JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
MAPS for Your Family’s COVID-19 Response
Lt Col Kieran Dhillon, USAF, BSC
Operational Psychologist/Board Certified Clinical Psychologist
Basic Military Training Consult Service
737th Training Group
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the American way of life and it will be interesting to see once it is under control what will remain changed and what will go back to the way things were. I know for all the challenges and scares there are some bright spots. As our city closed schools and requested essential travel only it seemed almost dystopian. Then I took my dogs out for a walk and I felt like I was back in the late 80s/early 90s when I was kid. There were actual families outside planting flowers and kids walking and riding bikes with their parents. It seemed out of place to what we have become as a digitized society stuck to smart screens. Families are getting more time to spend together. Isn’t this what some of us have been asking for? To spend our most productive hours of the day with the ones we love instead of at a job? For all the benefits we can glean from this, it will require some change in perspective and expectations to make this work.
Military Families more than any other are well equipped through experience in this lifestyle to succeed in uncertain and challenging times. As a group, military spouses already have what it takes to adapt to almost anything. You can thrive in the midst of this pandemic by shifting gears and incorporating adaptive strategies. It is absolutely true that many feel scared, anxious, overwhelmed, isolated, tired, and stressed right now. That is OK and you will see just like with deployments, once you get into the swing of this new normal you will figure out what works best for you and your family.
- Here are some tips and things to think about as we all create our own unique MAPS (Mindset, Acceptance, Partnership, Strategy) that fit our unique mission at home:
Mindset—How are you thinking about the situation? Do you find yourself more upset after reading or watching the news? Adopt healthy thinking that empowers you and your family to thrive through this. What can you control? Think “I can do this, I will do this. We can do this, we will do this together!” Also consider, how are your kids thinking about this? This is a lot of change for them too and depending on how much they are aware of, this may be scary for them. Be open and honest while keeping their developmental stage in mind as you determine what is appropriate for them to know.
Acceptance—Use the principle of Grace here. You are not perfect, your partner is not perfect, your kids are not perfect. Well, we are all perfectly imperfect. During times of family stress, kids can regress in some of their milestones. For example, if they recently turned the corner in potty training, don’t be surprised or upset if they have increased accidents. Be gracious towards others when they reach their limit. Forgive yourself when you fall short of your expectations. Is school going to be seamless for the kids?—No! Is the house going to be the way you want it?—No! Are you and your partner going to have disagreements?—Yes! Which brings me to the next point.
Partnership—As a military spouse your Wingman may be deemed Mission Essential and still work in their unit either on the same or even a different schedule than before. Your partner may also be at home, teleworking. Whatever your situation, know that more than ever you two must
be working as a team—helping each other be successful and sane through it all. Be honest about what you both need at this time and how you can support each other. Do you have a code word for when you need to take a breather and your Wingman will take over? Discuss ahead of time what the plan is if you disagree and you need a break before things get heated. Family stress is increasing as we spend more time together and having a plan for managing household stress can help. You and your Wingman need to do some planning together and be on the same page. Trust me…they know how to do this because they are planning and setting goals at work all the time.
Strategy — You and your Wingman must recognize that the dynamics of your home have changed. Your home may now be not only the family space but also the school space and work space and all three missions must get done! What is your plan for getting there? When do you and your Wingman discuss the progress for the day and what is forecast for tomorrow? Here are a few things to consider:
- Humans thrive on consistency and schedules. Have you set one for your home and all of its mission sets yet? Make sure you set time to Sleep, Eat, Move, Learn, and Work.
- As developmentally appropriate, include your children as you set up the schedule. Getting their inputs helps them be bought into the plan.
- Know that the schedule is not set in stone and that Flexibility is the key to Airpower and a Happy Home!
- Learning does not have to just come from online school. This is an opportunity to teach your kids how to do basic things in the kitchen, learn how to do the laundry, and other developmentally appropriate home upkeep activities. Find ways to make this fun, blast the music, make up a song, make it a game…make it to fit your family.
- Make sure you vary your activities so boredom is least likely to take the place of relaxation. Maybe instead of jumping to the television after a walk, put on some relaxation breathing exercises you do together.
- As a family do an End of Day check in together. What did everyone do today? What did they learn? What are they doing tomorrow? Then you and your Wingman need to cover adult business, plan, and get things prepped and ready for tomorrow.
Other Considerations: To combat against individual and family isolation reach out to neighbors and family through social media.
- Make sure your extended family stays connected wherever they are and know that you are doing ok and that you are thinking of them.
- Organize social distancing activities in your neighborhood. They are easy to do and a fun way to stay or even build connections. I’ve seen neighborhoods do Bear Hunts where they put toy animals in the windows and kids walk by to see how many they can find. These kiddos bring so much joy as they are so adorable expressing their excitement finding them! Easter is around the corner and that is another opportunity for the neighborhood to come together for an Egg Hunt. Other neighborhoods do birthday parades. They let everyone know they have a birthday and then neighbors drive by and honk and hold signs wishing their neighbor a happy birthday. These are fun activities that can involve the entire family in crafting and getting out of the house and bring the neighborhood together.
- Reach out if you are feeling overwhelmed and are unable to care for your responsibilities. That is a sign you will need extra help or care from a professional to help you through this. Helping agencies are listed at the end of this article.
Bottom Line: You can and will do this! Military families are so incredibly resilient, innovative, and caring. We will make it through this. I look forward to hearing and sharing ideas you have set in your MAPS that can work or at least spark an idea for what could work for another family. Although we are physically distant, this pandemic is an opportunity to bring us closer together in our marriages, families, and communities.
For additional information the World Health Organization offers:
For helpful resources for the 37th TRW:
- Gateway Chapel: 210 671-2911
- BHOP: 210-292-1159
- Military One Source: 800-342-9647
- Military & Family Life Counselors: 210-984-1076
- WHASC Outpatient Mental Health Clinic: 210-292-7361
- Family Advocacy Program: 210- 292-5967
- ADAPT: 210-292-7560
- Military Family Readiness Center: 210-671-3722
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255