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I'm going back through some of my archived posts and republishing them. This is a piece I wrote several years ago about homeschooling. These days, it seems taboo to bring up or even recognize the differences between boys and girls. Of course, every kid has his/her individual personality and bent, and I won’t argue that, but I believe there are some major differences between the sexes, generally speaking. There's some great advice in here from other moms of boys, so I hope it will encourage you! 

Homeschooling boys...I mean men!

When a boy turns 13, seal him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole.. when he turns 16, plug up the hole. - Mark Twain

And in case you haven't noticed, boys are different from girls. That fact was never in question for previous generations. They knew intuitively that each sex was a breed apart, and that boys were typically the more unpredictable of the two. -Dr. James Dobson

If you’re the parent of boys, I don’t have to tell you that raising boys can be a completely different prospect than raising girls! When they’re little, boys tend to be more aggressive, active, and just plain LOUD. I still remember when our two oldest children—who also happen to be boys—were 5 and 7 (they survived, and are now grown men with wives). My parents were visiting, and my mom said, with a note of dismay in her voice, “I just don’t remember you kids being this noisy.”

I was a little confused, as I had honestly become accustomed to the dull roar that accompanied their activities. We also went through a time period of visiting the ER on a regular basis for broken bones or stitches for those two. I remembered that the other day, when I realized that our youngest, who happens to be a girl, has never had to make a visit to the hospital for a probably preventable, risk-taking-motivated injury (Now, sprained ankles and knee issues from years of Irish Dance? Yes.).

So how does this play into homeschooling?

Well, I believe that homeschooling with boys should be approached differently in some ways than homeschooling girls—especially since the primary teaching parent tends to be the mother. This approach becomes even more crucial as our boys reach their teen years. Boys of this age start to separate—from their moms especially—to form their own identities, to become their own men, so to speak.

There’s always a grain of truth behind clichés and sayings, and the old adages “tied to his Mama’s apron strings” or “Mama’s boy” are not meant to be flattering descriptions. The mental image of a young man still dependent on his Mommy strikes us as wrong. And with good reason. God created our young boys to become men who will lead their families. But the process of getting to that point can be difficult, and will be made moreso if we Moms hold on too tightly.  

It’s crucial to remember that these boys are really men-in-the-making. 

My husband and I can’t pretend to know everything about raising boys, and we make no claims that we did it all right, yet our perfect God uses our imperfectness, and we have learned some lessons along this parenting path that I’ll share with you. I’ve also been blessed with some godly, mature friends and mentors who have their own grown sons, and I’ll share some of their thoughts as well. 

Tips for Homeschooling Boys (from Experienced Moms!) Let them separate.

Ouch. This one is hard. We’re a tight-knit family and have a lot of fun together, so I obviously don’t mean that you should kick them out if they begin to act obnoxious at 16! So what, then? It may be time for some outside accountability, more outside activities, and a purpose beyond themselves. My friend Mary Lyons, a mother of grown sons, worded it this way:

“Boys need something that is outside themselves, outside the family, and important. Sons at this age are burgeoning leaders and they need ways to express this (and hone and refine it), lest they turn to resisting their parents (mothers in particular).”

I’ve seen some teen boys frustrated (and probably frustrated my own at times, if I’m going to be honest here) by mothers who insisted on ‘holding the reins’ a little too tightly. It’s common for moms to try to rein them in even tighter when they sense that their boys are beginning to separate. This is a natural response, but I will tell you now, it’s not the right one. You run the risk of pushing your children away from you entirely with that controlling attitude. 

My wise and wonderful friend Christine Barker Anderson shares, 

“As our children do so much to help us in our home and, as they prove worthy, let them have the privileges that they have proven they are able to handle.”

We are raising our children to be successful adults, but it doesn’t happen magically when they turn 18 or 21. It’s a process, and beginning to let go, little by little, is a delicate, often painful thing. But you just have to, unless you are fine being faced with a grown-up-in-body-only “child” in a few years. Start letting go. 

Seek out godly mentors.

Of course, the ideal is that Dad should be the number one mentor for our young men. But it’s also important for them to have other examples of what godliness looks like, whether it’s grandfathers or other family members and friends, coaches, teachers, etc.

When I was a younger homeschool mom, I often read articles about dads who were able to “come home” to work or who took the primary role in their son’s education. The problem was, this came across as a sort of admonition and a guilt-inducing, unattainable goal for families like mine, who either couldn’t or didn’t want to make that change. Knowing families with dads who travel a lot for work, single-parent families, and other situations, I know that this “ideal” is not always possible. I needed to embrace what our life was, and recognize that God could still work through it. 

Since my husband was in the military during our kids' growing up years, he was often gone. Don’t get me wrong--he was always been supportive of homeschooling and helped where he could. But he ended up being deployed for several years out of our boys’ teen years, which was definitely not part of my plan!

I am so thankful that, during that time, God brought youth pastors, coaches, and other friends alongside to spend time with my sons (we lived far from extended family). My younger two children (girls) missed Dad too, but there is something almost indefinable about the male bond—boys need a strong male influence.

Even if Dad works a job with more normal hours, having outside accountability and mentors can be a help to the homeschooling mom.

Terry Webster says, 

“I have three boys and I found that it helped to have another teacher besides Mom in their late teens. So I used online programs, plus community college for some classes. It’s good to have deadlines that are not mom-generated and good for them to have criticism from another source.”

I’ve found this to be true as well. While we can still require our boys to be respectful, having them answer to other sources besides Mom can help with the beginning of the separation that must take place. 

Cut the fluff!

Diane Simmler says, 

“I concentrated on math and writing, and let their interests lead most of the rest. Don't worry if you don't cover all of the nice extras. If you give them a good foundation for learning in their bent, they'll catch up with what really matters later!”

Mary adds,

“Cut out the fluff and time wasters, and focus time and teaching attention on the core, basic skills really needed in that area of study. If it's not something that you or your spouse feel equipped to provide for him, or you doubt he'd respond well to it from you, then by all means, hire someone! Help him to succeed and make the grade.”

This is not the time for mom-heavy assignments. What do I mean? Make your son’s studies as independent as possible and don’t require him to wait on you to move ahead in his work. As noted above, an outside class or tutor or two might be a good thing at this stage. What about sons who drag their heels or won’t complete assignments? Tie schoolwork to activities and privileges or if Dad is available, see if he will go over your son’s weekly checklist with him. 

I will add one caveat—there are some boys who don’t fit this mold, are more social, and enjoy some learning time with Mom. I have great memories of the literature discussions my boys and I had when they were in high school! This is more of a guideline, and will probably also be a gradual process. My sons’ learning was much more independent as seniors in high school than it was when they were freshmen. Of course, they also had outside jobs and activities and were quite busy by then!

Provide opportunities for leadership.

Several of my wise friends suggested letting young men lead when they can. Whether it’s opening doors for others or saying the prayer at mealtime, begin to look for ways for your growing men to express humble leadership.

Is there a service or volunteer opportunity at your church or in your community? Encourage them in these endeavors and help them begin to practice now being the kind of servant-leader they’ll need to be, should God bless them with their own family someday. 

In the end, there is no “formula” for raising boys, only principles, as with all parenting. Rely on God’s help, claim the promises of Scripture, keep a sense of humor, have mercy, and don’t forget what it was like to be a teenager. I love this:

To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while. -Josh Billings

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Whether you're intentional about celebrating holidays or simply keep certain traditions because that's the way your family has always done it, Putting God Back in the Holidays: Celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Birthdays and 12 Other Special Occasions with Purpose is a book that can bring new life into your holiday celebrations.

Written by Bill and Penny Thrasher, this book covers all the major holidays and even several minor ones (Arbor Day, anyone?), with thorough coverage given to Christmas and Thanksgiving (there are 77 pp. devoted to these two holidays alone).

Each section gives a bit of historical background for the holiday, along with scriptural applications. Sprinkled throughout are lists of "Practical Helps," with ideas ranging from taking trivia quizzes to test your knowledge to service-oriented ideas, games, lists of books, and new traditions to consider for your own family.

I love the simple ideas for Christmas (nothing expensive or time-consuming) that help us focus on others and the Lord. Also of interest is their even handling of the topic of Halloween, as this is such a controversial topic among Christians. I greatly appreciated their discussion and ideas for alternatives, and reminders to continually search ourselves and remember why we do what we do.

One of the handy things about Putting God Back in the Holidays is that it is set up so that each holiday's chapter can stand alone, so that you can use what is of interest to you. I would recommend this way of reading it, using what applies to your family's situation and leave the rest without guilt!

Putting God Back in the Holidays will be a useful resource for many Christian families, reminding us to put our faith in God first!

Check it out. This little book is only $2.99 on Kindle!

Review is my thoughts alone and neither paid for nor requested by the author or publisher. Contains affiliate link.

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A couple of years ago, I launched my first book and made the rounds of podcasts and interviews to promote it. I truly enjoyed the experience and an idea began to form to launch my own podcast, an idea that I would toy around with in different forms for quite a while as it turns out. I had the motivation for a podcast, but no idea what topic it would cover other than the broad "military family" or how I'd go about it. This past year, as we were discussing the format for my second book for military spouses, my wonderful publisher made the comment, "You are truly a storyteller at heart."

It's like a light bulb turned on. THIS is something I'm passionate about. Not simply providing resources (though that can be helpful), but sharing stories. Providing a platform for other military spouses to tell their own stories, too, in hopes that others can relate or be helped by knowing they're not alone. (The title of my first book--see a theme?) 

So Milspouse Matters was born. 

This week, episode 5 will release, thanks to the expert technical help of my crack producing/editing team Lana Simmons and Tara Howes (and be on the lookout for a new project from the three of us soon!!). It is no overstatement to say that this couldn't have happened without their help. 

More about the Milspouse Matters Podcast! Here's the official blurb:

Military families make up less than 1% of the U.S. population, and the challenges they face are unique. Whether you're looking for military family support or simply want to learn more, join Jen on her brand new podcast as we discuss it all: getting through the separations that go along with training and deployments, moving around the world, seeing the one you love leave for war, raising kids in the military, finding your own place as a military spouse, and strengthening your military marriage.

A military spouse of nearly three decades herself and the author of the book You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse, Jen doesn't shy away from the hard topics, while providing a practical, humorous look at military life. Military life can be hard, but it’s also amazing in so many ways. We're only stronger together! Tune in each week to hear a new personal journey.

I hope you'll join me each week as I share a new military spouse journey! And I would be so grateful if you leave a review and subscribe, of course!

WHERE TO LISTEN TO MILSPOUSE MATTERSListen directly on my siteApple Podcasts (iTunes)SpotifyStitcherTuneIn

 

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Next year, I will turn 50, God willing.

In many ways, this coming year of 50 is something of a surprise. Like blink-you're in 1st grade-you're graduated-you're married-had your first kid-had your first grandkid-blink, you're 50. I know everyone says it, but it really did happen so quickly. When I was young and I heard the age 50, I thought, Old. That is an old person. 

Now that it's me, I don't feel old. Some people tell me I don't look my age, which is nice to hear but is truly neither here nor there because what is actually going to happen is that I WILL be turning 50. 

My parents in middle age seemed to have it together, as if they'd been born adults and always knew what adult things they should be doing at any given time: good citizen things like cleaning out the garage on a Saturday morning, balancing the checkbook every month, vacuuming the carpet regularly, and making dinners for "shut-ins." (Being a shut-in sounded sort of intriguing to me back then, with its unending command of the TV and meals brought to oneself, but what did I know? But I digress...)

Me in middle age is a little different. Oh, I feel like I'm a pretty responsible adult. But I also feel at times as though I'm still making this whole thing up as I go along, and never moreso than when I see all the advice geared toward the middle aged or for someone going through a midlife crisis. It's like an illness we all need to get over. Maybe I should be more rattled about all this midlife stuff? Should I be indulging in some sort of major crisis of self-confidence and identity?

Midlife...even the term sounds so depressing. Do a quick search on Pinterest for 'midlife' and here are some of the top hits: 

Midlife makeover...

Struggles of midlife...

Change your career at midlife...

Hmm...seems restless and discontent, as if there's no possible way you could be happy with your blecky middle aged self. I imagine that's what some people are feeling, but it's not what I'm feeling. 

Ok, checking Medium, which is full of thoughtful writers. Search again--midlife. 

How to tell if you're having a midlife crisis....

Defeat midlife regret...

UGH. You get the drift. 

I would like to have a different conversation about midlife. 

I want to talk about all the things we've learned, look with excitement to what's coming, and, maybe in a Fried Green Tomatoes "Towanda!" sort of way, talk with confidence about all the really cool and awesome things we've done and accomplished, and can keep doing, and keep becoming. If we have regrets, we can talk about those too, while realizing life is too short to camp there and we have the capacity to go on and do better. We can also discuss the hot flashes and how irritating everyone is at times (it's their fault, not us, right?), but the conversation I really want to have is about what this new season will look like. I want to chat about ideas, and new technology, and hear about your grandkids and show you photos of mine, of course, and have real discussions about faith and hope. Personally, I'm not trying to recapture my youth or go back in time. I've been there-done that-got the saggy tummy skin. I've raised my kids and been through all the angst and questioned my parenting and driven all the carpools...and now it's my turn. 

Because my life isn't over because my children are growing up or because jobs change, or even if I lose everything familiar like we did this past year with moving to Texas after my husband's military retirement. I'm excited to see what's unfolding because I hope I have a lot of good years ahead of me.

A couple of years ago, I did something scary for me--started running. I ended up completing a half marathon the next year. What I learned most from beginning to run wasn't that I was a great or even skilled runner, because I am not. In fact, I am rather slow. But I discovered that I could do something new and terrifying to me, even after 45, way after my physical prime. I found myself running distances I'd never dreamed of, learned that I could stick to something physically demanding, and that I could change my body and how I feel physically. I have that power. It dawned on me: What else could I maybe do? 

The next year, I published my first book with a small publishing company. I am mid-manuscript on my second. This year, I am launching not one, but two podcasts. And who knows what else? Not me! It's always a surprise. At times, I feel I'm just along for the ride. 

Are you with me? Come on--we have things to do!

A couple of my friends and I realized we want to keep this conversation going, SO...we're launching a brand new podcast called...Reinventing Midlife! Here's the blurb: 

Does the advice ‘just follow your passion’ make you tired or are you weary of seeing middle aged women portrayed as helpless victims of their hormones?

You’re not a Millennial, but you’re also not over the hill yet. Do you find yourself somewhere more in the…middle?

Then join Lana, Jen, and Tara, who offer a fresh, positive take on mid life–because it’s not a crisis!

Sandwiched between boomers and millennials, this podcast is for Gen Xers who know midlife isn’t about trying to look like they’re still in their twenties or wearing themselves out attempting to regain their youth. We’re proud of our wrinkles, scars, and saggy skin, because we’ve earned them! Join us as we discard society’s ideals about who we’re supposed to be and figure out this next exciting phase of our lives.

Here’s Reinventing Midlife: They may not know the answers, but they’re going to talk about it anyway!

Reinventing Midlife will be launching soon! I'll post updates here or you can keep track on Libsyn or the Reinventing Midlife site. I hope you'll join us. It promises to be a great conversation!
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Note: I originally wrote this in 2014. Since then, all of our kids have graduated high school and three are through college. Our oldest two are married. All that to say, my thoughts are pretty much the same about homeschooling through high school. It is definitely not for everyone, but if you're considering it, I hope this encourages you! At the end of this post, I'll list some of my favorite high school curricula. 

______________________________________________________________________________

We just graduated our third child from homeschooling, with our last one going into her junior year. Looking back, I recall the feelings of mild panic as our first child headed into his high school years and wondering if we could do it justice.

While homeschooling is not for every family, it's been something that has worked for us. I'm sidestepping a bit the common questions that crop up like...

What about prom? (They can still go to a homeschool prom or with friends to a school prom.) 

Can I teach algebra? (You don't have to--that's what tutorials and correspondence courses are for! ) and

Will my child have friends? (Guffaw--we have to rein in the social life at times!)

...but instead will talk for a minute about WHY homeschool high school?

Why do this crazy thing? Why take the responsibility for transcripts and test scores and credits (oh my!) on oneself?

Why?

Here are some reasons we've loved homeschooling high school.

 

Time

Time to read, time to think big thoughts, time to spend with family and friends. Time to go on trips or explore local areas thoroughly. Time to read books out loud together and create shared memories. Though these years were also very busy, I feel we gave our teens the gift of time.

Individual Interests

Each of our children has a different bent--one was a baseball player, one a drummer, the next a photographer, and the last is pursuing musical theater and Irish dance. Some are more gifted in math, others are excellent writers.

Though they each needed to cover certain basics during these years, it was a gift to tailor coursework to each individual's talents, while also helping shore up their weaknesses.

Realizing One Size Doesn't Fit All

Something interesting happened when we stepped outside the box, educationally speaking. Our children learned to challenge the status quo, asking questions like,

  • Is college right for me?
  • What if I want to go straight into a trade?
  • How about a gap year or semester to work or take a missions trip?
  • If I want to get a degree, what should I look at realistically?

My kids are comfortable asking much bigger, far-reaching questions than I ever did at their age.

There are many other reasons homeschooling simply worked for our family. Moving around as a military family was a big one--our oldest lived in three different districts during his high school years, and homeschooling offered a stability we enjoyed.

If you're on the fence about homeschooling high school, I hope you'll consider it. If you're a homeschooling parent, I hope you'll share what YOU loved about homeschooling the high school years!

Some of my favorite high school homeschooling resources: 

(Please note--these are NOT affiliate links nor will I make any money from mentions. These are truly curricula and resources we've used ourselves and loved!)

I also highly recommend Cathy Duffy's curriculum reviews as an AMAZING resource! She's been my go-to since I began homeschooling in the 1990s. Such a wealth of wisdom and experience. 

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Anyone who knows me personally knows that one of the most important things that has happened to me in the past couple of years, if not THE most important thing, has been becoming a grandmother. 

I've often heard other friends talk about how wonderfully eye opening and special it is to be a grandparent. I thought, yeah, ok, I can imagine that. After all, I'm a parent to four children. What could surprise me now?

But I think grandparenting is one of those events you have to experience yourself before you really get it, much like becoming a parent. I remember after our first baby, walking around feeling like my eyes were opened for the first time. What had I been doing with my life up to this point? Nothing of importance, apparently. The brunches, job concerns, evenings out--all of it instantly seemed frivolous. The entire world suddenly vibrated in Technicolor, with every hope and fear magnified.

Everything was personal. A Hallmark commercial featuring a heartfelt call from a loved one brought tears and nods of empathy. The child on the news who'd contracted a rare, life-threatening disease could have been my child. I prayed for her and her parents.

Risks seemed greater; potential, too.

Whatever control I thought I possessed vanished in the form of this new, tiny human. I would rock my baby, staring at his face, wondering who he'd become and if I was up to this awesome task of parenting. I'd think and pray about his future and feel overcome with love for this new person. So much love wrapped up in a 7-pound flailing, squeaky body. 

Grandparenting is a lot like that. But a grandbaby is also a second chance. You're older and wiser now, without the pressure and exhaustion of parenting, but with all the love. It's amazing. I had no idea how amazing. 

HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THIS BABY??

I wasn't sure what kind of grandmother I'd be. When I walked into the room where she lay the first time I saw her, I was overwhelmed by her tininess (you forget how tiny newborns are) and her beauty. And her hair, her glorious hair. That beautiful halo of dark curls!

She and I worked out a few things those first days. I rocked her and looked into her face and told her what a wonderful Mommy and Daddy she was blessed with and how happy we all were that she'd arrived. I already couldn't imagine life without her. 

I promised her all sorts of things just between me and her and told her Gigi would always be her best friend, no matter what. And I told her no matter the distance (they were living in Alaska at the time, we were on the East Coast), I would always make sure to see her and be part of her life. 

Leila is almost two now. She is full of personality, and doesn't really let me or anyone else rock her much these days. She knows her mind, loves the 'goggy' (dog), playing in any type of water, and blueberries.

Toddlers have their priorities. 

She is fearless...which can be a little frightening at times. And trusting. She is so sure someone will be there to catch her, pick her up, or dust her off that she walks through life without hesitation. Someday she'll learn that's not always going to be so, but for now, she is one secure little girl and I think that's wonderful. 

I'm one of those grandparents. The "Leila" album on my phone has hundreds of photos. I melt when she gives kisses, reaches her arms up for me, or asks me to hold whatever strange thing she's found on the floor. I think she's pretty perfect. She's obviously exceptionally talented and beautiful. And that hair...that glorious hair! 

 I hope to always be an important part of her life and any future grandchildren to come.  I pray we're even half the grandparents I was raised with

But most of all..I hope she always knows how much she's loved by her Gigi and Pop-Pop. Children’s children are a crown to the aged... (Proverbs 17:6)
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Originally published in Home Educating Family Magazine

It was a beautiful fall day in Bavaria, Germany. Our family of six was hiking along the breathtaking Partnach Gorge near Garmisch-Partenkirchen with its sheer cliffs, icy blue water, and gorgeous waterfalls.

An idyllic setting. And my kids were Driving. Me. Bonkers.

Two children, in particular were being a challenge (names withheld to protect the obnoxious), and we’d gotten after them repeatedly. For a while now, all I’d heard was,

“Mom, he won’t stop poking me with the stick!”

“Move—stop getting in my way!”

“I can’t see! Dad!!! Tell him!”

I attempted to ignore them and enjoy the beautiful scenery. But apparently, living in the close quarters of a cabin over the past week had gotten to these two and they couldn’t have gotten along if you’d paid them. Just as I was about to flip my lid, my husband turned to them with quiet authority and said, “If I hear one more thing from you boys, you’ll hold hands the rest of this hike!”

The culprits (both teenagers) were shocked into silence. This was no hollow threat. A military man, my husband’s word is his bond. The threat bought us a few moments of quiet, but only a few. Soon, the bickering started back up. My husband stopped, pointed at their hands, and…those big boys miserably walked hand-in-hand the rest of the hike. You’ve never seen such downtrodden souls. Or heard such blessed QUIET.

Now, before you think we are cruel and unusual parents, rest assured it was only a few minutes of utter humiliation! And we really do all laugh at this family story now. 

If the first parents on earth, Adam and Eve, dealt with sibling rivalry (remember Cain and Abel?), why do I imagine our family would be any different?

One of the biggest myths fed to homeschooling moms is that all this togetherness will cause our children to instantly be best friends. It’s a bit more complicated than that. We may not be able to be rid of sibling rivalry entirely, but I do have a few tricks in my parenting bag from decades of experience that I’ll share with you.

 

Don’t get sucked into their conflict.

As a mom, this seems harder for me than it is for my husband. I’m not sure if it’s my empathy gene or the fact that, as a homeschooling mom, I am around the kids all the time, but I seem to get much more spun up when the kids are in conflict than he does.

If I remind myself to step back a moment, look at the situation objectively, and realize this is not about ME at all, then I can deal with it better. That, and remembering that even though I used to be perfectly evil to my little sister (the claim has been made that I was a hair-puller, but she had a nasty habit of getting into all my stuff), we are now the best of friends! This too shall pass. And someone has to be the adult. (Shoot. That means me!)

They must be kind. 

Regardless of who’s right or wrong in the conflict, our rule for our kids in dealing with each other is that their only requirement is to be kind. Not the sickly Eddie-Haskell-ish “kind” like, “Oh fine, of course you can have your way again…”

If they are not able to be kind, it’s a sign they probably need to be alone for a while! And by “be alone,” I don’t mean all snuggled up in their room with electronics. I mean scrubbing-out-a-bathroom-alone. But more on that in a sec.

Get creative.

This is one of the best lessons I’ve learned from watching my husband deal with our kids’ fights.  I think one of his maxims must be, “Wear them out and they’ll get along!” If they have enough energy to fight with each other, that means they also have enough energy to do push-ups, scrub baseboards, or some other sort of manual labor. (And if they are on a long hike and still want to bicker, I guess it means they want to hold hands!)

Another idea is to have the kids write 100 sentences with a positive reinforcement, such as “I will speak nicely to my sister and not slap her in the head with a ruler.” Also, behaving badly to a sibling repeatedly means forfeiting an outing or time with friends.

Sibling rivalry—can we defeat it entirely? My experience says no. But we can rise above the fray, be creative in our dealings with our kids, and refuse to be drawn into the pettiness and immaturity that are hallmarks of growing up. If you somehow manage to conquer it, please tell the rest of us your secret!

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In the time leading up to my husband’s retirement from the Air Force last year (he’d been in a total of 31 years, and I’d been along for the ride for 29), I did my best to prepare like I do for any major life event. I rotated between devouring the bajillion pamphlets the military dispenses on cheerful topics like why you should sign up for the survivor benefits plan and the eleventy seven steps you need to complete to maybe possibly receive VA benefits, Googled helpful phrases like “what the frick do I do now after being a military spouse for three decades??”, and munched chocolate while staring out the window of ancient base housing and trying to imagine what life would be like after years of living in base housing like this.

Pretty sure that last one was easily as helpful as any other ‘preparation’ I could manage.

Still, we treated this final transition almost like a PCS, which is helpful in some ways, except for the fact that it’s not a PCS. The reality of this hit home when, after the flurry of retirement dinners, the ceremony, gifts, and well wishes, we left Virginia and rolled into San Antonio and met...crickets. No one was there to meet us, introduce us to the base, or even give a flip that we were here. There was no newcomers’ orientation, no friendly spouse asking if I wanted to join the spouses’ club, no one there to make his way smooth as he jumped right into his next military job (because there wasn’t one!).

And while your experience may vary, after over a year now of post military life, I’m gaining a little hindsight and will share a few other things that surprised me about life after my husband’s retirement from active duty service.

 

  1. How much military life defined me. My friend Lana Simmons noted on a recent Instagram post that her husband’s retirement felt like “I almost lit a match to the last 20+ years of my life.” This!! While I’d taken care to craft my own identity, I hadn’t realized how much I did revolved around the military. Military life provided me instant friends, gave me instant activities, and actually made things pretty easy in the social realm. Now there was a void I would have to intentionally fill. And what do I call myself now? I’m not technically a milspouse. Retired milspouse? Am I to forever be defined by what my husband does...or did?

  2. How exhausted I was. The last 10-15 years of Steve’s career had been fast moving--a new assignment every two years or less, which included 6 overseas and back from overseas moves, constant TDYs on his part, and long deployments. I. Was. Spent. Once that stress was lifted, I felt run over. I slept a lot those first weeks.

  3. The relief. Along with #2 a weight came off, realizing I wouldn’t have to face that life again. I won’t ever have to wave goodbye again as my husband ships out to a dangerous place, tear a child away from all they’ve known for the past few years, or restart a career because of a move. Wow.

  4. Feeling disconnected. Though our oldest son is in the Air Force and I continue to work for a military oriented company and write for military publications, the sense of disconnect from the military spouse community was something I couldn’t foresee. I suppose I could attend a local milspouse group, but my desire for that right now is about zero.

  5. That I needed to make space for my husband. Even after 30 years, our marriage is still always a work in progress. However, we'd both become so accustomed to being apart regularly, that when we were suddenly together all the time, some work needed to happen. For my part, I had to welcome him back into decision making and not resent his input on everyday decisions I'd made alone for years. I needed to remember how thankful I was that he was here, and that I had someone to rely on again. I was so accustomed to figuring everything out myself and filling him in later, and I needed to make room for "us." 

  6. My reaction to the word “forever.” As we shopped for a home to buy, I can’t tell you how many times a well-meaning person said to me, “Are you so excited to find your forever home??” These words made me want to flee. I wasn’t prepared to make that sort of commitment after years of temporary quarters and military housing. When we finally agreed that we would stay in the house 5 years (still a long time) and then reassess, the pressure lifted.

  7. How long it would take for my husband to find a second career. I had visions of executives knocking down his door before he left active duty to take advantage of his well honed skills and education. Instead, it took some months for him to land in the right job. While he savored the time puttering around the new house and repainting the deck, I had moments of panic. In fact, at one point he reminded me gently, “God’s always taken care of us before. Why would He stop now?”

  8. Trouble making decisions. From choosing a church to where we should live to hanging up pictures, I have a surprisingly hard time deciding as I'm naturally assertive and usually know what I want. My upstairs loft is still not decorated.

  9. Changes in relationships. Knowing that a friendship will require long term work on my part is different, too. I’m more cautious about jumping right in, which seems silly after all my years of preaching “bloom where you’re planted,” but I’m aware of it and working on it.

  10. Permanence. When I place a box of Christmas ornaments on a shelf, I don’t have to worry about whether it’s packed well for the next move, because it will be on that same shelf next Christmas season, unless I move it. When I say goodbye to the hairdresser or dentist, I’m not counting down how many more times I’ll see them. If I so choose, they’ll know me for years. This is weird, while also comforting. (I think, is this how people live? Is this how I used to live before I got married? I’ve forgotten.)

  11. What I'd miss. Little things really, like hearing "Taps" at bedtime or the National Anthem at the end of the duty day. Running around the corner to the commissary or the small town feel of living on a military base. Our first night sleeping in the house we bought was strange, since we'd lived in the equivalent of a gated, guarded community during all our years of living on base. 

  12. How much I don’t miss. This is perhaps most surprising of all. I truly thought I might pine away for what was. I haven’t, really, after the initial shock of civilian life. I don’t miss the often fishbowl existence I felt during the last years or my calendar constantly filled with events not of my choosing. I thought I’d miss it more. Maybe I will someday, but for now, I’m enjoying the more laid back lifestyle of working from home and going out when I feel like it.

As we face the coming years, I’m sure there will be even more I realize I miss or don’t miss. Military spouse life will always make up part of the fabric of who I am. But looking forward, I’m excited.

How about you? What has surprised you most about life after military retirement?  Subscribe

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When I first began this blog many years ago on another site, it was geared towards several things that were important in my life at the time, most notably, homeschooling and military spouse life.

Over the years, as our children grew, I added writing on more topics like running, recipes, and hard-won parenting tips or I would simply share my heart and what was going on in our family, which let's admit was a bit cray-cray at times, since we had four children in seven years.

I worked as the managing editor for one of the most popular homeschooling magazines in the country (Home Educating Family Magazine) while also writing for multiple military oriented outlets. As a homeschooler of over 20 years and a military spouse of nearly 30 years, those topics remain near and dear to my heart.

However...

One thing I learned through decades of deployments, moves, and raising kids all over the world while their dad was in and out with the demands of military service was how to adapt to change, and how life has a way of kicking my hiney right out of my comfort zone.

I'm now a grandmother ("Gigi" to the smartest, cutest baby), our oldest son is active duty, two of our four grown children are married, my husband retired after 31 years of active service in the Air Force, and we have settled in Texas. Life is a lot different than it was even just a year ago! We're again navigating the unknowns of life after having it defined by the military for so long.

While this site will continue to provide support and encouragement for military spouses, it's time to stretch and grow a little bit...again.

I want to share about what else is important in my life, other things I'm battling through, like reinventing yourself as your children grow up and leave, whether it 'fits' the niche I've carved out in the interwebs space or not. I suspect this change won't be noticeable to folks who arrive here via a popular Pinterest pin (Hiya! Thanks for stopping by) or maybe anyone but me, perhaps, but I wanted to share what's happening. 

But as a writer, not just a blogger (and there is a difference), there are little deaths that occur in my writing soul every time I try to gauge whether I should post something due to its potential for good SEO that will bring visitors back to my site, if the topic can fit into a handy 'how-to list' that is infinitely shareable, or whether the title will fit onto a cute social media image or be a draw for a future sponsor. Simply put, I'm tired of curating what I write for my own site. (Yes, I'm aware this is a first-world problem. I'm just explaining where I am in my writing journey.)

At its heart, this site is my author site. Mine. I don't have a team, or an editor, or a VA, or any help with images or anything else. It's all me (you may be thinking, um yeah, that is obvious...). Not that there's anything wrong with any of those things, but it's not where I am. Which may explain the weeks and months long absences at times! It also means I hope to not only provide you some good info, but also let you get to know a bit more about me, especially if you arrived here after reading something else I've written. I don't want every post to be curated or spiffy cleaned up for your viewing pleasure. Sometimes I just need to write and get it out in hopes that what I'm saying will help or encourage just one other person. 

So let's start there, shall we?

I'm Jen.

My husband retired after 31 years in the Air Force last year and we're still figuring out what post military life looks like. I'm not sure what the coming year will look like, much less the next 5 or 10 (please don't ask me about my long term goals). I am sarcastic, sometimes too pessimistic, but try to find the good in people and situations. I drink too much coffee. I love a good glass of wine while I cook dinner with my 80's music blasting. I'm a fairly new runner, started when I was 45, and have completed a 10k and half marathon. I'm not fast, but I try and I can hang in there. I hope that my next year 50-year-old self can complete a marathon. My new mantra is "look for the light in the everyday." I'm an extrovert who also craves alone time. I love (most) people. I try darned hard to be a good wife, good mom, and good friend, but am usually bad at at least one of those things, because let's face it, it's hard to be good at all relationships all the time. And finally, I love being a Gigi. I'd love to share more about that!

I keep little lists of favorite quotes that inspire me, and here's one of my favorites:  

"We look for visions of heaven, and we never dream that all the time God is in the common-place things and people around us." ~ Oswald Chambers

If you're still reading at this point, thank you. Please say hello and share one of your own favorite quotes or whatever thoughts you'd like. I'd love to hear from you!

Blessings, 
Jen

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

This week, I am pleased to bring you a guest post from Heather over at Challenge Coins, Ltd., a company specializing in unique and custom made military challenge coins. She's tackling a tough topic--support for military spouses dealing with the effects of PTSD. 

As someone whose extended family was devastated by the fallout and effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), I know this isn't an issue for which there is a quick fix, and I also realize you can't make someone seek help. That's why it's so important to take care of yourself and your family. If you're in a crisis situation, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or utilize their online chat at the Veterans Crisis Line Website. Get more resources at the National Center for PTSD. Thanks, Heather, for the great tips!

Whether you fell in love with your service member before the military or you met them after a couple of tours, many of you will have to face the grim reality of PTSD. Indeed, 20% of Iraq War veterans and 11% of veterans who served in the war in Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. 

While the symptoms of this illness wreak the most havoc on your spouse, they also impact your mental health and your relationship. That's why we've put together a list of five tips to help military spouses deal with PTSD in their marriages. 
 

5 Tips for Military Spouses Dealing with PTSD

 

1) Keep Yourself Sane

As with most things of this nature, goodness starts from within. You can't expect to help your spouse or keep your relationship strong if you're ripping at the seams. That's why it's so important to follow these three bits of advice: 

Indulge in alone time: Whether you prefer to take time to yourself when your spouse is away and kids are at school or if you need to calmly walk out when things get stressful, make sure that you have a way to unwind and self-reflect without anything to disturb the peace.  

Build up your own support system: This can be other military spouses, friends, or your family. As long as they’re trusted sources that you can rely on when times are tough, you know that you have a good support system in place. You can’t always go it alone, so if you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with over silly stories, don’t be afraid to reach out to the people around you.  

Consider therapy: There are many high-quality therapists out there that specialize in military PTSD and its effects on the veteran’s loved ones. Counselors and therapists can also offer clinical advice beyond what a normal therapy group can do. 

2) Encourage Therapy & Support Groups

Of course, you aren't the only one who needs an outlet for all the issues that stem from post-service PTSD. If you notice your spouse struggling with their symptoms, you should gently encourage your spouse to seek therapy or support groups so that they, too, have a safe space to vent all their worries, frustrations, and fears.  

Just make sure to frame it in such a way that it doesn’t question their mental faculties or shame them for the feelings they’re experiencing. Instead, emphasize that their internal struggle is completely valid and that mental health is just as important to maintain as physical. That way, you’re highlighting the importance of therapy without the added pressure.

3) Make a Safety Plan

Research tips on how to properly deal with your loved one's volatility. This can come in the form of code words that help to break their mental state, certain protocols that you both must follow whenever things get heated, or even a trusted friend's phone number so that they can come over and help diffuse the situation. These tactics may not always be 100% effective, but if it calms the tension to any degree, then it’ll give you more room to work with.

4) Trust, Love, & Listening

Making sure to keep your bond close is of utmost importance if you want your marriage to last. There are a few strategies in particular to keep in mind that will foster a healthy relationship even in the face of PTSD flare-ups.

Keep communication open. When you offer to be a listening ear, make sure you're truly listening, even if your spouse is repeating themselves or trailing off. Nod, agree, and ask questions so that they feel heard.

Be a rock. PTSD is difficult for any couple to deal with. If you’re inconsistent with your support, you’ll only leave them feeling more insecure and unsure of themselves and your relationship. 

Rebuild your connection. When symptoms of PTSD first arise, your spouse may act distrustful of you or even scared. Even if you’ve known each other for years, you’ll have to start anew in some regards. The important thing is to be patient as you build up this safety net of trust from the foundations. You’ll see in time that your spouse will become more comfortable as you keep making these efforts.

5) Patience & Understanding

One of the best ways to support your veteran spouse is to do thorough research on their condition, especially when it comes to triggers and symptoms. Research can only prepare you so much, however; you’ll also have to keep your resolve and be patient when they suffer from flashbacks and anxiety attacks. 

Learn their triggers. But don’t stop there. Help them cope, avoid, and eventually, conquer them. Be sure that you and your spouse are clear on what they're comfortable doing and avoid any place or event that might trigger flashbacks, like a fireworks show.

Have emergency contacts saved. If your spouse is harming themselves or suffers from suicidal thoughts, keep the appropriate emergency services or family members on speed dial in case of the need for quick intervention. This is a grim thing to think about, but with 20 veterans dying by their own hand every day, it’s a concern that should be taken seriously.  

You and your spouse are not alone in your fight against PTSD. Don't be afraid to reach out for help and guidance, and keep the conversation open with your spouse so you always know what they need.

About the author: Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Challenge Coins Ltd. She writes for a variety of MilSpouse blogs on topics related to financial strategies for military homes and getting closer to your spouse.

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