Military Must Have Parenting Is Not 'One Size Fits All'

mother and son walking dog
(Ethan Sherwood/DVIDS)

Must-Have Parenting is not one-size-fits-all. Far from it.

My own Must-Have Parenting (MHP) experience has largely been defined by military life, but there are lots of MHPs in the civilian world, too.

I spoke this week with Kacy, a MHP in Nashville, Tennessee. Kacy’s husband works in offshore drilling for the Shell Oil company. She described his schedule as “14/14,” meaning 14 days on duty followed by 14 days off duty. With time for traveling to and from work, what this means for Kacy and their two children, ages 4 and a year-and-a-half, is that he is home for about 12 days at a time.

“He agonizes about our situation more than I do,” Kacy said. “I’m in a routine. I can do it. I just do it. Human beings, when you’re put in a situation, you just do it.”

When he is home, she said, he doesn’t go into work at all. On those days he devotes himself to helping out with the house and kids.

This sounds great at first, but as someone who has done the post-deployment reintegration dance -- figuring out who will cook dinner, who will pick up the kids, who will clean the house, etc. -- more than a few times, I instantly honed in on a particularly challenging aspect of Kacy’s MHP situation.

“Is it hard to constantly switch back and forth?” I asked her, noting that when my husband is gone, he’s typically gone for months at a time, which allows the kids and I to develop new patterns. She acknowledged that repeatedly switching roles can indeed be frustrating.

“When he’s gone I’m in control of everything. When he’s home, he’s the man of the house and wants to feel some control. We have a lot of conversations about it because I need to know what I can expect from him so that I’m not in a constant state of disappointment or frustration. We have had some blow-ups, trying to sort it out. Eventually, we learned that if you don’t define those expectations, you are going to keep being disappointed,” Kacy said.

She noted that who would do the dishes was an especially challenging issue for her.

“I don’t know why, but the dishes thing was a really big deal for me. I guess because I feel like I’m doing dishes all the time. After me being passive-aggressive about it, we finally just talked about it and sorted it out. Now when he’s home, he does the dishes. I can’t even tell you how much that means to me. Having those expectations set really helped us a lot.”

She says in addition to establishing expectations, being organized and having family support are the other essential elements for making their lifestyle work. Kacy works full time in advertising sales for a local television station, which doesn’t leave her much time to take care of all the home stuff when he’s gone. She is paid solely on commission, however, and that does allow her some flexibility to handle situations that might arise with their children, such as a doctor’s appointment or a school event.

“I didn’t want to give up my career, but I have given up some advancement opportunities,” Kacy said. “I chose not to pursue those opportunities because I already don’t have any time or energy left over for me.”

To make the most of the time she does have, Kacy said she looks for ways to make chores easier. For instance, she uses a grocery delivery service rather than trying to grocery shop with her children. She also frequently uses a slow cooker to make dinner because, by the time she leaves work and picks up the kids, there isn’t much time to cook.

“I feel like working outside the home is easier in some ways because I get that human interaction. If someone doesn’t work outside the home, finding that support system is even more important so you don’t get so lonely.”

Kacy emphasized that having family and friends nearby makes it possible for her to juggle the demands and even enjoy their lifestyle.

“My whole family lives close to me, and I think that’s really key to making this situation work. At least once a week my mom or aunt comes over and helps me [with] folding clothes, bringing dinner, having an adult around for conversation. That’s my best advice to anyone getting into a situation like this. You have to have a support system -- a relative, neighbor, friend -- someone to come over once a week to talk to you, so you don’t go crazy or become an alcoholic.”

Kacy and I are both MHPs, but I noticed several differences in what that means in each of our lives. She has more family support, but my situation doesn’t involve as much transitioning as hers.

Also, MHPing is cyclical in my life and most likely it’s not indefinite. My MHP days will likely end or substantially change when my husband’s military service ends. Kacy’s MHP situation is indefinite. I asked her about that.

“Yeah, there’s no end date, but we don’t really know anything different. This is the job he’s had since we started dating. It is a constant topic for us -- will we do something different? But at the same time, we can’t really imagine him doing something else.”

And that’s something she and I definitely have in common.

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Parenting Family and Spouse