We had the great pleasure of interviewing our colleague, and friend, Jessica Jefferson on tips for working with military families. Jessica is uniquely situated to work with military families and couples, coming from a military family herself.
Military couples go through the same issues as most couples; however, it’s often heightened and other issues are added onto everyday struggles. When working with military families, it’s important to have a background knowledge of the the military. Some tips Jessica offers for families with a member in the military are:
- Create Structure
Deployment and station changes can be stressful on families; sometimes spouses don’t always accompany the military member on the station change. It can be a hard transition and sometimes a family member can be unsure of their new role in the family, especially when a returning family member rejoins the family and hasn’t been around for a while. A structure when the service member is both home, and deployed, is key especially with your children. The structure will allow for an easier transition upon returning home from deployment.
- Create Memories
Service members don’t always have their deployment on a timeline and may not necessarily know when they’ll be deployed. Jessica suggests creating memories together as a family even before the service member leaves and keeping the memories alive, so they can be sent as snippets throughout deployment, as a way to stay connected and communicate. This is also a way that children can stay involved and have a sense of control through participating.
- Build Resources
A military family is always moving, making a support system so necessary for families. It can be tempting to rely entirely on a spouse as a support system but this can create dependency, which is especially hard when that service member is deployed. Conversely, welcoming a returning service member back into the home and social network will go a long way in reintegration. The spouse who stays home will want to avoid becoming overly independent and unneeding of the spouse, in addition to avoiding over dependence.
- Be Understanding, Compassionate, and Accept Limitations
In retirement, military members can lose a sense of identity. It’s important that the partner be understanding and compassionate, while also recognizing when they need additional resources. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly found in service members who return home and in some instances, a diagnosis of a mental health issue may result in a service member returning home prematurely. Individuals with PTSD may have higher stress responses, particularly around holidays with loud noises, or fireworks, as it’s reminiscent of combat. A result of PTSD can be increased introversion, withdrawal, and avoidance of potentially triggering situations.
A military family, like any other, goes through ups and downs of the family cycle. As clinicians and family members, it’s important to educate ourselves on best practices and individualized ways in which we can support and treat our returning active duty service members and veterans.