It: Turkey sandwich. Early bedtime. Enough said. But seriously, sometimes, it is okay to just give yourself an out and take a pass on festivities.  Quiet and rest is often vastly underestimated.

TOTALLY NOT an accurate representation of the sandwich I actually had. Think less lettuce, tomato, cheese and more tears.

 

And finally, last but not least…

  • Style 7: Overcompensating: And, when my husband was FINALLY home for the holidays, I busted out the Bon Appetit, Southern Cooking, Food and Wine and found the most complicated cookie, cakes and side dish recipes, created an over-the-top centerpiece, and decorated like our home was getting photographed for Town and Country. For me, him and two toddlers. Because we had not had a Thanksgiving together in a long time and I was going to knock it out of the park and create the best memories ever! I recovered in enough time for Christmas, which believe me, was much more low-key.

Did I bake enough desserts for 4 people? I don’t know…better make three more pies!

 

But in all seriousness, as tough as it can be for families, in our hearts, we know it is so much tougher for our service member.

The challenges we can face as military families at the holidays is one reason why I love Operation Homefront’s annual Holiday Meals for Military program so much.  It is such a nice way to meet the military families in our communities and let them know we appreciate all they go through and that we are thinking of them. Most of the time, I bring my kids along to volunteer, and we always have an amazing time. We’ll be distributing over 7,000 meals in November and December this year in cities across the USA. That’s a lot of holiday cheer, and this year, we will be serving a holiday meal to our 400,000th family member since the program was born from a chance encounter between a Beam Suntory executive (one of our sponsors) and a young military family in a supermarket in Utica, New York, near Fort Drum.

If you would like to provide some holiday cheer for a military family this year, please consider donating to our Current Need fund for holiday meals.  You can also join us in our Raise Your Hand or Giving Strength campaigns or volunteer at one of our upcoming Holiday Meals for Military events.

For military families interested in receiving a holiday meal, you can find our list of events and links to register here.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Operation Homefront!

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When parents doing the best they can to raise their kids need advice, they may consult friends and family, books and blogs, pediatricians and podcasts. The quality of the advice depends on the provider. Authors and doctors may offer professional credentials or even scientific evidence to support their guidance, with or without firsthand knowledge. Siblings and coworkers may base their suggestions on little more than good intentions.

That’s why some of the best advice may come from experienced mothers who are bringing up high achievers, such as the Military Child of the Year® recipients. Raising military children involves some unique challenges, including frequently changing schools, doctors and communities.

Jessica McGrath, whose older son, Alexander, was the 2017 Navy Military Child of the Year Award recipient, has learned a lot about parenting from her family’s experience moving more than seven times. She and her husband, Navy Capt. Richard McGrath, also have a son in seventh grade, Zachary. Alexander is finishing his first at Yale University, and has arranged a summer internship with a member of the British Parliament’s House of Commons.

Jessica recommends some ways parents can help their children succeed:

Be involved in their lives. “The biggest thing is to be an engaged parent,” Jessica said. “It kind of sounds clichéd, but it is very specific to the military child because … of moving so often …” It might be all right for parents who live in the same community for 10 years or more to go on “autopilot” once the child has established friends and activities, she said, but military families face a different situation. As much as possible, research schools, pediatricians and neighborhoods to find the best fit for your child.

For kids who do not handle moving as well, it is even more important to be tuned in, she said. Whenever possible, talk with them about what’s going on. Help them facilitate change if necessary because you may not have time for the issue to resolve itself. “You don’t have that gift of years of time in that one duty station.”

Act as your child’s advocate. “You need to be an advocate for your child, but that can be very positive. It doesn’t have to be an advocate in a complaining sense,” Jessica said.

For example, advocating for your child might mean being aware of and familiar with the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which requires states to ensure military kids have the same access to success as civilians, and are not penalized or delayed in achieving their educational goals. The compact addresses issues such as graduation requirements, records transfer and course placement.

It boils down to “making your child feel safe and happy and healthy in a new environment,” she said. Asking them “how can I help you learn to do it yourself?”

Tap into the local and military communities. “For a military child to be successful, it’s bloom where you’re planted,” Jessica said. They and their parents may not have had much, if any, control over where they moved, but they can make the most of what a community offers. “For this to really work though, you need support” from both the immediate family and the wider military family at the base or post. “You encourage them to get involved in this new community that you’re in,” whether that’s volunteering, joining teams or clubs, scouting, or whatever interests the child.

Getting involved helps the military children themselves, both in the moment and for future success, but also helps pave the way for other military children, she said. If they set a good example, it makes it that much easier for the community to accept the next military children who come along.

Jessica said another way to join the community is to take advantage of the wealth of information available among military families, and when appropriate, offer your own experiences. “Whatever it is you’re going through, someone has already done that.” In rural areas, Facebook groups of military families and spouses can be especially helpful, with members sometimes offering solutions within 20 minutes of posting. “I have always been amazed by the support,” she said.

Provide continuity. Continuing scouting, swimming, dance or other activities in each new community can help a child adapt, and gives a way to get to know kids who may become friends. An “anchor place,” somewhere you can return periodically, also helps. For the McGraths, it has been a family cabin in Maine. It could be a grandparent’s home, a friend’s place or just a favorite town.

Model how to take the initiative. “Lead by example,” she said. “We see a problem and you just fix it.” If someone needs assistance, your attitude should be “I don’t even know you, but let me drop what I’m doing and help you because I was there” too at one time. For example, Jessica and another spouse stepped in to take over the ombudsman’s responsibilities when that person became ill and had to bow out. The ombudsman is the liaison between the squadron and the ship’s command.

Teach that actions have consequences, and you control your actions. Whether it’s their own actions or someone else’s, decisions have a larger effect. “That’s, I think, the ultimate learning experience,” Jessica said. “You’re empowering them.” If a student at school got in trouble, talk about factors that may have contributed. Discuss empathy. If a friend got into college, discuss the many steps that led to that good news.

Develop a positive relationship with your kids. Jessica said if she has a parenting super power, it’s probably investing the time required for closeness and easy rapport with her sons. “They feel comfortable taking to me, and telling me their problems but also their successes, and us working together as a team.”

Realize that no two children are the same. You can strengthen a child’s attributes, and they each have their own individual qualities. Alex finds and pursues his own opportunities with tenacity. She doesn’t find them for him. But she did teach him social skills, and to always be polite, which helped him interact in ways that led to positive outcomes. “He has this inner drive that I didn’t give him,” she said. “My gift was maybe getting your foot in the door.”

Focus on the positive. Jessica acknowledges that the moving process itself isn’t always fun, but says the pros can outweigh the cons. “It builds your character, it builds resiliency. You become a better person, and basically, that sets you up to be a very successful adult.”

Meeting various challenges gives you strength to draw upon, teaches you what works and what doesn’t, and even gives you good conversation starters, she said. “Non-military kids don’t always get that opportunity, which I actually think is a blessing to learn and grow.”

Take care of yourself. Explore classes at local community colleges. Jessica, who graduated in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in management and retail buying, has worked in her field, but also reinvented herself numerous times. She worked for a company that sells mutual funds and insurance, for an attorney and for the Navy Exchange. She volunteered in advocacy for military families, helping with family readiness groups and CORE, or Continuum of Resource Education, which provides seminars and volunteers dedicated to enriching Navy spouses and families. Later, Jessica discovered a love for art and took classes in metalsmithing and photography. She is now a designer at the Baltimore Jewelry Center.

Richard McGrath, a former Navy pilot, is a professor of operations research at the Naval Academy.

Aside from being personally proud to see Alexander’s hard work pay off when he received the MCOY award, Jessica said it was even more special and meaningful knowing that he represents many other military children, “validating their breadth of experience, the resiliency of the military child.” Alex is friends with another 2017 MCOY award recipient, Henderson Heussner, who also attends Yale. Jessica said she’s glad the two of them share a common bond and background from their military upbringing.

“Just to see what a military child can accomplish is such an amazing, rewarding thing,” she said. “I love Operation Homefront and everything that they do.”

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times.

 

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