“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”Jim Rohn
Discipline is the heart and soul of military life.
It makes the military run effectively and efficiently. If a young Soldier does something wrong, he will likely find himself doing pushups. If an Airman repeatedly misses formations, she may find herself performing extra duty. Discipline is not necessarily a punishment in the military, but rather a tool that builds character and teaches valuable and ultimately, lifesaving lessons.
Our children, especially in their teenage years, are like young servicemembers. They don’t always make the best choices, and at times, they rebel against authority by exerting their independence. When this happens, how do we discipline our children? How do we teach them right from wrong? Does the military discipline that is engrained in us spill over into how we discipline our children?
This article examines whether military parents are stricter than civilian parents with their children. While there is no conclusive answer to this question, there is evidence that our military backgrounds and experiences, both as servicemembers and spouses, filter into firm, even-handed discipline. Research has found that while servicemembers and military spouses may be stricter when disciplining their children than civilian parents, military children ultimately grow up into responsible, trustworthy, productive members of society.
So, why are we often stricter with our children? Military culture creates several characteristics that create stress and cause anxiety that may impact our parenting style, including frequent moves, forced separations including deployments, and regimented lifestyles.
Frequent moves can impact parenting. A typical military family moves every three years. Moving often causes stressors and disruptions to our lives. It also creates unknowns. When we are not familiar with new areas, we are more protective of our children. We are more reluctant to allow them uninhibited freedom since we don’t know the area or the people. We are also typically not near our extended families, so we rely more heavily on each other. When we move, we are in essence starting over and need to find new friends to rely on. Before you move, reach out to people at your upcoming duty station and begin to make connections. We are all in the same situation, and we all have similar experiences. The longer we are in the military, the more likely we will reconnect with old friends at new duty stations. Reconnect before you get there to help ease the transition.
Deployments and other separations
Deployments and other separations, such as for training and schools, also contribute to stress and cause disruptions to military families. These stresses and disruptions may directly impact parenting. The military spouse suddenly finds himself or herself as the sole parent, described often as pulling double duty, meaning we take on the role of both parents during separations and deployments. Deployments also cause anxiety among spouses. We worry about our deployed servicemembers and deal with the unknowns of where our spouses are and what they are doing on a day-to-day basis. The longer the deployment, the more stress and anxiety we face.
Deployments also impact and change the role of military children. The deployment of a parent is a strong emotional event for a child, and it causes similar stresses and anxiety that military spouses face. Military children worry about the deployed parent, and this worry can cause distractions with schoolwork. During deployments, military children are required to step up and assume more responsibility around the house. This can cause tension and conflict between the parent and child. The additional stressors can impact parenting and cause a strained relationship.
The military is a regimented and disciplined lifestyle. The lifestyle permeates our home lives. A high percentage of military children consider their households as very disciplined with high expectations of conformity. This is not a negative, however, because research has shown that military children are more responsible and disciplined than their civilian counterparts.
So, what does all of this information mean? The bottom line is that while we may be stricter with our children than civilian parents are with their children, it is not usually in a negative or damaging way. To the contrary, the positives far outweigh any negative implications. What can we do, though, to minimize the stresses often associated with military life so it doesn’t hinder our relationship with our children? Are there things we can do to help lessen the stress and anxiety we face so it doesn’t negatively affect our parenting? Notice that I said “lessen,” because we aren’t going to eliminate it altogether. The biggest advantage we have is each other. Rely on your friends and fellow military spouses to help out when needed. Talk to each other and agree to watch the other’s kids for a few hours when you reach that boiling point and a much-needed break is required. We all need time to ourselves, so don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow military spouses. We are all in this together, and we are all there for each other.
Prepare for separations before they occur. Sit down as a family and discuss pending deployments. Talk about the stress that the separation will cause. Let your children know that it is okay to worry and be scared, but also let them know that you are there for them when they need to talk. If your children are not coping well during a separation, reach out to health care professionals to speak with your children. This will help your children to develop coping mechanisms, and it will lessen your stress and anxiety in knowing that your children are effectively coping with separation. Finally, talk with your children about helping out more around the house during the deployment. Allow your children to help decide who will do what. When they are part of the decision-making process, they will be more willing participants and better helpers around the house.
Military life is hard, but it is also extremely rewarding. Our children are incredibly resilient, and together, there isn’t anything we can’t accomplish!
*Kerry L. Erisman is a military spouse, Dad of two awesome teenage boys, Army retiree after 28 years of active duty service, attorney, and Associate Professor with American Military University. He writes and teaches on important military spouse issues including leadership, critical thinking, and education for Military Spouse Magazine and other military spouse publications.