Category Archives: Military Families

Putting the Pieces Back Together After Deployment

family-retreatsThe other day when I was at the commissary, I ran into someone who told me she was feeling overwhelmed with all of the stuff she was dealing with after her spouse returned home. He had been deployed for the third time in five years, the children were not as welcoming as they had been the last time, and she was wondering how they all could recapture the family she remembered and wanted back again. She knew I worked at the National Military Family Association, and that I had been a military spouse. Was there something out there that could help?

The world of military life has changed since I was an active-duty spouse. These past years of wartime climate have affected families in ways that could not have been imagined when troops began their repetitive cycles of deployment. Most families have worked to come back together after each deployment but it gets harder and harder when the time apart exceeds the time together.

The National Military Family Association has been advocating for military families for forty-five years. And like the changes that have occurred since I was a military spouse, our Association has changed. One of those changes, born from our advocacy, listening and acting in response to families’ concerns, and the occasional chance encounters in the commissary, is our Operation Purple® Family Retreats.

Take a military family dealing with reintegration and reunion challenges following one or multiple deployments, add family-focused activities designed to celebrate the family and each other, and mix with special resiliency and team-building fun set in or near national parks, and you have the basic recipe for an Operation Purple Family Retreat. And this special opportunity comes with free lodging, activities and meals…thanks to the generosity of donors that want to honor military families. But there is more.

“Seeing my son smile more than he has in months…Husband retreating into self and allowing growth…Me allowing myself to admit areas I need to improve on…” Service member Dad

“Great experience that was much needed for our family. We were able to connect without the distractions of everyday life…” Military Spouse

Almost 400 military families have participated in an Operation Purple Family Retreat. We keep learning what it means to them. And so I suggested to my new friend from the commissary that she and her family apply so that they, too, could begin to focus on each other. Applying online is as easy as checking our website in February for the application, locations, and dates. We will have four in 2014 – across the country. February 14-18, 2014 at Teton Science Schools, Jackson, WY is already full but we return there June 30 – July 4th. Maybe this is just what your family needs…

theresaPosted by Terry Buchanan, Youth Initiatives Director

Roadmap to Understanding the Childless Military Spouse

couple-jumpingLet me be honest here for a minute. I’m 28. I’ve been married for four years. I am a military spouse. I don’t have kids, nor are they in my immediate future.

Boom.

I’m sure some of you will read that and, no doubt, think I’m weird. But spouses like me are not rare; in fact, there are a ton of us. We’re just hiding from the command parties that feature bubble wrap laid on the floor for your kids to trample on.

Ok, we’re not really hiding. But in my experience, some spouses with children often forget how to communicate with those of us who are not parents. We all came from the same bus stop, remember? Just not all of us took the ride into parenthood.

Speaking of my experiences, here are some of the craziest things that spouses with kids have said to me.

Consider this a roadmap of what not to say to the childless military spouse:

“Don’t you feel useless with all that free time and nothing to focus your energy on?”

“You don’t want to be the OLD mom – better not wait much longer!”

“Are you having infertility issues?”

“You could just adopt!”

“Aren’t you READY for kids?!”

“But you’re almost thirty.”

“Having kids gets us so much more money on our tax return!”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

As military spouses, we’re all trying to find common ground, share experiences, and support each other. And while none of the spouses who said these things to me meant any ill regard, they still made me feel excluded.

Those of us in the military community who don’t have kids by the “normal” age (read: young parents) still want to be included in your play dates, kids events, and yes, we’ll even help set up the bubble wrap on the floor at the next command Christmas party. Maybe we are struggling with experiencing pregnancy, or worse, maybe we’ve lost a pregnancy, but we just aren’t sharing. Or (gasp!) maybe we are childfree by choice.

Having children is a big decision for any one, and those of us who haven’t crossed that bridge, still have other things in common with you. We’re loving wives, focused employees, loyal friends, and can be a genuine support system for you on this military journey!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Don’t Let Your New Year’s Resolutions Become Your Next Epic Fail

new-years-epic-failFun fact: 88% of New Year’s Resolutions fail.

Why do people even bother?! I never purposely set myself up for failure– which is why, for the past few years, my resolutions have included:

Eat more ice cream.
Drink more champagne.
Get more pedicures.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m in that successful 12%. I’m 3 for 3 and looking forward to a successful 2014 (filled with more massages)!

But what if you have legit resolutions? What if you want to drop 20 pounds, stop smoking, or put a certain amount of money into your kids’ college savings account? Should you give up before you start?

Absolutely not!

You can succeed at your New Year’s resolutions if you do these things:

Focus
Don’t resolve to get more massages and more pedicures and eat more ice cream and stop biting your toenails (ew!). Pick one. Stanford Professor Baba Shiv has done extensive research on resolutions and found that making more than one is too much for the brain to handle!

And don’t be vague. Instead of saying “get more massages,” I’d say “get six massages in 2014.” Don’t resolve to “get in shape,” instead say “lose 20 pounds.”

Take Baby Steps
Instead of making a yearly goal, break it up into chunks. When you make long-term goal, it’s too easy to put off ‘til later. Plus, having early success will help you stay motivated. For example, if you’re trying to lose 20 pounds, set a goal of losing 5 pounds by the end of March.

Blab to Your Friends
Nothing kicks you in the behind like a good public shaming. Ok, I’m being dramatic. Announce your New Year’s resolution to your friends and family (on Facebook and in person); even if they don’t say a word, knowing that they’re aware of what you’re trying to accomplish will make you feel worse for giving up.

Give Yourself a Break
Know that every day isn’t going to be award-winning– you’ll have good days and bad days. Just because you ate a dozen donuts on Saturday doesn’t mean it’s over. Just eat a dozen leaves of kale to make up for it (not really). The point is this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t Forget to Celebrate!
When you meet those smaller goals, stop and give yourself a high five or do a little happy dance. Treat yourself to something nice—something that doesn’t steer you away from your goal. For all you “get-in-shapers,” buy yourself some new running shorts or a new iTunes playlist. If “stop swearing” was your resolution, buy yourself a censored version of your favorite movie. You get the point.

Best of luck with your resolutions. I’m off to get my first of many massages… and maybe some champagne.

Happy New Year!

besaPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Geo-Bachelorhood: Six months later

geobachelorEarlier this year, my family and I had a difficult decision to make. My husband had received orders that would take him to an installation about three hours from our home in Virginia. In the past, a new set of orders simply meant a new home town, no questions asked. We packed up the kids, said goodbye to friends and neighbors, and set off on our new adventure.

This time, however, we paused. We worried about the effect of moving the kids now that they are in middle and high school. We wondered if we would be able to sell our house or find a renter. And I asked myself if my career would ever recover if I had to give up yet another job. So after a lot of discussion and a lot of soul-searching, we decided that – for now at least – the kids and I would stay behind and my husband would become a geo-bachelor.

Now, it’s six months later, and while we’ve had our good days and our bad days, on the whole we’re managing. While I would never say that we have everything figured out, we have learned a few lessons over the past few months that have made geo-bachelorhood more bearable.

When we decided the kids and I would not move to the new installation, I worried about how I would manage everything on my own. Surprisingly, though, that hasn’t been our biggest challenge. As an experienced military family, we are accustomed to long separations, the kids and I slid easily back into our old routines. Every weekend, however, those routines were upended when my husband came home. It took a while for all of us to adjust our expectations and learn to enjoy our time together.

The first lesson I had to learn was to give Dad some down time. After a week of holding down the fort single-handedly, it’s tempting to meet him at the door with a honey-do list in one hand and the carpool schedule in the other. In fact, my husband jokes that I seem to think he comes home just to walk the dog and take out the garbage. And it’s true that when he’s home the kids and I are more than happy to let him handle some of the household chores that we take on in his absence.

But, although it’s easy for me to forget while I’m juggling kids, work, and housework, my husband’s schedule is demanding too and he deserves a chance to relax a little bit on the weekend. Raking the leaves can wait (for a while, at least)!

Another challenge has been fitting in family time. Our kids are busy with friends and activities. Between soccer games, sleepovers, and babysitting gigs, we sometimes found that a weekend had passed and Dad had barely seen one or both of the kids. We’re pleased the kids have so many friends and so much to keep them busy – it’s part of the reason we chose to stay here, after all – but time with Dad is important too.

We try to find time for him to spend one-on-one with each of the kids, even if they’re just riding along with him on a quick trip to the store. It also helps that he makes an effort to stay connected to the kids even when he can’t be here. Regular phone calls and texts throughout the week let the kids know that Dad is still involved in their lives even though he can’t be here every day.

Like so many aspects of life in the military, geo-bachelorhood isn’t easy. We were faced with a difficult choice, and are trying to do what’s right for our family. Some days are easier than others, and there are certainly times when I second guess our decision. So far, we’re making it work. We’ll see where we are this time next year!

Are you navigating geo-bachelorhood? What are your tips?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Currently Serving and Retirees – Pay Cuts Affect Us All

Balance-Budget-on-Backs-(2)With the proposed Ryan-Murray budget deal being voted on this week, military retirees are being urged to let their Congressional Members know how the Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) cap on military retired pay will adversely affect them over the course of their retirement. But this is only one part of the Congressional attack on compensation aimed at both the currently-serving and retirees.

Let’s not forget that the other deal announced recently — the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA) — inflicts some pay pain on those currently-serving, which will translate to more pain when they retire. Our active duty service members should be getting a 1.8 percent pay raise, but the NDAA provides only a 1 percent raise.

And, oh by the way, in 2014, retirees will receive their full 1.7 percent COLA. The phase-in of the reduction in the COLA for retirees ages 62 and under, called for in the budget bill, doesn’t start until 2015 and will happen over 3 years. Projections on active duty pay call for smaller raises than the civilian wage increase during that time. So even if the phase-in of the reduced retired pay goes into effect, those currently serving will probably receive a few smaller pay increases than retirees. And remember, smaller active duty pay raises translate into lower retiree pay when that active duty member retires.

Congressional decisions are spreading the pain to all military people in a way disproportionate to the rest of the Nation. We firmly believe the changes in pay and retirement should not have been done piecemeal by Congress without waiting for the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, established to study compensation and retirement.

We can’t talk about the harm to one group of our community without talking about the damage long term to the folks serving now if they’re denied the pay raises equal to civilian wage growth. The families of our future retirees are getting a double whammy–one punch is the lower pay raise now and the other is the lower retiree COLAs in the future. At least there will be a catch-up for the retirees when they turn 62. There’s no catch-up on active duty pay losses.

Let’s make our leaders understand the effects these deals AND continued sequestration are having on all military people.

Let Congress know that budgets should not be balanced on the backs of those who have already given so much. Despite the urgency on the budget bill, we need to focus on the effects to entire life cycle of service – from currently serving to retired. Write your Members of Congress and let them know how you feel.

And, on another note, with these hits to military families’ wallets, commissary savings become even more important! We continue to urge the Department of Defense to preserve the commissary system and the savings it provides.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

Sending Holiday Cheer to Service Members: Part 2

This month, we are featuring your letters of love and encouragement to service members in your life. Do you know someone who could use some holiday cheer? Deployed, or at home, let us help you share your love and gratefulness to a service member! Kids can join in, too! Send your letter with a photo to blog@militaryfamily.org.

AJKChristmas

Dear Andrew,

We are so blessed that you will be home to celebrate Christmas with us this year! As we know all too well, so many families aren’t as fortunate. Your dedication to our family and our country inspires me every day. I am so proud of you and the career that you have chosen in the United States Army!

All my love, Lauren


sebastianDear Matt,

Throughout our military life together, the thing that always makes me most proud is to see you set goals for yourself, and work hard to achieve them. Your character and leadership is second to none, and I am lucky to have you. Thank you for taking me on this journey, I’ll get the hang of it one day! I love you, and I love the heart of service you have for your country. You are amazing!

Love, Shannon

 

How do you show the service members in your life that you appreciate them? Tell us below!

How to Manage Spending and Stress During the Holidays

budgeting-for-holidaysA few weeks ago, we posted an article about managing your money as the holidays approach. Nothing is worse than the reality check of opening the credit card bills from all the overspending you did during the holidays. And here we thought putting on those few ‘holiday pounds’ was the only problem! The good news is that it’s never too soon to start being smart with your money. It’s never too late, either. So, let’s get down to business!

Consumer Finance Protection Bureau recommends that you avoid holiday overspending by:

Making a spending plan. Be honest about what you can really spend. Not everyone needs a tangible gift purchased with money and people often appreciate things that don’t have a price tag. So, make a plan and work within that plan. Get creative: offer childcare, house cleaning, make dinner, or get crafty!

Make a list of gift recipients. Plan, plan, plan! If you make your list early, you have time to search for good deals instead of settling for what is available at the last minute. If your list seems long (is every member of your extended family on the list?), consider doing a drawing of names or make a family game where gifts are anonymous, like “Secret Santa”. This can be a great opportunity to bond and minimize cost when your recipients have common connections. If your budget is tight, but you feel like you have to purchase gifts, try to prioritize who needs something purchased instead of something homemade. Shop online and compare prices if you have specific gifts in mind.

Keep track of what you spend. If you save in one area, you can shift that savings to other areas of your holiday gift budget! Don’t forget to look for coupons. Many paper coupons can be redeemed online and vice versa. Consider putting any money saved into a retirement or savings account!

Avoid impulse purchases. Shop online to avoid the temptation of shelves crowded with overpriced stocking-stuffers and last minute purchases that you didn’t plan on. When you are in a store, stick with your list! Think twice about window shopping, the occasional splurge, or spoiling moment in an effort to keep more money in your wallet until after the holidays when you are back in a predictable spending routine.

Leave your credit cards at home. Using a credit card almost immediately busts your budget, or at least allows for too much temptation. Make a budget that fits within what you can afford in cash. If you will be purchasing on credit, make sure you have a pay-off plan that you can stick to. You can even save a little extra money elsewhere by making a creative spending plan in advance, like purchasing gift cards for an expensive item when those gift cards offer savings on something, like gasoline. Many stores, like AAFES, offer free or reduced fee layaway prior to Christmas. Always check your local installation exchange to see if they offer a layaway program.

Check details when purchasing gift cards. Some gift cards have special use requirements, like deadlines by which the card expires or fees for not using them within a specified amount of time. This impacts the useable value of the card, so check in advance for full redemption value.

There are lots of great ideas out there about ways to save, but I love this one from Military Saves: start a savings plan in January 2014 to budget for your gifts for next year! This is the perfect time to analyze how you spend during the holidays and put a realistic long term plan together that will have less of an impact on your pocketbook and relieve some of your financial stress.

What tips and tricks do you use for holiday spending and budgeting?

brookePosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director