Armed Forces Day (May 15) is a fitting day to show our gratitude for the courage and service of members of the military. But often overlooked are the huge sacrifices that the families of military service members also have to make.
Military spouses and children face a lot of unique challenges—and not only while the service member is deployed. Wondering what exactly those challenges are, and how you can help support military families?
Stress during deployment
The most obvious challenge that military families face is the fact that the service member may have to be deployed or sent for training in a far-away location.
This can be stressful for partners and children at home, for many reasons:
- Loneliness and sadness of missing a parent/partner for several months
- Lack of support for childcare and household duties
- Fear and anxiety about the risks their loved one may be facing, especially during a war
But there are plenty of other unique challenges as well…
Returning home after service abroad
When service members return home after a long time away, it’s of course a happy reunion—but can also come with its own set of challenges for all family members.
Sources of stress may include:
- Trauma during deployment can lead to mental health challenges after returning home
- Anger or resentment over lost time—children have grown, partners have grown/changed too
- If a military spouse gains independence, new skills or relationships during deployment, adjusting back to a “new normal” can be difficult
Service members can be stationed all over the country or world throughout their careers, so military children will often have to transfer schools 6-9 times before 12th grade.
This can lead to challenges such as:
- Missing old friends/mentors and having to make new ones
- Difficulty finding/keeping work
- Not feeling like part of a community
- Lack of support network of family and friends
- Less continuity with academics, sports, activities, etc.
Money and employment stress
Many military families may be struggling financially, which puts them under extra stress.
Some examples and stats:
- Lower-ranking service members’ incomes can be close to the poverty line, but because they receive housing allowances, they may have trouble qualifying for federal assistance
- More than half of enlisted service members report having trouble paying bills
- Military spouses are 6 times more likely to face unemployment than their civilian counterparts
- 40% of military children are on free or reduced-price lunch programs
- 7 in 10 military parents struggle to find affordable and accessible childcare
How your family can help
There are plenty of ways we can help support military families.
First and foremost, by being a good neighbor and friend:
- Be friendly to new parents and kids in town, even if they will only be there temporarily
- Invite them to playdates, or ask if they want to join you for a walk
- Even if you don’t know much about military life, you can keep an open mind, ask respectful questions, and listen to learn more
- Kids and adults might have a lot on their minds, so show empathy and make yourself available as someone to talk to
Offer a hand during deployment
Reach out and see if a military spouse/partner needs help with anything while their partner is away for a long stretch.
A few ideas:
- Take turns with school pickup/dropoff, or offer to watch their child once a week
- Invite them to join you for a meal once a week/month or on holidays
- Offer help with yardwork and home maintenance, or let them know they can borrow home/yard tools
- When you’re going to the store, see if they need anything
- Invite them to community events that will help entertain/feed the kids
Help ease financial strain
Even if you don’t have much extra cash yourself, you may be able to help a family that’s on a tight budget.
- Offer unused gift cards or coupons
- Spread the word about great sales, or pick up extra of whatever’s on sale
- Go in together on family memberships or bulk items
- Offer good quality hand-me-downs before you get rid of them
- See if there’s a temporary job (at home or at work) that you can hire a military spouse for
Support community efforts
If you don’t personally know any military families yet, you can still look for ways to help.
Consider volunteering, donating (goods or money), or raising money for local branches of organizations that serve military families, including:
- Operation Homefront
- American Legion
- Armed Services YMCA
- National Military Family Association
- Any other organizations that offer food assistance, holiday gifts, etc. to those in need
Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.
For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.