Parenting is always complicated. The stresses that come with caring for a child while creating a healthy, nurturing environment are immense. However, for veterans of the armed forces, parenting can be exceptionally challenging, and learning to communicate with a child comes with many hurdles. Not only do veterans have a unique perspective on life and their experiences, but they must also learn to raise a child while adapting to non-military culture in civilian life.
Veterans Returning Home
Transition stress, or the stresses of leaving an established military culture and adjusting to civilian life, is always a difficult hurdle to overcome. Processing trauma, navigating the use of drugs or alcohol, and finding new hobbies and peers can all be difficult. Seeking help and support to overcome these challenges after returning home is paramount. Not only do trauma, addiction, depression, and transition stress all affect a veteran’s mental health and daily life, but they also have profound effects on each veteran’s parenting abilities.
Veterans may face additional stresses as they readjust to a healthy familial atmosphere. Some may have missed anniversaries, birthdays, or other life events important to their child. It can be difficult to come to terms with the effects of missing these key events while one was on active duty.
A child may have changed personality traits or interests between when one was deployed and a veteran’s return home. Picking up exactly where one left off in their relationship with their child may not be possible. Embracing strategies or professional programs to support this transition to civilian life is essential for balancing one’s own needs with the most effective practices for reconnecting with a child as a veteran parent.
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Strategies for Parenting as a Veteran
There is nothing easy about being a parent. Veterans will not only have to embrace some new strategies when it comes to raising a child but also have to relinquish some perspectives and practices from their military life.
Be Ready to Talk
Military life is incredibly structured, with immovable chains of command and authority. The idea of disobeying a superior officer or talking back is not tolerated. However, this kind of mentality does not always translate to a civilian home. Veterans may have to adjust their expectations to reflect that they are no longer on a military base. Being willing to talk about expectations and have an open, honest dialogue, instead of taking an authoritative stance that one may be accustomed to, is necessary.
Taking time to talk to a child about rules and consequences, and letting children voice their opinions is necessary, even if such a culture is not present in the military. This kind of communication can open the way for better future understanding between a veteran parent and their child. For a child unaccustomed to military life, intense authority can be difficult to process. Further, it can often lead to resentment, anger, or schisms between themselves and a veteran parent.
Returning when a child is in their teenage years can be exceptionally difficult, with teenagers often expressing newfound freedoms and social needs that may not have been as prevalent before. Being willing to talk about the newfound freedoms granted by a spouse while one was on tour is necessary. Likewise, veteran parents may have to honor these newfound freedoms.
Get Involved in Their Interests
Children grow up fast. A child may have adopted new hobbies, interests, and more while a parent was on tour. Returning home as a veteran means adjusting to who a child is in the present, rather than trying to pick up on a past relationship.
It can be difficult to process this “lost time” with a child, but meeting a child where they are in their life can be instrumental in creating a healthy dialogue. Getting involved in any new interests, asking questions, and making an effort to get involved with present interests is necessary. It can be instrumental in further developing a relationship with a child.
Open Yourself to Questions
Children may have a lot of questions – not just about a parent’s time on duty, but even more generically about why their parent was away. It can be difficult, especially for younger children, to understand long deployments and their necessity.
Being willing to open oneself up to difficult questions and listen to feelings of frustration that may be present due to one’s absence is necessary to create an honest dialogue. Fielding these questions not by defending oneself, but by speaking honestly about the difficulties a veteran felt as well from being away from their family, can create a healthy understanding to connect with a child.
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Engage in Self-Care
There is nothing easy about veteran life. While the challenges of parenting are innumerable, it is paramount to continue caring for one’s own mental and physical health. Seeking professional treatment for addiction that may stem from one’s traumatic experiences, navigating PTSD, and overcoming any other stresses is necessary to prevent these from affecting a veteran’s familial life, and especially their ability to effectively parent as a veteran. Dedicated veteran programs are essential in overcoming these challenges while connecting veterans with peers who are tackling their own transition to civilian life as a parent.
Parenting is difficult and filled with stress, uncertainty, anxiety, and more. However, parenting as a veteran can be even more complicated. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand the difficult nature of parenting as a veteran, and we are prepared to create a plan that can help you manage the transition to a healthy lifestyle while creating a healthy home atmosphere. We can develop strategies to challenge trauma, PTSD, addiction, and more. Our drug and alcohol treatment centers in Hawaii, along with our comprehensive veteran-focused community, are filled with peers learning to balance the challenges of parenting with personal veteran needs. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (866) 390-5070.