Today we continue our series, “Insights from a Military Parent,” an ongoing discussion in which Rhonda, military spouse and mom of two young boys, responds to questions that arose from her telling of her family’s experience living through two deployments with two young children during our webinar presentation, “Intentional Connection: Establishing Positive Relationships Between Child Care Providers and Military Parents.”
In today’s post, Rhonda talks to child care professionals about reasons that parents (including herself) sometimes feel uncomfortable or reluctant sharing information or discussing a concern with their child’s teacher/caregiver.
Question: Why do you think some military parents feel uncomfortable talking to child care professionals?
I think this differs from family to family. I think the first day of child care/school is scarier for me than for my kids. They hop out of the car with confidence and excitement. I walk through the door clueless about the sign-in book, finding the box to deposit checks, and where lunch boxes belong. It was intimidating watching all the experienced parents breezing in and out, chatting about a local event, and then whisking off to the rest of their fabulous day. What was on my mind was making sure my kids had a hug and a kiss before I left and then getting out without anyone crying. No worries there, my kids LOVED their time at school; I was the one sobbing in the parking lot.
When it came time for our first deployment I felt pressured to be the strong wife and mother. We had pep talks from the Unit leaders, literature from the workshops, and of course all the sayings, quotes, and memorabilia about military wives being strong, independent, etc. My goal was to not be a burden on anyone. It is important for me to say that the “pressure to be perfect” was coming from me, not from anyone else. I believe it is something that I carried with me from my first marriage many years ago to a full-time Army man. We lived on a large base, had a close-knit Unit, and “kept it in the family.” Those early experiences had a major influence over the rest of my life. However, this new situation as a Guard wife didn’t fit with that old framework. I was far from a base, didn’t know any of the other families in the Unit, and had no close family or friends nearby. Asking for help is not something I am comfortable doing, and I felt like I should be able to live up to the “image” of the military wife in my mind. What I didn’t anticipate was just how hard it would be to go from a two parent household to a single parent household with no real support system in place.
Talking to others about problems with discipline, potty training, behavioral problems, etc. requires a certain level of trust. I had grown accustomed to sounding these things out with my husband before going to the professionals. Now he was gone and none of my relatives could even remember potty training me or anyone else for that matter. The typical response was, “It seems like he/she just took to it. We really didn’t have any problems. Have you tried putting Cheerio’s in the toilet?” Aside from the fear of causing the septic system to become clogged with breakfast foods, I wasn’t quite sold on the whole cereal as a target theory. It turns out that parents forget struggling through some of those developmental issues, repressing traumatic events is a safety mechanism that helps us perpetuate our species.
However, no matter how hard we try to hide our weaknesses, there are those eagle-eyed angels of mercy who just seem to know when we need help. The boys’ teachers knew I was struggling and were patient with me.
The assistant director of the school pulled me aside one evening and offered me a cup of coffee. The boys were sitting in one of the classrooms watching a movie and we sat at one of the tiny lunch tables in the common area. She asked me how I was doing and I burst into tears. Why? Select a reason – stress, fear, exhaustion – but most likely because she reached out to me. Kindness is the most simple and generous of gifts. Here I was grading myself with a big, red “F” in motherhood, working woman, and strong military wife. In reality, I didn’t even know my real assignment. Through her support I realized I had to rely on others to get through the deployment with some of my sanity intact. We discussed the potty training and the sass-mouthing and the bedtime problems over the next few months. She became my back-up when the boys were not being gentlemen. She had the ability to be stern and not fall victim to their wily tactics. When I delivered punishments they responded by crying for their daddy. This made me feel tremendously guilty and I became a shameful puddle of permissive clay they molded to their benefit. How embarrassing is it to say you have no control over a toddler and a preschooler? I had to relearn discipline techniques and, most important, have someone in my corner telling me it was “okay” to set limits even though they missed their daddy.
For some of us, reaching out to our child’s educator may not seem obvious when a deployment comes up. There are so many other things we have to get done. We told ourselves that the kids were too young to know what was really going on and we just told them that “daddy’s work is taking him far away for a long time.” We read the children’s books about deployment and involved them in helping him pack his gear, but we had no idea how much his absence, and my stress, would affect them.
Now that we have two deployments under our family belt, I feel it was our lack of understanding how our boys would handle the stress that kept us from reaching out the first time. Had I read the research reports earlier, had I admitted to myself that my kids WOULD have some idea of what was going on, I would have included them in the pre-deployment planning. I would have made them MY number one priority.
This time they were my primary concern, and with their well-being secured, everything else seemed to fall into place. We reached out earlier, developed a relationship of trust with their educators, and made allowances for failure. If we have to go through this again, I am sure we will change more things, but for now we are doing ok. No, we are better than ok…I think we made a solid B+ on this deployment. There is always room for improvement!
Next week’s question: You mentioned a couple of situations in which teachers ended up “bending the rules” to accommodate your child’s temporary needs. What would you like providers to know about flexibility and accommodation?