When military parents go away to serve, their family responsibilities fall to the caregiver at home. It’s common for teens and pre-teens to assume at least some of those responsibilities. They may stifle their own emotional needs to shield their at-home caregiver from additional stress. Or they may rebel against the at-home caregiver.
“There are a lot of things my dad would normally do. Now I have to do it.”
Military youth have expressed pride about gaining independence when they’ve had to increase their load, but it’s easy for these responsibilities to become overwhelming. Parents sometimes unknowingly add to this burden and assign responsibilities to show confidence when actually it creates too high an expectation. Here are some ways to help them keep a balance:
Help youth feel confident in their abilities. Conduct a study skills class to boost homework efficiency. Good instruction can help them feel better prepared to deal with their extra duties.
Watch for signs of stress. Dropping grades, poor sleeping patterns, lost interest in activities, and even immersion in a hobby or sport can all be red flags that the teen is dealing with too much. Ask them how they’re doing and give additional support.
Let teenagers be kids when they’re with you. Give them a safe place where they can unwind and be themselves.
Ask how schools, houses of worship, or clubs can support the family. Mowing the lawn, carpooling, tutoring, or babysitting younger siblings are ways to shoulder some of the tasks the military youth may have taken on while dad or mom is away. Be specific with your offer. Saying, “We’d like to have your family over for dinner this week,” feels less like charity than “Do you need help with meals?”
Keep a list of referral services handy. There are a lot of organizations that offer reduced-cost practical assistance such as day care services for parents with deployed spouses, lawn care, or mental health counseling; www.militaryonesource.com provides access to many of local resources available to military families.
Military OneSource – a 24/7 comprehensive, free resource for military families provides referrals and information for everything from moving, to counseling, to car repair services. Visit www.militaryonesource.com.