Dual active duty parenting takes planning, organization and teamwork. It is not easy, but neither is anything else about the Marine Corps.
Raising a family in the military can provide unseen benefits for the family unit, including children learning to take responsibility at an early age. I have found that along with the benefits, there are also near constant sacrifices on the family, especially the children, I did not face when I was working as a civilian.
When both parents work outside the home, especially in the military, there comes a point when they have to sit down and realistically assess their lifestyle to figure out where they can minimize stress in order to have more quality family time.
Some say dual active duty parents face the same challenges that other working parents face, and although some are similar, in my experience, it has been an interesting transition from working outside of the home to being an active duty Marine.
My husband and I have three children, ages one, six and eight, and the switch from civilian to Marine brought some dynamics into our lives I had not considered before I joined. Our day starts early by necessity. My husband and I have to be up and awake by 3 a.m. every day, and the kids must be dressed and out the door by 3:30 a.m. so we can get them to the sitter’s house and my husband and myself to physical training on time.
Unfortunately, as early as our day starts, it ends even later. By the time we pick the kids up from the sitter and get home, it is typically 7:30 p.m. We usually have just enough time for dinner before we have to get the kids in the bath and put them to bed. We also have to decide who gets the majority of sleep.
It may sound odd, but think about this: a teething, fussy baby or sick child requires constant monitoring and attention. They will not usually sleep through the night. We have to discuss our following work day so whoever has the more urgent tasking can get the most rest.
Communication is vitally important. Before I joined the Marine Corps, there was no need to pay attention when my husband would tell me he had barracks duty or would be out doing field training. I would miss him that night, but it didn’t impact me in any major way because my job started later in the morning and I knew I would be off work at the same time as usual. Now, we need to know if we have duty the same night (has not happened yet, but it could), and I have to be able to let my chain of command know if an issue comes up because he is unable to get the children.
We talk a lot about our day on our commute. My husband knows what my job is and he knows the Marines in my shop. I know the same about him. We talk through our successes and frustrations at work, so by the time we get home, our minds are clear and we can focus on the family.
The other thing to take into consideration is what we can let go to make family a priority. Due to our limited family time, we do not have our children enrolled in every sport or class that comes their way. They are allowed to choose one activity at the beginning of the school year to be involved in, and that is it. They cannot choose an additional activity, nor can they drop the one they are in until the school year is out. That way, they learn that time and money are something valuable; not something to be squandered dabbling.
Being prepared is key, and having a routine helps us navigate the chaos. When going to the grocery store, it is imperative to know exactly what we are going to eat for the following two weeks so time is not wasted at night trying to figure out the next day’s menu.
We installed a wipe board for schedules. Everything goes on the wipe board, from where the children need to go to that day and who is taking them, to work meetings and events. It prevents any miscommunication between the five of us. To make use even easier, I color-code the children’s names, so they write in the correct schedule column. Bags and lunches are packed the night before and either loaded into the car, or set by the door. The kids pick out the clothes they want to wear the next day before they go to bed and have everything, including underwear, socks and shoes, laid out in plain sight and ready to put on first thing in the morning.
Is this system infallible? No, of course not. There are still days where I leave my military identification card at the house or forget the kids’ lunches in the refrigerator. There are days when the baby won’t sleep or the kids are sick, or we get last-minute notification from our shop that there is an event going earlier or later than usual. That’s life. That is where we have learned to adapt and overcome.
Another unique issue we face as dual active duty parents is the possibility we could have simultaneous or dovetailing deployments. So far that has not happened, but the longer we stay in the Corps, the more likely the chance that it will.
This would mean that neither parent would be home for the children, or only home for a limited time. We have to make sure our family care plans are up-to-date and we have people we can count on to watch them in the event that happens.
Both my husband and I are on our first enlistments and when our reenlistment opportunities came up recently, these were the issues we had to talk about.
Eventually, and with a heavy heart, we finally decided that I should bring the active Marine chapter of my life to a close.
I realize there are many dual active duty parents that make it work, and I give them my highest respect. For our family, however, we decided that what met our needs best was for one of us to leave the Corps.
I will never regret our decision to serve as dual active parents. It taught us a lot about our marriage, and each other, and it taught our children duty, commitment and responsibility that they may not have learned otherwise. Even though I will say goodbye to active service in 2011, I will not say goodbye to the Corps. Our family will still be here, supporting my husband and his Marines as they tackle the next challenge.