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26 June 2020

Mindful Parenting during Reintegration

When you return home from deployment, everyone is excited that you’re safe and that they get to see you! But as a family, you also have to navigate delicate processes together. Reconnecting with a child you haven’t seen in a few months and who has grown and changed can be challenging. It can also be awkward figuring out who is responsible for what at home – do you go back to the old chores you had before you left, or are there new ones that need your attention? Do you remember how you and your partner like to address team efforts such as disciplining children? All of these adjustments can be stressful. Of course, you are happy to be with the people you love, but that doesn’t mean the stresses of work and the stresses of reintegration are not real.

Luckily, mindfulness includes multiple strategies that can help manage the stress linked to reintegration. We have organized these ideas into a table that includes: the specific family tasks you are navigating, the mindful parenting skill that can help, what the skill might look like, and the logic behind why that skill will be helpful.

Family tasks Mindful parent skill What might that look like? How does it help during reunion?
Re-connecting with children Exercising compassion for children Sometimes when children whine and cry, we get stressed and react out of frustration and anger. Pause before you react. Remember that children are only human. They have valid thoughts and feelings but are not as good at managing them as you are. They likely aren’t being difficult on purpose but could probably use some help. Now that you have that in perspective, you can let your reaction soften and show your child(ren) that you are on their side.
  • Helps you “tune in” to your child – what they are feeling, what is causing distress, and the best way to address their needs without being upset with them for having those needs.
  • Gives you a chance to build trust with your child(ren). When they can feel you are open to “getting” their side of things, they will come to you for help more often.
Exercising compassion for self If you had a rough day and “blew up” at your child, don’t ruminate on it. You’re only human too! Being stressed while parenting doesn’t mean you don’t love your family, it means that family life is actually more complicated than people give it credit for. Forgive yourself. You may not have been a perfect parent then, but every second offers a new opportunity to be a great parent. Give yourself permission to take this lesson of humility in stride and try again.
  • Reminds you to cut yourself a break! Parenting is hard, and holding yourself to impossible standards will only make it harder.
  • Reduces unnecessary negativity. If you are self-critical, it can bring out difficult emotions like guilt and shame. When you are kind to yourself, you increase the chances that you will engage in parenting with a clear head.
Re-negotiating parenting roles and tasks Attentively listening Maybe it feels like someone in your family is criticizing how you are doing a chore. Take a breath. Chances are, they are trying to be helpful even if their communication style isn’t great. Nonetheless, you can bring your communication A-game. Stop, look the person in the eye, and listen. Ask questions that help them specify what they need from you, rather than what they don’t want. Paraphrase back to them to be sure you understand. Sometimes chores don’t need to be optimized, sometimes communication just needs to be optimal, especially with people you love.
  • Encourages you to be open and responsive to your family’s needs without being distracted by your own thoughts.
  • Enhances your ability to collaborate with your family, so everyone can clearly understand one another’s expectations and decide together how to get things done.
  • Helps you to be fully aware of how the renegotiation is going for others and hear helpful suggestions when they come around.
Non-judgmental acceptance of self Maybe you love cuddling your child when they’re calm but get worn out with their energy during playtime. Acknowledge that having strengths and weaknesses as a parent is normal. Accepting this will help you know if it’s time to call in reinforcements (family/babysitter). Doing this before you’re running on empty will help you stay fueled for parenting in the long run.
  • Reminds you that there is no way to be a perfect parent. Parenting isn’t pure joy – there are ups and downs!
  • Pushes you to see difficult moments as normal and gives you confidence that you and your family can figure things out together.
Emotional awareness of self and child Sometimes children feel emotions so strongly, it’s easy to get swept away with them. Keep your empathetic side engaged so you can understand where your child is coming from and help them deal with that. But also keep tabs on what emotions you are experiencing and how strong they are. Commit to taking deep breaths or a brief break if you’re getting overwhelmed.
  • Enhances your ability to be calm and purposeful (rather than reactive/automatic).
  • Brings organization so you can keep your emotional reaction separate from your child’s.
  • Helps you appreciate both positive and negative experiences.
Managing mental health Self-regulation If you carry stress from your deployment, it can pop up when you least expect it, and your child may feel at fault. Keeping tabs on your emotions and engaging in healthy coping will nurture your mental health and set a good example for your child. Eating, sleeping, and exercising well can keep stress and overwhelming emotions at bay. Activities like deep breathing and grounding can help if you’re already stressed out.
  • Prompts to you to practice healthy ways of coping with stress, so you protect your mental health over time.
  • Helps you express emotions in an appropriate and helpful way. Healthy expression preserves mental health and support networks!
Non-judgmental acceptance and attentively listening Your child doesn’t need a perfect parent. Put forth your best effort to keep yourself healthy, including realizing when you need help without beating yourself up for it. However, don’t give up on your parenting strengths while you seek resources. Tune into your child and connect. Seeing them thrive on this small action can fuel hope and change.
  • Helps you set aside unhelpful expectations and instead focus on living in your current parenting moment.

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