By Lizann Lightfoot
Any service member who is a parent struggles to balance their responsibilities to the military and to their family. This challenge is especially difficult for single parents who serve. Currently, there are thousands of single parents in the military; in fact, single parents make up 7.8% of the overall military population. The percentage varies for different branches, from 4.7% of the Marine Corps to 10.7% of the Army.
In most cases, service members become single parents after they had already joined the military–whether through divorce, separation, or the death of a spouse. It is difficult for single parents to join the military, especially if they already have multiple children. Because of the intense time requirements during basic training, schools, and deployments, all branches of the military require single parents to relinquish custody of children before they can enlist. In some cases, parents are able to regain custody after basic training, but an active duty service member who has custody of minors must always have someone available to watch them. Short-term and long-term childcare agreements called a Family Care Plan must be put into writing and kept on file for any service member who is a single parent.
Service members who are single parents shoulder the responsibility of both military training and raising children, often far from family members. Because of the incredible stress and challenge of being a single parent service member, they need support from military base programs and organizations.
These 6 programs support service members who are single parents
1. Free parenting classes on base: Every military base offers free classes through the Family Readiness Center that are designed to help parents. Single parents can benefit from these classes too. Topics include finances (Budget for Baby or Couponing 101), discipline strategies for different ages (Effective Parenting Workshop), and information about managing stress and anger in your life (Responsible Anger Management or Organize Your Life). There are also new parent support groups and home visits available to any service member who gives birth or adopts a child. Contact your chain of command, your unit FRG, or your base Family Center to learn more about these programs and to register for free.
2. MFLC (Military Family Life Counselor): The MFLC (pronounced em-flack) is a civilian who is a professional counselor or social worker assigned to a military unit. The MFLC can assist service members in individual, confidential sessions that are never shared with the chain of command. A single parent could consult the MFLC for assistance with personal stress or for advice about raising children. The MFLC can then direct the service member to a variety of on or off-base resources. On some military bases, the MFLC presents regular classes and seminars tailored to single parents.
3. Free dating/relationship classes: Military base chapels offer a range of free classes that help service members develop or improve their relationships. Single parent service members could benefit from courses such as the 5 Love Languages, the 4 Lenses (which is about different personalities), or How to Not Marry a Jerk or Jerkette. Base chapels also offer free CREDO retreat weekends to help service members strengthen their relationships. Single service members who are dating or engaged are welcome to attend and childcare is included at some locations.
4. Single service member programs: Military bases have programs and budgets in place to support single service members with entertaining events like BBQs and sports nights, outdoor excursions, and day trips to local tourist sites. Some of these programs focus on service members living in the barracks, but they are also open to single parent service members who live on- or off-base. Check your base community services center for information about local military discounts and special events for single service members.
5. ITT office: An ITT (Information, Tickets, & Tours) office is located on every military base and is your location to get special military discount tickets that are often not available online. ITT offices have discounted tickets for local amusement parks, museums, sporting events, cruises, and tour groups. A single parent service member can save tons of money on family vacations by using the ITT office to plan their trip.
6. Military One Source: This website has online articles, webinars, and programs to assist single parent service members. If you have any concerns about your own mental health or your child’s, Military One Source can make non-medical referrals to a counselor. In-person group meetings are also available for single parent families.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.