Tips From Military Parents
November 20, 2017 | 5-minute read
The revelation came at a stop sign.
Kelly, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, was on her way to drop off her daughter at daycare. It was early in the morning, still dark outside.
Moments earlier, her daughter had been struggling to fasten her seat belt. Kelly was furious; she’d already told her to just buckle it. She slammed the car into park, got out, and snapped the belt in herself.
Now, at the stop sign, Kelly looked back to see her daughter crying, head down. She recalls her daughter saying from the back seat, “I’m sorry that I made you so angry; I just couldn’t see.”
Parenting can be an incredible challenge, even in the best of times. Add in posttraumatic stress, an anger issue, or a substance use problem, and the challenge is compounded.
This November, as we honor Military Family Month, two Veterans talk about the challenges they’ve faced as parents, the changes they’ve made for their children, and the help they found along the way.
A Turning Point
Sitting at the stop sign, her daughter crying in the backseat, Kelly knew that she had to do something about her anger. It had been building throughout her military career.
Six months in, during MOS school, she had returned from the winter holidays to learn that the Marine who sat next to her had been murdered. “It molded me to believe that it was always going to happen; I was always going to lose people,” she said. “I had an anger issue from that point, and that’s how I dealt with my feelings. Instead of mourning a death, I expressed it as anger.”
The incident with her daughter was a turning point. Kelly could see, directly, the impact that her anger had on her daughter. She immediately called VA.
“Find your reason.”
“Mom! Mom! Mom!”
Jennifer’s daughter had been trying to get her attention that day — as only kids can do — when something in the Navy Veteran snapped. She lost her patience and came close to hitting her daughter.
Right away, Jennifer called her husband and told him to come home: She needed to see someone at VA. By the time she got there, she was sobbing so hard the receptionist could barely understand her.
“I went in there, and I just screamed and yelled and cried,” Jennifer says. Suddenly, she was letting out all the pent-up feelings about a rape that had happened 10 years earlier. She had never before sought help. “I didn’t even know what half I said was, or why I said it. I just got it out. But this was a release, and there was no judgment.”
Jennifer eventually found great value in group therapy. She realized she wasn’t alone and found tools to help not just herself, but her family as well.
And in her daughter, Jennifer found something too. “To be brave, you have to find a reason to be brave,” she says. “So find your reason. Mine was my kid. … It wasn’t until my daughter that I became brave enough [to seek help], and it was for her.”
Improving Family Relationships
It’s refreshing, Kelly says, to let go of the anger. Sometimes, her daughter will still tell her: “Mama, you’re getting frustrated,” but she has the tools to handle those situations. “Now,” she says, “[she] and I can work through things together.”
If you are dealing with family problems, VA offers resources to help. You may want to reach out for support if you notice one of the following:
- Feeling disconnected or misunderstood by your family and closest friends
- Arguing a lot with family members or friends
- Having trouble reaching agreement with your spouse or partner on household tasks
- Feeling like you’ve been replaced in your former role in the family after being away
- Feeling like a stranger in your own home or noticing that your children seem distant from you
- Easily losing patience with friends and family members
To address issues like these right away, you could:
- Make a “communication plan” for expressing your thoughts and feelings with people you care about. Think about what you want to say and how you want to convey it, and don’t let things get worse by waiting.
- Talk with others who may be experiencing similar issues to learn about how they handle them.
- Exercise regularly to help relieve stress and boost your mood, or try relaxation exercises such as deep breathing.
- Make an effort to spend time with people you care about to relax or have fun.
VA programs can help, too. Matt, a former weapons loader, faced a degenerative spinal disease, feelings of depression, and substance use issues after leaving the Air Force. He eventually attended counseling sessions, and then he and his wife joined a VA program geared toward strengthening family bonds.
“I learned not only to be a better husband, but a better father to my children,” Matt says. “We still have our challenges, but we have our resources in place. And those challenges never become overwhelming anymore. … We have the tools that we need to deal with them, and we don’t let them take over.”
Learn more about improving family relationships.