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Family Matters Blog: Grandma Discovers Full-time Parenting, Again

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2010 – I’m pleased to introduce a new Family Matters guest blogger, Debbie Nichols, a military mom and grandma. Her daughter, Tech. Sgt. Erin Caldwell, is in the Air Force, and she has two grandchildren, Ivie and Bailey. Debbie cared for her grandchildren when her daughter, a single mom at the time, deployed to Afghanistan, and will continue to support them and her new son-in-law when her daughter deploys again in the coming year.

In this blog, Debbie introduces us to her family and her daughter’s military service, and also passes on some tips about taking on the role of parent again years after her last child left the roost.

By Debbie Nichols

I am a married working mother with two grown children and two grandchildren. I was raised in a civilian lifestyle, totally unaware of what military life was like.

When our daughter joined the Air Force in the 90s, life in the military was different from today. At that time she was married and planning on having a family. She moved around to different military bases, but her job kept her in the United States. She went to job trainings, but deployment was not one of her concerns.

In 2006, our daughter divorced, and she transferred to a base so she could to be close to our family. She was now a single parent and had to make decisions about who would take care of her children if something happened to her. She asked my husband and me if we would be the guardians to her children, and of course we said yes.

When she transferred to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., in 2007, her career changed and she told us she was deployable. I told her not to worry, that we would help in every way possible. As a mom you are always reassuring your children, and I really did not think twice about what deployment really entailed.

Our daughter had attended job trainings in the past that took her away from home two to eight weeks at a time. We helped take care of the children, but for limited amounts of time. Since she always lived out of state and I worked, we were limited in how much we could do.

Then, in December 2007, my daughter called and said she had received orders to go to Afghanistan and had 30 days to prepare. She informed me that I needed to schedule a day to come pick up her children.

I was in shock! I thought, “Oh my gosh, she is leaving.” My husband and I will be our granddaughters’ guardians and we are going to parents again, raising 6- and 10-years-olds. What’s more, we were going to have to move the children from Arizona to California.

My head was spinning with so many questions. How can I mange being a parent again? How will the children adjust in our home? How will I balance out my new life as a parent? How will my husband and I adapt to having kids in our house after being working empty nesters for 13 years? Who will take care of the kids after school? I can’t quit work. Will my daughter be in danger? How does deployment work? And the list of questions in my head went on and on.

I was completely unprepared for what I was about to encounter and so was my family. It was so stressful thinking about all of the “what ifs.”

What I found most difficult was that I could not find answers to my questions. The military does a great job educating spouses, but for guardians at that time, there was no information. And today there still is very little. If you live near a military base I think you have much more support. But I did not. So I struggled.

I then made up my mind I was going to adapt, someway, somehow. I created new ways to cope. As mom you want everyone to be happy and to try and make your family happy, and I worked hard at that.

I know the emotional rollercoaster guardians are under when their child deploys; you become the parent again. And your situation is so unique; you are in a class of your own. But there’s hope!

I was honored to be asked to become a guest blogger for Family Matters, and to walk you through what I went through and give you tips on how to make the deployment time a positive and memorable one. I’ll write in from time to time and share what I learn along the way.

To get started, here is a list of my first steps for grandparents, or other guardians, who are becoming parents again:

-- Make a space for your grandchildren that feels like their bedroom. Their own bedding helps them feel more at home. Making their room as comfortable and familiar as possible seemed to ease their anxiety about living with us.

-- Create a calendar so children can count down to when their parent returns. This helps them focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.

-- Bring their favorite toys to your home. We did end up buying some items they could enjoy during their stay, but their favorite toys helped them feel connected to home.

-- Ensure they have pictures of their parents and any relatives who are important to them. I bought a cork board so they could hang pictures on it.

-- Be sure to purchase all necessary hygiene items and medications in advance, including shampoo, toothbrush, band-aids, pain reliever and cold medicines. I seemed to never have what I needed on hand when I most needed it.

-- Make sure you have a power of attorney in case they need medical treatment. The school also will need this for registration. The children should have all legal papers that name you as the legal guardian in hand when they come.

-- Be sure to consider future seasonal changes, such as sweaters and jackets for winter, and swimsuits for summer. When our granddaughters arrived it was winter and we brought all the necessary clothing, but never thought we would need spring clothing. Also, be sure to think about clothes for school. The school our granddaughters went to required school uniforms, so make sure you check into that beforehand.

-- Be sure to have the previous school’s information - name, address, telephone and fax numbers - and the name of a point of contact at the previous school. The California school district required school transcripts from my grandaughters’ school in Arizona. I could not enroll them until the new school received the transcripts from their previous school.

-- Make a list of medical professionals who will be seeing your grandchildren while they’re living with you. But make sure you also have the names and numbers of their previous medical providers in case their new caregivers need to contact them for information on a medical condition or for other questions.

-- Compile a list of babysitters or friends who can be there when you need help.

I hope you find some of these tips helpful, and I’d love for you to share your tips and experiences as guardians as well.

To comment on this blog, or read other posts, visit the Family Matters website.

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