Back To School Parent: 7 Lifehacks for Your Military Family

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When Mommy or Daddy goes back to school in a military family, all hell can break loose at home. It is a Law of Nature, people. In order to add big things to family life, something’s gotta give.

As a student need time to go to class or participate in the class online. You need time to listen to lectures, to read the assignments, to write, to think. I personally needed a lot of hours set aside to despair and eat brownies.

If your family is sending the must-have parent back to school this year, expect that they will be all cheery and encouraging at first. When the stress rolls in and the laundry isn’t done and hot dogs are what’s for dinner (again) expect them to be grouchy and complaining for a while.

This is really OK, Back to School Parent. I swear. It is just a stage we all go through before we start to adapt. It is not a sign that you shouldn’t have gone back to school.

Here are 7 life hacks for your family when one parent is going back to school:

1. Frame it as a “me” and a “we.”

So much depends on the way back to school is framed in a family. “I do think it's important to frame your education as both a 'me' thing and a 'we' thing,” said Army wife Randi Cairns. “Mommy/Daddy is working on improving skills/experience, etc. to be better at his/her job/offer more value/contribute to the family's resources.”

Going back to school is something Mommy or Daddy is doing on their own for the good of the family. Cairns also points out that the message that we are a family that values education is also being demonstrated through your own example. Studying at the same table where your kids are doing their homework was also a lifehack offered by more than one Back To School Mommy.

2. Figure out what matters to them.

When I went back to school, I found that my kids didn’t care whether I attended every lacrosse game or watched every swim lesson. They didn’t mind babysitting their brother or running errands or emptying the dishwasher -- but they cared about the food.

Chicken nuggets did not qualify as dinner. Take out was good one or two nights a week, but if we hit three in a single week they grumbled a lot.

My freezer was my best friend. By cooking larger amounts, I could freeze things and have dinner ready to go for those days I did not have time to cook. Chili or beef stew or chicken casserole frozen three weeks ago tastes just as homey as the stuff you make today. Teenagers can be fooled.

3. Get your kids to "bed" earlier.

“I did my homework at midnight when they were all asleep,” said Navy wife Michele Galvez. Many military spouses have told me that the best time to study was in the evening after the kids were in bed.

So how about putting the kids to bed a little earlier to max out that study time? They don’t have to be asleep, just in their pajamas and in their beds for quiet reading time. They have Ninja Turtle books in their rooms. You have Organic Chemistry in yours. It's all good.

4. Plan your day and your week.

Certain times of the day and week are more productive than others. Everyone has a different internal clock. Put an eye on yours.

When I went back to school, I found out that no one in my family minded if I spent Saturday mornings at Starbucks doing school work. They missed me if I was gone in the afternoon, but that gorgeous weekend morning was mine, all mine.

Your best time of day may be evenings or late Sunday afternoon. Block that time out on your calendar and don’t schedule anything during that time. Or let yourself wonder what is happening on Facebook…

5. Lower your expectations.

As a military spouse and must-have parent, you are probably one of those people with very high standards about how things SHOULD be done. You are probably “shoulding” all over yourself right this very minute.

That doesn’t always serve you very well. Marine wife Denise Wood remembers when her husband was at work all day and getting his master’s degree four nights a week. Wood was also knocking out her degree, taking 21 hours at a time, including night classes.

Denise says that for nine months their kids survived on Little Caesar’s pizza, “My kids are 20 and 23 and still are burned out on pizza,” she laughed.

6. Mine your service member.

Many spouses said that their service member was very encouraging about going back to school. “My husband is the one that motivated me to go back to school and he was aware of the changes that needed to be made," said Air Force wife Verenice Castillo, founder of Military Spouse Advocacy Network.

Her husband now cooks on the weekends. The whole family cleans the house on Saturday mornings while Saturday afternoon is family time.

“During the week, I cook, the boys help with dishes, my husband cleans the rest of the kitchen and I do laundry. It is crazy but we still find time to sit on the table at the same time (most of the time) and talk about our day.”

Have your service member tell you what they want to do to help you finish your goals. Even deployed service members can help by offering encouragement and support long-distance -- and they do.

7. Get up to speed by Christmas.

One of the things I noted while talking to military spouses was how often these changes did not happen overnight in a family. Calm and firm requests combined with an ongoing effort at school went a long way toward making change happen.

“I went back to school a couple of years ago and it was hard at the beginning,” said Castillo. “My kids and husband had to help more around the house and other responsibilities in order for me to get some time for school. By now, I have a very good schedule/routine that helps me to spend time for Military Spouse Advocacy Network, family, school and other volunteering responsibilities I have.”

Always remember that the way things are in your family right now is not fixed. This is not the way they are always going to be. Keep figuring out what works for you and your family. And pass on your lifehacks to us.

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