When half of a parenting pair is deployed, the other half has to suddenly switch from a parenting team to a solo act. Single parenting is a drastic change, but it can be managed with the right planning. The key things to focus on are setting expectations, communication, taking care of your children, and taking care of yourself. Read below for tips and support on how to prepare for and handle the transition once it takes place.
Single Parenting Pre-Deployment Tips
These tips and tricks are important to consider before your spouse is deployed. These plans are necessary during this transition as they ensure effective communication, safety for children, and support for the whole family throughout the deployment while setting guidelines for what to expect during this time.
Connect with Local Support Groups
Learn more about local support groups and establish connections before deployment. Get into contact with your military installation’s Military and Family Support Center to learn about various local resources and opportunities for single parenting. By connecting with local support groups you can start to build your own tribe of single parents that can offer support in multiple ways.
Create a Backup Childcare Plan
Being a military parent often requires you to be in multiple places at the same time, which is manageable if you create a backup childcare plan with two or three contacts you can depend on. If you live near a military installation, locate the closest Department of Defense child development center to explore various child care providers. If this is not an option, visit Child Care Aware of America for more information on all the programs that can provide childcare. Lastly, see if there are any local postings for babysitting services online or create a flyer in search of a local babysitter.
Make a Communication Plan
Figure out what the best form of communication will be for your spouse once they are deployed. Be sure to take into consideration the different ways you and your children prefer to communicate. Nothing is set in stone over deployments, but try to agree on the frequency in which your family will be in contact with the deployed parent.
Meet Neighbors and Join Playgroups
Neighbors and playgroups can be lifesavers when you are single parenting. Get to know at least three of your neighbors in case you need assistance during an emergency or need some time for yourself. Grow your neighborhood connections by attending community events that help you meet other parents and neighbors who are willing to help. Additionally, you can join a playgroup or a babysitting co-op to help your children befriend other military children who may be experiencing similar emotions. Getting to know your neighbors is important because it will provide you and your family with friendship and support through both challenging and joyous times.
Single Parenting Tips During Deployment
Your relationship with your spouse may be tricky to navigate while they are deployed, but navigating single parenting is difficult too. Pay attention to these lifestyle shifts and use these ideas to help make single parenting a little easier.
Arranging meals for an entire family can be exhausting. Meal preparation saves you serious time, money, and energy and allows you to focus on preparing healthy meals that everyone will enjoy. Shop for healthy groceries and try to plan meals that will have leftovers - they can be used for another meal or packed for lunch the following day. Check out blogs such as Love & Lemons or A Simple Pantry for meal inspiration!
Create a single central calendar for your whole family to use. Each member of the family should have their own color and be able to jot things down that they need to remember such as appointments, family or school events, and other time commitments that have been previously made. Make it a routine that once a week all members of your family sit down together for a “family meeting” to review events on the calendar and to make sure everyone is prepared for the upcoming week.
Simplify Errands and Delegate Chores
Simplify your errands by planning ahead. Create separate shopping lists for groceries, cleaning items, children’s needs and your personal needs. By grouping your errands you can grab everything you need in a single trip, avoiding last minute trips to the store. Simplify your chores and keep your home clean by asking for help from your children. A single parenting tip is to encourage children to choose their own chores so that they are more motivated to get them done.
Stick to Pre-Deployment Routines
All families need some type of “normalcy” to bring them together and set standards. Children often fear the unknown, so by sticking to routines they experience comfort and consistency. Stick to any pre-deployment routine to the best of your ability to avoid anxiety and confusion, but save time for a spontaneous family outing every once in a while.
How to Support Your Children
Deployment stress and symptoms will most likely vary, depending on your children’s age and maturity. Although deployments will never be “easy”, here are some steps to support your children during this change in their life and create an open and safe environment at home.
Be sure to share appropriate information about your spouse’s deployment. Discuss where their deployed parent is located and what their assignment is. Children value transparency, so be sure to try to answer any of their questions to the best of your ability.
Listen to your child. Pay attention to the kinds of questions they ask you and try to answer them honestly and directly. You can listen to what children are telling you by using your interpretation skills: How are they acting? What has their behavior been like recently?
Try to stick to your communication plan as best as possible! Other ways to maintain closeness with deployed parents are often through inanimate objects such as a necklace from Mom or Dad’s favorite hat. A simple way to maintain connection is for the children to write letters to their deployed parent or keep a journal with updates about the community and things going on in the child’s world.
Monitor the media your kids consume on a daily basis. Although it is physically impossible to keep things such as natural disasters, bomb explosions, and terrorist attacks a secret, they may still be very stressful. Ask your children what they have learned about the situation, then tell them what questions they might have.
How to Support Yourself
As one parent becomes the single parent and takes on both parenting roles, they endure their own set of issues and stress. Try these tips if you are in a single parenting position and need some help or guidance in supporting yourself emotionally and financially.
Spend time educating yourself about what to expect before, during, and after deployment. There are so many programs and resources in the world that can help you understand various aspects of deployment and provide you with coping mechanisms. If you are constantly preparing yourself for the various shifts and changes that happen during deployment, you won’t feel so unprepared when you come across the bumps in the road.
Make Yourself Busy
While juggling all the things you have to do to take care of your children and yourself, single parenting will leave you very busy. However, there will be a few instances in which you find yourself with a surplus amount of free time. There are many jobs and opportunities that allow you to work from home whenever you want, which also helps lessen any financial stresses that may come with single parenting.
Practice Stress Management
Stress can be managed in a variety of ways, but it starts with your well-being. You can speak with a variety of health and wellness coaches that can offer to learn more about how healthy eating and regular exercise can contribute to the overall well-being of your health. Mindfulness exercises can help reduce your stress by bringing attention to the small, little things that bring joy into your life.
Take Care of Yourself
Don’t forget to take care of yourself! Remember, your oxygen mask goes on before your child’s-- you can’t take care of your children until you have first taken care of yourself. Maybe you need to cry or scream or simply talk to someone. Ask yourself, “What does self-care mean and look like for me?”
Deployment is heart wrenching for all military families, especially those with children. Check out this guide for military spouses going through deployment for more tips!