From the difficulties of deployment to the stress of an upcoming PCS and the frustration that come with constantly changing schedules, being a military family creates a truly, well, unique set of circumstances. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the challenges, especially when you’re in the throes of a deployment or a move.
But November is Military Family Appreciation Month — a time that we think about all the wonderful things about being a happy military family. And if you’re not feeling like the happy military family you really want to be? Try using these five keys.
5 Keys to Being a Happy Military Family
Be flexible. You’ve made countless dinners and reservations that your spouse has missed. The non-refundable concert tickets, the un-freezable soufflé that took you three tries to perfect, the children’s school performance that doesn’t take duty hours into consideration; missing these can all brood resentment when “mission” takes priority.
Don’t let it. Grab a friend for the concert, invite an elderly neighbor over for the dinner and record your little cutie singing off-pitch for your spouse to watch later. When you get the, “So sorry, not going to make it,” phone call, repeat after me: “I know you’d rather be here. I understand.”
Manage your expectations. Knowing your spouse’s strengths and understanding his or her weaknesses is critical to maintaining a good relationship. If your spouse is better at phone calls, don’t expect a four page hand-written letter. Cherish those four line emails, instead. Understand what is expected of your spouse at work so that you can know what to expect at home. Our biggest fights were about “crew rest” when we had a new baby. Once I realized there wasn’t any use to us both being exhausted (and his sleep deprivation could actually kill him), we functioned much better. That, and I binge slept like a teenager on Sundays. Know what you need to be successful and communicate that with one another.
Take advantage of resources. Though you may have heard the phrase, “If the _____ (insert service branch here) wanted you to be married, we’d have issued you a spouse,” the military actually does have many resources to support family wellness. A happy home life makes for a better work life. From financial advisers to therapy, Military One Source has a whole host of free resources designed to help your family through even the darkest hours. Looking for a job at your new duty station? Contact a Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) Counselor through the Military Spouse Employment Partnership. Not working and looking for an adventure during leave? Hop on a Space-A flight to discover new parts of the world. There are countless opportunities available designed to help your family not just survive, but thrive.
Be open-minded. Whether you are meeting new people or facing new challenges, keep an open heart and mind. Military spouses have the potential to be the greatest sisterhood (or brotherhood) you’ve ever known. These are the people that truly empathize; they are the ones that have lived it, learned from it and will laugh and cry through it with you. You won’t make friends if you aren’t willing to meet them. Remember that happiness is a mindset, and your attitude sets the tone for your children.
The best advice I received before our first PCS overseas was “If you go there wanting to hate it, or love it, you will.” The same goes for any duty station. Some places you try to love, and you just can’t. That’s okay, too. Make the most of your time there. Have your kids research things to do and make a bucket list. From must-try restaurants to must-do hikes, having a list will be a healthy reminder of fun things ahead.
Be intentional. Use the time you have as a family wisely. Eat dinner together when you can and be purposeful in creating memories. Establish traditions that are independent of a location or specific holiday. We’ve adopted an ice-cream sundae dinner one night a year. The kids never know when it’s coming, and it’s something you can easily plan around a work schedule.
Like any family, a happy military family has to start with a happy marriage. Kelly Alcorn, Navy wife and licensed clinical social worker, sees a plethora of military couples in her Growth Counseling practice. She emphasizes the importance of continually investing in your relationship. “You have to make sure you find one another after the kids go to sleep,” Kelly says. “I tell couples to dramatize it, to literally run into each other’s arms. It says ‘I am here and want to connect with you.’” If your spouse is deployed, keep the love alive with an affirmation to him or her a day. A simple “I love you, because…” can go a long way, for both of you.
From gratitude to your attitude, practicing these five keys will keep your military family thriving.