Tips For Military Families

http://blog.whileyouwereaway.org

Daily tips posted to help military families and members not just survive military life but thrive. Tips on postings, deployments, re-integrations, etc.

Megan is a winner of Top 25 Military Moms - 2013

What's a tip for celebrating a holiday or milestone with your kids when your partner isn't able to be there?

Our family has had to celebrate a lot of holidays without my husband at home. We work hard to still celebrate and enjoy the day but there are some tips that I have found helpful over the years...
1. Acknowledge the accomplishments, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
2. Prioritize what is important to do on the day or at the event. You cannot be all things to all people and do it all but you can work on ensuring the things that matter most are done
3 Acknowledge the absence, don't pretend that all is fabulous. Share your feelings about being sad or angry that they are not there to celebrate then move on with making the most of it
4. Take a ton of photos of the big and small things and include a few notes about why he/she was missed
5. Don't try to do everything the exact same way, accept that things are different and do things that feel right or work for you. Sometimes you can create a new routine or tradition that will be enjoyed for years whether you are together or not

What have you learned about parenting from living in different places?

Parenting isn't based on location. I have learned that regardless of where we live, I have core values, beliefs and parenting dos and don'ts that I live by. What I have learned the most is that a lot of great things come from embracing change, getting to meet new and interesting people and living in places I would otherwise have never done more than stop for gas at. With every move and change, I think that I become a more interesting person and that can only be a good thing for my kids.

What are your best tips for traveling with kids?

Surviving vacations and/or car trips is an art form and particularly if you are doing it alone. As a military wife, I am often “flying solo” and refuse to let life pass us by or not go on trips until my husband is home (we could be waiting for months). Having said this, I don’t go away without some planning and prep time to ensure everyone’s survival. It is this planning that often saves my sanity and allows my kids to see their next birthday!

My basic must brings: snacks, wetnaps, klennex, books, map (for them to use), pencils, markers, paper, neck pillows, tic tacs (play game of seeing who can make theirs last the longest), change (in case of toll booths), IDs and travel permissions, bottles of water, first aid kit, emergency car kit, blanket, stories on CD, music, fruit/veggies (not always easy or cheap along the way), chargers, flashlight, games, plastic bags, extra pair of shoes and socks, box of ziplock bags and camera.

When my husband is away I also make a habit of having the kids take pictures of silly things along the way. When we are on a trip we often get the big moments but they aren’t always the most memorable so by taking silly things along the way we can connect with their Dad in a fun way too. When we are going on long trips we also take a poster board size picture of Dad and insert him into our pictures for fun. It is another silly way of us keeping him a little closer.

I am also not a parent that loves to constantly just turn on a movie or have them play with their gaming systems for hours on end. I remember car trips with my family as a time that we would talk, argue, laugh and discover different things about each other and the world (by actually looking out the window). When I do give in the “electronic pleas” from the back seat I give a time limit or say that they can do it until we reach a certain point. It doesn’t stop them from asking for more time but this is when I pull out the travel bingo. It is the one game we can all agree on. It gets them looking out the window, laughing, talking and time flies by. Now that they are older they make their own cards too. If car bingo doesn’t work then just find something your family can agree on and have fun with it. The idea is really to find things to do to make time pass that don’t always include electronics.

Until I was a parent and military wife, I never knew how exhausting going on a vacation could be! It is always worth it in the end and the memories we create are priceless but the preparation and planning are what ultimately saves me and my children!

What can you do to comfort a child who is missing a parent who is away?

Megan Egerton

I have gone through several deployments with my own family and hundreds with other families as I have worked as teacher and guidance counsellor on base schools. My top ten tips for providing comfort and developing resilency are: 1) Take/Display Pictures – Take pictures before, during and after the absence. The important part is also displaying the pictures so that they can be a constant visual reminder of happy times, successes and celebrations 2) Journal – Writing each day will allow your child(ren) to process their thoughts, worries, ideas, etc. in a very different way. You can make it something you do together or give them time each day to do on their own (with a book or blog) 3) Jelly Bean Jar – Mark the time passing by filling a jar with jelly beans or other candies that will equal the number of days that your family member will be absent (add a few extra in case of delays). 4) Read – Spend time together on a regular basis reading. Books like “Night Catch”, “Daddy, Will You Miss Me” and “Scaredy Squirrel” (for younger children), “Wounded”, “Shattered” or “Three Cups of Tea” (for older children) 5) Family Night - Make time each week to spend a night together as a family either watching a movie, playing a game, making a package to send, etc. 6) Wearing Something – One thing that can provide a tremendous amount of comfort is having something that your child can carry or wear that is special or associated with your absent family member (watch, belt, shirt, etc.) 7) Memory Box – Make a memory box during the entire absence. This gives your childr(ren) a sense of purpose and importance and can make the re-integration after the absence easier as items will trigger memories and you’ll be able to fill in the gaps and talk about what happened while they were away. 8) Being Organized – One of the biggest things that you can do to comfort your child is to be organized. This gives your child a sense of order and control in their lives when the absence can make them feel helpless and confused. Clean out closets, update your calendar, set your watch five minutes fast so that you will be on time for things and not feel rushed, etc. 9) Voice – Your absent family member’s voice can be incredibly comforting. Have your family member, prior to their absence, record good morning, congratuations, happy birthday, I miss you, you can do it, or good night messages that you can play. There are also story books that allow you to record for each page that you could purchase. 10) Clocks – Buy two clocks with your time and the time where your family member is so that you can talk openly about differences and think about what they may be doing. It is also comforting to set a specific time each day when you will agree to think of each other and “send” positive thoughts. We set a timer to beep each day so when we heard the beep we knew that at that exact time, on the other side of the world, our Dad/Husband was thinking of us.
View All Answers

What is your best tip for not losing your temper with children?

Megan Egerton

Acting not reacting is the key. My son can take me over the edge sometimes (he is the mini version of myself) and I have to make sure that the things I do are not a reaction to his defiance but that I am doing something that will make the situation better - freaking out and yelling improves nothing (not that I haven't lost it once or twice). My best piece of advice is to not react at all for at least 5mins. Take a few minutes to assess why you are annoyed, frustrated or furious and then look past it and come up with a solution that is going to make the situation better for everyone. Taking away 'screen time' doesn't make my life easier in the short run but long term he knows that I mean business and can remain composed and calm while I am dishing out the consequences!
View All Answers

What are your three favorite picture books for children? (please specify the age range)

Megan Egerton

My three favorite picture books for military families are: Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut This book speaks specifically to deployment and how you can still connect with each other even though you are miles apart. (Ages 3-10) The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn This book tells about a racoon's anxiety to be separated from his mother and what she does to ensure he always feels her love where they are together or not. There is also a fabulous website that will give you a ton of ideas too! (Ages 2-10) Daddy Will You Miss Me? By Wendy McCormick & Jennifer Eachus This books tells the story of a family going through a deployment and the box their child makes to share with his Dad upon his return. It has suggestions and ideas at the back too. (Ages 3-8)
View All Answers

How much help should parents give their kids with homework?

Megan Egerton

Homework is an outdated concept to begin with - if children work hard all day then they should be able to come home and relax and focus on other skills, exercise, socialize and learn about life beyond the classroom. Sending home homework for the sake of it is not teaching anyone anything so sometimes I will "help" more just to get it over with. If it is a project that is enhancing their learning and encouraging research skills and independent learning skills then I think a parent's job is to simply guide them in the right direction.
View All Answers

Why is the stay-at-home vs. working moms debate so passionate?

Megan Egerton

I am not sure the debate is really as passionate as it used to be. I think that there is a greater understanding in our society of the work involved in staying home, the work involved in being a working mother outside of the home and life's challenges that often make the decision for us. For me, it would have been harder to stay at home. I wasn't good at it. I watched friends do a fabulous job and fell quite short. I realized that my kids would be happier because I was happier as long as my top priority was always them. I would like to believe that, at least for those of us working outside of the home, we recognize that we may actually have it easier and that the only thing that mothers should be passionate about is that we live in a place where we are afforded the opportunity to make the choice at all.
View All Answers

What's your kids' favorite backyard game?

Megan Egerton

When we moved to this house, the relator was smart and had us walk straight to the backyard (it was massive and full of trees and grass and a play structure!). We were sold. Our kids love to go outside and play in the fort part of the structure imaging themselves to be just about anything but who they are for a moment in time.
View All Answers

What are signs that a child isn't being challenged enough in school?

Megan Egerton

After having been in the education system as a teacher, guidance counsellor and now administrator I can honestly say that the signs are not common or alike a lot of the time. I would actually argue that it isn't as much about being challenged at school as it is about being connected to their learning. Your child needs to see the practical application to their learning, how this learning can benefit them, they need to be able to connect what they have learned to their life experiences and when all of these things happen they are engaged in their own learning and their school. If this is not the case, you may see things from school avoidance, disinterest, disruptive in class or inattentive, doing the bare minimum and behaving in ways they would not at home or when they are interested in something. Find a way to make their learning meaningful to them and they will find ways to challenge themselves.
View All Answers

What are some fun activities to put on a summer "bucket list" for your kids? Please link to a picture if you have one.

Megan Egerton

Each year our family sits down and creates a "summer to do list" that includes things that each member of the family would like to do before September. This really helps from having the summer slip away and getting the feeling in September that you didn't do most of what you wanted to. We keep it on the fridge and check things off each week. They include everything from eating junky cereal to swimming in the lake, canoe camping, visiting every city pool at least once, a picnic in the park, taking a photo a day, watermelon spitting contest, going to a drive in movie, reading 5 books each, going to a concert in the park, and so on. It reminds us to Carpe Diem (seize the day). It can also help you from losing it when your child says, "I'm bored" or "We never do anything" or "There is nothing to do around here". Lives have been saved from having this list! ;) Megan Egerton - blog@whileyouwereaway.org
View All Answers