Tag Archives: military parents

Father’s Day at the White House: A military family’s experience

MWI was ecstatic when we were offered tickets to the White House Father’s Day event on June 14th. We’ve been in the DC area for a little over a year and I knew that this was a once in a life time opportunity.

When we arrived, we waited at one of the entry gates with about 30 other people. After going through a ton of security, we were eventually met by a White House employee who also volunteers for the National Military Family Association. She gave us an amazing mini-tour of the west wing of the White House and walked us to where we would be having lunch shortly thereafter. Along the walk we were able to admire many of the pictures taken of our nation’s leaders throughout history, including Presidents, First Ladies, and celebrities. One picture which was especially memorable to me, personally, was a picture of Princess Diana and John Travolta dancing. It was certainly not something that I would expect to see occur at the White House, but it was impressive.

Much to the delight of my youngest son, Brady, a military band played nearby as we stood in the buffet line. Lunch turned out to be a simple, yet delightful meal: hamburgers, French fries, fruit, and salad.  There was a bit of a lull after we finished eating and Brady was becoming restless. I gave him my iPhone to keep him entertained while we waited for President Obama to arrive.  Shortly after, the President walked into the room and started speaking. I tried to grab my phone from my son to get a picture and when I grabbed it he started yelling, “NO, NO, NO!!”

President Obama replied back, “YES!”

Now, our family jokes that Brady is the youngest Presidential heckler! The President gave a short speech stating that being a father is the best job he has and when he looks back on life, he will remember the times with his kids and Michelle.

AndersonFamilyAfterwards, the President took the time to come around to each table – about 8 tables in total – to take a picture and chat for a few minutes. It was a surreal experience to shake hands and speak with the President! He looked and sounded exactly as I expected, probably because of all the speeches and appearances I had seen during this last election season. He asked my husband about his military service, where he currently worked, and also asked about how we met. When my husband told him that we met in Oklahoma, he asked me if I had any family affected by the recent tornadoes. He also made small talk with our boys and shook their hands. Normally, you are lucky to get a high five out of my two year old, but even Brady knew he needed to shake the President’s hand. He thanked my husband for his military service three different times. Being thanked by the Commander-in-Chief was so memorable and amazing. It is something I will never forget.

After President Obama left the room, it was his dog, Bo’s, turn to make an appearance. Bo ran around and sat by the tables so all the kids could pet him and take pictures.

In between the events, we went to Jefferson Park, which is conveniently located across the street from the White House. My two sons chased birds, ducks, and squirrels, and eventually met a friend – a child from Canada – to dig in the dirt with. After playing in the park, both boys were tired and wanted me to carry them for the rest of the long walk around the White House (which is no easy feat). When my oldest son pointed at a Pedicab and asked what it was, I decided this happened for a reason and we hopped right in. The Pedicab, a bicycle powered rickshaw, dropped us at the gate for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building for an early preview of Monster’s University. My kids haven’t been to a theatre before, so it was especially cool for them to experience their first movie in the White House.

We often hear that as a military family, we will see and experience amazing things during our travels around the world. I believe this recent experience in Washington D.C. will be hard to top going forward in my military life.

What experiences have you had that made you feel appreciated as a military family?

Amanda headshotBy Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife App

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.When the first Soldiers and Marines boarded the planes for Afghanistan in October 2001, no one was standing at the door asking them how they were doing. No one asked their families, either. Research on the well-being of service members and families affected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was slow to appear. And, many military families had already experienced a deployment or two before researchers were able to begin their studies of family separations, mental health, the effects of service member’s injuries on family relationships, child well-being, and multiple deployments and returns.

I’m proud that the National Military Family Association was the first to launch a large-scale study of military children and deployment as we commissioned RAND to follow 1,500 children and their at-home caregivers for a year. RAND reported in our Views from the Homefront study, released in 2011, that most military children and their families were handling deployment stresses well. But, researchers found military children had more anxiety symptoms than civilian kids. Military families were more at risk the longer the service member was deployed. Children had a harder time if their at-home parent was having problems dealing with deployment or if there was poor family communication in the home.

Other research is now being released and more is underway that is adding to our understanding of how the past decade of multiple deployments is affecting families. It’s both heartening and disappointing that this research is validating some of the conclusions of our study.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to understand and how our Association can use the latest research on military families presented at two recent conferences: a symposium on National Guard and Reserve families held in April at the University of Michigan and the International Research Symposium for Military Families held last week by Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute.

What are researchers reporting they’ve learned about military families? They find that most service members and families remain resilient, but:

  • More months of deployment are associated with more family challenges, more mental health services and medication use by military spouses and children, and more academic issues for children.
  • Spousal support has a strong impact on the ability of ill/injured service members to work towards getting better, but spouses need accurate information about illness, warning signs, and strategies for communicating concerns to health care providers.
  • Female service members and veterans identify several barriers to accessing support services, including gaps in information about the issues they face and a perceived lack of understanding of gender differences, especially concerning parenting.
  • Among deployed service members, family stress appears to be primarily related to service members’ actual or perceived inability to be a source of support for family members at home.

Getting more information about what’s happening to military families affected by war is important for many reasons. It can help guide the creation of better programs, policies, and laws. It can pose questions about what else we need to know about military families to support them. In this era of tight budgets, knowing what service members and families need must be the first step in creating new programs and deciding which existing programs need to be cut.

A key part of the discussion at these recent research conferences focused on what else we need to know. We need to know more about the experiences and needs of female service members and veterans—and their children. We need to know more about the long term effects of the past decade of war on military children, not just while their parent is on active duty, but after the service member becomes a veteran. How are military families making the transition to veteran status? What help did they receive from the Department of Defense? What do they need after leaving the military and settling into their new civilian community? What kind of support are families seeking in their communities and is it helping? What are the long term effects of a service member’s serious injury on the family, including the parents and siblings of single service members? What new issues will emerge for families as they face new military missions?

What questions do you wish researchers would ask about the military family experience? What do your think our Nation needs to know about service members, veterans, and their families in order to support them in the future? Tell us!

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

Understanding deployment: books for military children

Understanding deployment: books for military childrenThere are many ways to help children deal with the stress they may be feeling due to the deployment of a parent. Suggestions such as keeping a journal, volunteering your time, or staying active with a sports team or hobby are fun ways to distract kids from what seems like a never-ending time in their life.

While staying busy does help school-aged children avoid dwelling on a parent being gone, how do you help younger children understand and cope with what they are feeling? Many families love reading fun books together; this time can also double as a great teaching moment to help young military kids.

Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to cozy up with your little one under a tree or in the park and enjoy one—or all—of our favorite deployment-related books geared towards children under the age of five.

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn – This book helps children learn a coping skill when encountering a change or missing someone by connecting their love of family with a “token” – or kiss in the hand. This is one of several books in a series. The author wrote another book, A Kiss Goodbye, that helps young children process moving.

Over There, by Dorinda Williams – Written by Dorinda Williams at Zero To Three, this is a great book because families can download a version of the book, print it out, and then customize the story by using their own photographs. The activity book comes in a “daddy” version as well as a “mommy” version. Military families can order this book via Military OneSource.

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst – Similar to The Kissing Hand, this book teaches kids how to deal with missing a parent by understanding that they are still connected to their parent via an “invisible string.” While not geared solely to military families, this touching book can help young children feel connected with deployed parents or other family members that are far away.

This is a short list of the many books military families have found helpful. What military-related children’s books do you recommend?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

April is the Month of the Military Child – Let’s Celebrate!

Happy Month of the Military Child!In 1986, when Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger designated each April as “The Month of the Military Child,” could he have imagined how relevant his vision would still be today? In 1986, many people assumed military kids were dealing with the same challenges, successes, and disappointments that any other kid might encounter. They were. But boy did we find out there was so much more to being a military kid!

Today we kick off the official celebration of our military kids – for their accomplishments and resilience. We recognize that some kids are dealing with struggles that neither Secretary Weinberger nor any of us could have imagined. The global conflicts since 9/11 have forever changed our lives. In the early days of conflict and in response to parents asking for help, the National Military Family Association launched our Operation Purple® summer camp program to help military kids cope with the stress they were experiencing. Stress from their dad or mom being in a war zone, stress from the ever-present media coverage of combat, stress related to the separation from a loved one, and stress from feeling alone.

This summer marks the tenth year of Operation Purple camp. Nearly 47,000 military children from around the world have had the chance to meet other kids at a place where they can just be kids, and celebrate being in a military family. At camp, military kids create a “Wall of Honor” to showcase the pride they feel toward their special family member who is serving. Kids raise their hands to share “top ten things” about being a military child or being at camp and have the chance to talk with each other about what bothers them and what makes them tick.

All of these activities are integrated into the well-known camp stuff like rock climbing, swimming, hiking, campfires, you name it. Operation Purple camp gives military children, who are unique yet the same, an opportunity to connect.

Ten years have passed and we never expected to be in this market for this long. Thanks to past generosity from Sears, Roebuck and Company, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, the Sierra Club Foundation, Goldman Sachs Gives, and countless individual donors, we have been able to serve our military kids. And while we didn’t expect to host camps for as long as we have, we know now is not the time to leave. Our kids are too important to our future – for all of us.

As we celebrate our military children this April, our work continues. We want this month to not only acknowledge how strong military kids are, but to also focus on supporting them as they grow up in the military community. Thank you, Secretary Weinberger, for bringing this awareness through the proclamation so many years ago. Now it is up to all of us to make sure we keep our military kids safe, loved, and celebrated – not only in April but through the entire year!

We want to celebrate by featuring YOUR military kid! Throughout April on our Facebook page and website, we will post videos, photos, and quotes from military kids around the country. Submit yours today!

On behalf of the National Military Family Association, we thank you and your children for their service and sacrifice. Together we’re stronger.

theresaPosted by Theresa Buchanan, Youth Initiatives Director at the National Military Family Association

20 years of the Family and Medical Leave Act – are you covered?

20 years of FMLA - are you covered?When you are welcoming a new baby, caring for an ill family member, or struggling with an illness yourself, your job is probably the last thing on your mind. Family challenges sometimes require our undivided attention, even if that means taking some time off work. This reality was addressed twenty years ago, when the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law. Since 1993, the FMLA has helped thousands of American workers by allowing them to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves and their families, secure in the knowledge that their jobs would be waiting for them when they came back.

In 2008, the FMLA was expanded to cover the families of service members. The new provisions allow family members of wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans to take unpaid leave to care for them. Families of service members deployed overseas are also eligible to take unpaid leave in some circumstances. The expansion of the law has benefited many military families. As one spouse of a wounded veteran says, “It has been really a huge relief to know my job is protected but I can use the days as needed for his care.”

However, not every military family affected by deployment, illness, or injury is able to take advantage of the FMLA. To be eligible, an individual must have been employed by his or her employer for at least 12 months. Smaller companies with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the Act. And some families of seriously wounded service members find that recovery takes longer than the 26 weeks of unpaid leave allowed under the FMLA, which forces them to quit their jobs.

February 5 is the 20th anniversary of the passage of the FMLA — a chance to look back on how the law has helped families and where it has fallen short. The National Partnership for Women and Families is collecting stories from people who have used leave to care for a new or adopted child, a sick family member, their own serious health condition, or to address a family member’s military deployment. They also want to hear from people who haven’t been able to rely on the FMLA’s protections because they weren’t covered by the law or couldn’t afford to take leave without pay.

Do you have a story to share about the FMLA? Visit the National Partnership for Women and Families’ Story Collection Survey and tell them about your experiences – or leave a comment below.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Military families and child care – what are the options?

Military families and child care - what are the options?When mom and dad work, finding care for the little ones, especially if the child is under the age of two can be a challenge and quite an expense. According to Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2012 Report, in 35 states and the District of Columbia, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s in-state tuition and related fees at a four-year public college. Yikes.

Military families are not immune to this cost. Many times the Child Development Centers are backfilled for months and do not have space availability for new parents. Since many military families don’t have the safety net of extended family and the service member’s schedule is unpredictable, finding reliable child care is a top priority.

So what resources are available for military families?

Military OneSource is a great resource as families start thinking about what options are available when it comes to child care. The National Military Family Association also has a section on our website dedicated to information about child care for military kids. Both are good starting points!

If you are located near a military base, contact the local Information and Referral specialist and the Children, Youth, and Teen programs. The Information Referral specialist will provide information about child care on and off base. The Children, Youth, and Teen programs will have installation-specific options available. Services vary from installation or community and fees are tiered based on the total family income.

Military families may also be eligible for a subsidy through Child Care Aware (formerly NACCRRA). Child Care Aware can help parents locate quality resources in their local community. Child Care Aware also processes the military child care subsidy for most Services. The subsidy programs include Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood, Operation Military Child Care, and Child Care Assistance for Families of Severely Injured Military Members. Eligibility requirements vary from program to program, and Service-specific information is available on Child Care Aware’s website.

Most military families are also eligible for a free membership to Sittercity, a popular child care website that is a great option for families new to an area that don’t know any babysitters.

What child care resources have worked for you and your family?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information
Manager at the 
National Military Family Association

So you love a service member: partners, parents & significant others

So you love a service member: partners, parents & significant othersSo, you love a service member. They could be your son or daughter, your boyfriend, or long term partner, but there are likely a number of things you’ve yet to understand about the military lifestyle.  As an “outsider” on the inside, it can be difficult to feel connected to the military community, especially when your service member is deployed or away on duty.

Modern military families take on many different shapes and forms, and it’s important for you to know the basic information and resources available to your unique situation.  Getting everything down can be confusing, even for those that grew up in the military, let alone for parents or boyfriends trying to nail down the logistics. Whether you think an FRG* is the toy robot your nephew wants for Christmas, or you just want to know how to keep in touch with your service member while they’re deployed, the new Partners, Parents, and Significant Others section of our website has you covered. Find information particular to those new to the military lifestyle or just approaching the military from a new perspective. Acronyms, benefits, and information for caregivers—we’ve put it all in one place!

As a non-ID card holder, you are likely not near a military installation, and there are many things that you might not have access to.  Your service member is always your best information resource, but they might not always be available to help with questions and concerns as they arise. Create your own military community by staying in the know through your service member’s leadership, and becoming part of local groups and organizations that provide support and resources. With our nation at war for more than a decade, it is an especially difficult time to have a loved one in the military, but having the right resources and information can help provide some stability in the most unstable of times.

*an FRG isn’t a toy robot—it’s a Family Readiness Group.

Experienced military families: what’s something you’ve learned that you would pass on to a non-ID card holder as they learn more about the military?

maranathaPosted by Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor
at the National Military Family Association