I felt the below guest post was absolutely necessary as we have many step parents in the military community. I myself am one although I cringe at that title simply because my daughter’s mother is not involved in her life at all so she is my daughter and I am her mother. That being said I am sure this article will help those of you in this situation.
Maintaining Authority While Parenting Stepchildren during a Deployment
Running a household can be stressful when your spouse is away. If you combine the fact that your spouse is away on a military deployment with a new stepchild dynamic, your stress level can easily skyrocket. As a stepparent, it is difficult enough commanding respect even when your partner is around for backup and support. Once your spouse is deployed, the power balance shifts, and it is all up to you to maintain authority with the children.
During a deployment, the role of a stepparent can endure positive or negative growth. But don’t stress: I’ve picked up some key bits of advice over the years so you can maintain, and even deepen, your bond with your stepchildren during deployment.
Obviously, many of the aspects surrounding stepparenting and deployment vary widely depending on the situation. Differences in custody or visitation schedules, as well as the relationship dynamic with the other biological parent, will all play a huge role in how you will parent.
My first piece of advice for stepparents facing a deployment would be to straighten out the custody and visitation plan during deployment with all the parents involved. This is a must. Once your spouse is deployed, developing a consistent visitation schedule should not fall on you. You should be able to jump right in and focus on your parenting role.
This brings me to my next bit of advice, which is to begin a set routine before your spouse is deployed. This is critical in setting the mood for the deployment period because children thrive on routine. When a child’s whole world is turned upside-down by a parent leaving and a “new” parent taking over, maintaining a familiar routine is important. It’s also much easier to reinforce rules and traditions if they’re already habitual for the child.
So your spouse has been deployed and you’re left with a household of kids. What now? One of the first steps to take is to encourage an open flow of communication, especially with older children. I’ve learned that it’s best to have several conversations with older kids about the role of a stepparent throughout a deployment. Establish that while you may not be “their” parent, you are “the parent in charge.” This reinforces the fact that you command respect; be sure to let them know they will be respected in return.
Show this respect by going out of your way to attend all school and special events while your partner is deployed. This demonstrates your commitment to the children and proves you are not just around because of their mom or dad. With respect comes authority in parenting.
In our household, we discuss family values a lot. We have a family meeting and discuss the things we all value, and we stick to these values. When we have a problem, we can usually fall back on our conversations about our family values and discuss the situation with those values as our parameters. Some of the values we have talked about are: respect, honesty, flexibility, belonging, forgiveness, generosity, responsibility and communication. Older children can really help guide and contribute to the conversation, while younger children learn the concepts through concrete examples as behavior is discussed.
These values provide a great structure for a family going through a deployment because it provides something you can fall back on when a situation comes up that you and your partner have not discussed; it gives you guidance for making decisions while still providing consistency.
Problems will arise. Be aware of the fact that you are entering a tricky dynamic, and realize that your parental authority will be challenged. If you are fortunate enough to have regular contact with your spouse while he or she is deployed, be transparent about these issues in a positive way. Ask for advice and constructive help; dragging out or avoiding the problem will only create stress for you both. Discuss tactics and boundaries you are considering, and ask for an opinion.
Another piece of advice I want to stress is to not be afraid to get outside help. Counseling can provide a safe environment for you to regularly discuss problems and feelings as a family. It’s best to begin counseling from the start of, or even prior to, deployment. This way, stepchildren will not view it as punishment when things get rocky.
If you don’t think you can take the children to counseling, just go alone. You will be amazed at the insight and perspective you can gain from someone who’s trained to help you deal with these issues! It’s important to remember that others have gone through, or are currently dealing with, the same issues you are. This is vital to remember during a period when you feel more alone than ever.
Commanding authority while parenting stepchildren during a deployment can be one of the hardest things to master. Stick to your marriage’s core values and reinforce those ideas in parenting. Remember that this is a very hard and emotional time for the kids, as well as for you. Use the extra time together to make your relationship even stronger.
Adrienne May is a military spouse. Her husband is an Army soldier and is now serving in the Army National Guard. Together, they have three children from preschool to pre-teen. Adrienne regularly blogs for MilitarySpouseCentral and MilitaryFamilyCentral.
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