Working parents face a lot of really tough decisions regarding balancing work and family. Military parents face many of the same challenges, but they face a few additional ones. One of the biggest is deployments.
Choosing when to deploy is not always an option, but with careful planning some military families can decide when to take an assignment with deployments. Parents need to factor their career path but they also need to decide how old their kids will be when they are away. When faced with this decision many families make the choice to be with their kids when they are young and away when their kids are teens and pre-teens.
Early in my career I became a single parent. I took an assignment on a ship when my daughter was about 5. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was the best decision to be away when she was young, but now that she is a teen I feel it was the right choice.
I think many parents really want to be around their small children to bond with them and so they won’t miss anything. Small kids are cute, they need help with everything, and they start walking and talking. It’s so incredible to watch them grow. And while I feel it is ideal to be around during this time, what I’ve realized is the issues young children face is vastly different and much less complicated than what teenagers face.
My thought is when it comes to kids people attribute self-reliance with not being needed as a parent. Unfortunately having the ability to cook your own dinner, doing homework without any help, and getting to school by yourself is not an accurate measurement of being an adult. Pair this with a teenager’s apathy and it is easy to misunderstand.
With small kids it’s easy. If you say you are leaving for the weekend they cry and tell you how much they will miss you. But with your teens, they shrug and act like they don’t care. Don’t be fooled, teens need you more than ever. The decisions and peer pressure teens are faced with are far more life altering than the peer pressure small children deal with.
Teens aren’t equipped to comprehend the consequences of their actions. And while I feel kids need to make mistakes and learn, parental intervention is important when facing big things. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and putting things in the virtual world that will never disappear are some of the big ones. The reality is if parents aren’t having open and frank conversations with their teens about these issues, someone else is.
Not only do teens face the big issues like sex, drugs, and alcohol but they also have to face their own insecurities. Boys and girls deal with body image, first loves, heartbreaks, indecision about their future, self-esteem, and bullying. The list could go on and on. During this time parents need to be the voice of reason for their kids. They need to be the sounding board. And most important parents need to provide that safe place for their teen to be when their world is falling apart.
So when you are planning your career trying balancing work and family, remember your kids will grow up. And while it is easy to think of your teenagers as grown, keep in mind this might be the time in their life when they need you the most.