Happy to have this guest post by Becca! Want to write a guest post for Soldier’s Wife, Crazy Life? Please email me at Julie@soldierswifecrazylife.com and let me know! I take pieces on anything milspouse related, from deployment tips to duty station reviews.
Being a military spouse is a hard job. Being a parent of teens is even harder. When deployments come, and you’re left to parent teenagers on your own, it can feel like going into battle with only a popsicle stick as a weapon. Teenagers aren’t as scary as they sound, as long as you know what to do when the going gets rough. Deployments represent an extraordinary chance to connect with your teens and strengthen your bond.
A Note About Teenagers
We were warned about the teenage years. Everyone told us they would be terrible – that our kids would run amok, be defiant, and skip school. While those things do sometimes happen, I’m here to tell you that, by and large, teenagers are awesome.
In their teen years, our kids grow into themselves. We get to see glimpses of the adults they will become. It’s a wonderful time for meaningful conversations about life, the world, and your child’s place in it. And let’s not forget that teenagers are self-sufficient: they sleep until noon if you let them, do their own laundry, and once they get a driver’s license, you can have them stop at the grocery store on the way home from school.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Teens face very real, very scary problems: societal pressures, mental health challenges, bullying, drugs, alcohol, sex. I’d take potty training and tantrums any day over having to navigate some of the issues my teens have faced.
Being a Teenager in a Military Family
Military kids aren’t immune from typical teenage problems. In fact, they face even greater challenges because they are military kids: constantly moving from one school to the next, saying goodbye to friends at a pivotal time in their lives, and living without one or both parents for months on end. During a deployment, those typical teenage problems seem even more significant to our kids.
As the parent left behind, we often take on the brunt of their pain, anger, and sadness. Guiding teenagers through a parent’s deployment can feel like a monumental task, but it is not impossible. With enough careful planning, love, and outside support, you can help your teens cope during a deployment.
Take Care of Yourself First
We hear it all the time as military spouses: you have to take care of yourself first. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” they tell us. “You have to put your oxygen mask on before helping others.” All cheesy cliches aside, self-care is vital, especially during emotionally exhausting times of life. Teenagers can be super wonderful most of the time, but they are also challenging at others.
Your energy isn’t infinite. To have enough energy to support your teens when they struggle, you have to recharge first. Start by carving out some time for yourself.
Keep Them Talking
Teenagers might act like they don’t need us (and they might even believe they don’t). However, in these formative years, parental guidance is crucial. When one parent is deployed, half of our kids’ parenting support system is gone for months at a time.
Be intentional about creating and maintaining open communication. Getting a teen to open up about thoughts and feelings isn’t always easy, but the tips in this link can help you start a dialogue. Let them know that you are a safe space, that your teen can tell you anything, without judgment – and mean it.
Secondly, before a deployment, have your spouse create a communication plan with your teen. Maybe it’s an online game that your teen and your spouse can play together across the miles. Perhaps it’s a weekly phone call solely between your spouse and your teens. Encourage your kids to keep a journal of things they want to tell their deployed parent. Then, during that scheduled call, they’ll have lots to talk about.
Encourage External Support
Teens value the opinions of their peers. Often, they’ll listen to their peers long before they listen to adults. The trick is to guide your teens toward healthy, positive friendships that strengthen their mental and emotional health.
Military kids face specific challenges that only other military kids can truly understand. If your child doesn’t have any military-associated friends, encourage them to seek out groups of military peers. Connecting with other military kids can help your teen feel less alone.
If your child struggles to find others who understand, suggest the following:
- School groups with like-minded people. Many military communities have after-school programs that connect military kids.
- Contact the School Liaison Officer on your campus. This person can help direct your child towards support programs for teens with deployed parents.
- Online groups, such as Military Kids Connect. Many teens feel more comfortable opening up online than they do in person. Of course, be sure to monitor these online groups and ensure everyone stays safe.
If your child is genuinely struggling with mental or emotional health, contact your medical professional. You might also reach out to on-post mental health services, such as the completely free Military and Family Life Counseling (MFLC) representative on your installation. Some locations have MFLCs that work specifically with children and teens. Many therapists off-post also take Tricare insurance, giving your child access to a great network of mental health professionals at no cost.
During a deployment, days can often feel twice as long. Staying busy helps the time pass quickly, and it helps keep you and your teens connected. Sit down together and brainstorm ideas for a “deployment bucket list.” Include places to go, things to do, and unique experiences to do together while your spouse is deployed. Then, choose at least one item from that list to complete each week.
You can also encourage your teens to stay busy with after-school activities, sports, time with friends, and pursuing new hobbies. Fill your days – and theirs – with mental stimulation and physical activity. Staying busy not only helps the deployment go by faster, but it also gives you and your teen an outlet to release your emotional and mental stress.
Lower Your Expectations
We sometimes forget that our teenagers aren’t mini-adults. They’re still kids. And they’re kids dealing with very real emotions about their deployed parent. Cut your kids some slack during deployment and lower your expectations. Mental health is always more important than an “A” on the science test.
Even in the best of circumstances, parenting teens can be tough. Adding a deployment to the equation sometimes makes it feel impossible. Take it one day at a time. Take care of yourself. And love your kids hard. Eventually, that deployment countdown will hit zero, and you’ll be a stronger family because you faced this hardship together.
Becca Stewart is an Air Force Spouse, mother of two, freelance writer, and sufferer of Wanderlust. Originally from Colorado, she enjoys anything outdoors, especially if there’s snow involved. She is a travel fanatic, always looking for her next great adventure. As a full-time writer, Becca works closely with several nonprofit organizations and is a passionate advocate for human rights and military families. She is Mom to two incredible kids, one teen, and one young adult. Together, they’ve been through four deployments and countless TDYs. Learn more at writebecca.com. Website Facebook LinkedIn