The Stepfamily Journey – Not for Wimps

By Elizabeth Einstein, MA/LMFT

Smart hikers prepare well for their adventures. With a good trail map and sturdy equipment, they are ready for most mishaps that might occur. Hard hiking is not for wimps, so adults moving toward remarriage need the wisdom to prepare well for one of the toughest journeys they may ever take. Such an advance commitment will pay great rewards once you have solid skills and information to build a successful stepfamily in which children and adults can continue to heal and grow.

Like viewing a gorgeous mountain range from afar with high hopes of scaling the peaks, living in a stepfamily might appear at first look to be an interesting and exciting journey. Uninformed and unhealed divorced adults may delude themselves that with merely a new partner, marriage will be much easier this time.

That delusion gets many new stepfamilies in trouble fast – as evidenced by the nearly 60 percent remarriage divorce rate. While not all remarriages include children who can bring great challenges, most do.

Adults who plan to succeed in their stepfamily journey should prepare just as rigorously as experienced mountain hikers. Dreams, high hopes, and crossed fingers alone won’t create successful stepfamily living. Thankfully, you now have resources that weren’t available to me as I dealt with stepfamily issues personally through two marriages and divorces. A second divorce for our children had a huge negative impact on all of them as they tried to move into adulthood with serious loyalty conflicts and their own “emotional baggage.” Today there are books, workshops, and educational programs to provide the tools stepfamilies need to succeed. To not use all that’s available today is like attempting to climb a serious mountain wearing a daypack and sneakers. It’s foolhardy– and dangerous!

5 STAGES OF THE STEPFAMILY JOURNEY

1. Fantasy – Like hikers with overweight backpacks, many adults enter the remarriage trailhead in the fantasy stage. They are over-loaded with unrealistic expectations, unresolved grief, and a lack of knowledge of what’s ahead, believing love can conquer all. When adults join up before they have cleared up relationships with their former spouses and resolved their own guilt and grief about how death or divorce has changed their children’s lives forever, they deny the challenges ahead.

2. Confusion about rules – Once the wedding happens, the second stage quickly occurs. There is confusion about rules, roles, and disciplining children. The couple often avoids discussions about what to do about absentee parents, and denial deepens. Communication that focuses on compromise and negotiation becomes essential, and it is vital to begin this process before serious wedding planning begins. Children who try to move between two households while their parents and stepparents continue to hash out their problems often struggle with loyalty conflicts.

3. Crisis – It doesn’t take long for many stepfamilies to fall into the third stage – crisis – which is when many remarriages end. It is important to understand, instead, that crisis is part of normal stepfamily development rather than a signal for quitting time. Instead of fearing it, you can use the crisis time to examine what’s wrong and fix it. Before marriage, if you are actively engaged in planning ahead and holding family discussions, you will probably experience and resolve major issues. This will help to prevent at least some of the crises from happening after the wedding.

4. Stability- After getting support, guidance, and new tools, stepfamilies(and potential stepfamilies) can use the lessons they learned from the crisis to make the necessary changes to move into the next stage of stability. The family finally comes together with a new understanding and a determined game plan to succeed. Even when obstacles pop up, or setbacks occur, fear of failure no longer reigns, and adults come to know they can make it to the summit. The stability gained during this part of stepfamily development strengthens everyone’s sense of security. While it is unrealistic that remarrying couples will fully reach this stage of stability prior to marriage, the goal is to establish it as much as possible.

5. Commitment – The final stage of development is commitment, signaling the stepfamily is truly committed to success. T o move through these stages after marriage takes a long time – research shows anywhere from four to seven years. This is a lot longer than most people realize; or want to believe. If a couple uses a trail map, tools, and understands how to do it safely and successfully before remarriage, the transition time after marriage should be somewhat shorter.

Having the wisdom to reach out for help is a strength of a strong family. My wish is for people to open their eyes wide to prevent stepping unconsciously onto the challenging path of remarriage. Couples need to prepare well for the stepfamily journey by healing their former relationships and improving skills that are weak – especially communication and parenting skills. Take time to examine your part in an ended marriage. Couples who can identify past mistakes will be more likely to avoid repeating them.

The stepfamily journey can be an exciting and fulfilling adventure. Indeed, many strengths come from a solid remarriage. Research shows that a new, happy family life can even ameliorate some of the negative effects of divorce for children. It provides new role models about skills, expertise, values, or a philosophy of life. This journey is best traveled by strong, healthy adults who also are prepared and are committed to an ongoing process of working the tasks the trail map provides. Stepfamily living can be rewarding and successful, but it is definitely not for wimps!

Elizabeth Einstein is a pioneer in working with remarried families and a leader in the field of stepfamily education. She is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Ithaca, NY and author of several books.

Permission to reprint granted by Marriage Transformation LLC for the publication of this edited article in Family Perspectives Journal of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers.

Resources for Military Families

By Willam Urbine

Armed with Faith http://www.kofc.org/un/en/resources/cis/cis364.pdf for military personnel and their families. Edited by Jesuit Father Daniel R. Sweeney, chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, it contains several military-specific prayers as well as an assortment of general Catholic prayers, hymns, and devotions. Click on the title for a free PDF copy.

Separated by Duty, United in Love: A Guide to Long- Distance Relationships for Military Couples http://www.separatedbyduty.com/index.cfm  by ShellieVanderoorde is an eye opener. The book gives a comprehensivereview of what to expect when dealing with deployments,separation, and the reuniting of couples andfamilies. There is also a well developed and valuable listof resources on her website, www.separatedbyduty.com.

Military Widow: A Survival Guide http://www.militarywidow.com/ by Steen & Asaro (Naval Institute Press, 2006) delivers extraordinary insight and practical advice for widows and their families, military and civilian professionals, and all caring individuals. Joanne Steen has trained over 6000 military and civilian personnel on the best ways to respond to the families of America’s fallen warriors. Regina Asaro, MS, RN, CT, FCNM is an advanced practice psychiatric nurse, who is Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying, and Bereavement.

Helping Your Kids Connect: 250 Activities to Help Your Children Stay Connected to Their Long Distance Mom or Dad http://www.fambooks.com/kids.htmwas developed by the National Institute for BuildingLong Distance Relationships to provide guidance for militaryfamilies.

The Treasure of Staying Connected for Military Couples http://www.serviampublishing.com/  by Janel Lange (Serviam Publishing, 2004). ) is a little volume of reflections on military life and one’s relationship with God and spouse. It’s a great gift for a couple where one or both is deployed. Janel and her husband Bob, a retired Navy Commander, have been presenting marriage preparation and enrichment programs for many years.

 

Additional Resources for Military Spouses – Recommendations by Kati Novak, a military wife

• Today’s Military Wife by Lydia Sloan Cline. This guide to everything military breaks down all the aspects of military life, from health care benefits to housing and moving for all branches of the military.

• Married to the Military by Meredith Leyva, This book is also a guide to the military lifestyle but more generic. It focuses on wives but also on female service members.

• The Air Force Wife Handbook by Ann Crossley and Carol A. Keller, This guide is specific to the Air Force. All the branches have some variation of this book that specifically outlines the lifestyle of that branch.

• Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul,  The Chicken Soup books are great to read when you’re having a rough time adjusting to military life – which is fairly common.

Military Pocket Guides. It’s a series of small pocket-sized books that cover pretty much everything, eg. The  Military Spouse’s Employment Pocket Guide and the Military Spouse’s Map Through the Maze. These are quick, readily accessible guides to help families through this big life-changing adjustment.

Learn from Military Chaplains

 by John Van Epp

It all began around ten years ago when Chaplain Colonel Bloomstrom from the Chief of Chaplains office approached my booth at a conference and ordered 50 of my relationship courses for chaplains to teach. Since that first encounter, I have had the incredible honor of personally training over 3,000 chaplains in my courses by traveling to most of the Army bases across this country and overseas. This has been a journey of inspiration as I have developed many close relationships with these chaplains and their families, listened to their stories of sacrifice, dedication, and love for fellow soldiers, and watched them care for the spiritual, personal, and relational needs of others. Let me take this opportunity to brag about them.

A typical chaplain’s closet is filled with many hats.

• The administrative hats of organizing activities, retreats and services; writing contracts, reports, and budgets; delegating to and managing their assistants and subordinates; and working under the authority of constantly changing superiors.

• The educational hats of taking annual classes, gaining certifications; teaching classes and conducting retreats related to spirituality, faith, marriage, child-rearing, dating and mate-choice; preparing devotionals and sermons, and running worship centers and services.

• The military hats of daily PT (physical training), deployments, PCS (Permanent Change of Station) every two or three years, promotions, battle wounds and deaths (chaplains conduct most of the services and family care for those who have lost their lives), and working within the chain of command.

• Finally, there is the counseling hat which deals with marriage preparation, helping service men and women with countless personal and marital struggles, healing broken trust, posttraumatic stress, and dealing with loss. Even this list hardly does credit for this most noble profession.

But what has moved me much more than their expansive work load is their expansive hearts. I have yet to meet a chaplain who was not driven by love, compassion, and sacrifice. I am sure there must be some out there who have lost this vision, but they must be few and far between because I have only come across those who genuinely care about those they serve.

One of my common experiences is to hear chaplains talk about conducting funeral services for those who lost their lives in battle, and the heart-wrenching task of caring for their spouses and families. Several months ago, I was teaching my programs to new chaplains in the Basic Course at Fort Jackson. An announcement was made that a convoy in Iraq had been attacked and among those killed was an Army Chaplain – the first lost in this war. There was an immediate hush as they interrupted our class to pray for the families involved. At lunch I spoke with numerous staff about this loss including the director of the basic course, and each one showed deep emotion as their eyes welled-up with tears.

On many other occasions I have had similar experiences with other chaplains. It usually would begin with a chaplain looking at me and saying something like, “We lost six from the 101st last week.” This comment would be followed by a long, silent stare as he fought back his emotions. I would have thought that “compassion fatigue” would have set in years earlier for some of these veteran chaplains; but for most, their hearts remain soft and receptive to the pain of those to whom they minister.

I am most familiar, though, with the Strong Bonds Program that the Army Chaplaincy initiated some ten years ago. Their mission is “to provide programs in weekend retreat settings that will strengthen relationships in marriage, family, and dating (for singles).” The Chief of Chaplains established the Strong Bonds Program and provided funding in order to improve the quality of family relationships among their soldiers.

Chaplains become trained and certified in a number of relationship courses and then take single soldiers, married couples, or entire families on weekend retreats and teach them one of these programs over the course of three days. The Strong Bonds budget provides the funding for the course materials, the lodging, any necessary childcare, and the transportation. The weekend is balanced between class time and free time for relaxing, recharging, and reflecting on what they learn.

I have listened to hundreds of chaplains as they excitedly described these retreats and the positive impact they have had on dating soldiers, married couples, and families. The common denominator between these many stories has not been the specific programs taught, or the locations of the retreats, or even the activities of the weekend.

Rather, it has been the love of the chaplains for the well-being of the soldiers and their families under their care. Chaplains long to see better dating practices, stronger marriages, and happier families and have established a new “social structure” in their military culture to facilitate preventative programs in relationship education. Our society at large can learn much from this micro-society for there is a tremendous need to create social structures where individuals and couples take relationship courses long before the need for remedial intervention.

In fact, the Church should also consider following the example of the Army Chaplains and fund classes and retreats to their communities in non-church settings that specifically address the needs of dating, marriage, and family life.

Most of the courses used in the Strong Bonds Program have secular and Christian versions which allow chaplains to teach the secular version to those who would not usually attend a religious retreat in order to both benefit their relationships and to provide a bridge of credibility for the Chaplaincy.

In the same way, Churches could provide these courses which would benefit the community by promoting Christian principles on dating and marriage in practical and non-religious ways while also providing an outreach to unchurched people. The military has been a leader in many advances that have now become normalized in our public sector – satellite systems, the Internet, and energy to name a few.

The Army Chaplaincy has now established an example for us to follow: creating new social and organizational structures where relationship classes are taught throughout the year in both Christian and secular settings in order to promote healthy dating practices, stronger marriages, and happier families.

John Van Epp is founder of Love Thinks and author of “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk.” He developed the Relationship Attachment Model and is a relationship speaker and trainer. In addition to being a husband and father, John has been a minister, adjunct university professor, and continues a private counseling practice.

 

Helping Children Deal With a Parent’s Deployment

by Joseph White

Deployment can be a difficult time, for both the adults being deployed and the families they are leaving behind. Children face a host of special issues when one or both of their parents are deployed. The deployment cycle is best thought of as three separate phases:

1. Pre-deployment

2. Deployment

3. Reunion

Each phase has unique issues that may require time to sort through, particularly for children. Behavioral and emotional changes in children may occur even after their parents arrive back home. Everyone will have changed during the separation, so being together again may require some adjustments.

The pre-deployment period can last several weeks to just a few hours. Children need to be told where their parent is going (even if only general locations are available), when the parent anticipates returning, and why their parent is leaving. Discussing the deployment can help children understand that parents are not leaving because of something the child did and that they will be coming home.

Educators and other caregivers play a special role in the lives of children during a parent’s deployment. When everything else is unsettled, school can serve as an oasis of stability for children. Due to the amount of time spent in school, teachers are often the first to notice behavioral or performance changes. Educators can serve as extra eyes and ears for the parent staying at home or the child’s guardian. Given the number of additional burdens placed upon caregivers, this backup can be extremely useful. Watch for any changes in a child’s behavior or school performance. This can be a scary time for children. Their feelings and concerns may be expressed in a number of ways. Encourage the courage of children.

The reunion phase actually begins a couple of weeks before the parent’s return as the child begins to anticipate the reunion. Children feel a mixture of excitement and fear during this time. They will be wondering what the reunion itself will be like and questioning: “How has Mommy/Daddy changed?” “Will he recognize me?,” “Will she know who I am?” This phase can actually be the most difficult for children, so support is especially crucial as the deployment nears its end.

Children are exposed to more now than they were even a few years ago. Media coverage of conflicts around the world allows for regular glimpses into situations faced by the military. This information is often inappropriate for children. The scenes they can see on television may themselves be a source of stress, as well as a trigger for new worries about the safety of their loved ones. Encourage adults to limit the television coverage children can see. Also encourage adults to read news articles prior to children to ensure they are appropriate for children. Both of these tips are for all of the adults in a child’s life, not just a child’s parent or guardian. If a child is exposed to something upsetting, talk about it. The news may have sparked or rekindled fears that need to be discussed.

Children may also need help dealing with anti-war sentiment. Sometimes  the opinions people have about war or a particular war may cause the children of those serving distress or worry. While one would hope that people, particularly adults, would exercise forethought in discussions of such weighty topics around children, sometimes upsetting things are said around or even to children. If a child is disturbed or upset, encourage him or her to talk it through. Also encourage adults to be thoughtful of children and the situations they are facing before they speak in front of them.

For more information on how parents, families, educators, and Church communities can assist children during a parent’s deployment, see the Military School can serve as Child Education Coalition website http://www.militarychild.org/ .

Dr. Joseph White is a Clinical Child Psychologist and is Board Certified in Sexual Abuse by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

Through the Eyes of a Military Family

 by Mike Allen

Gary and Jeanne Barnes of Gulf Breeze, FL, have seen a broad spectrum of military life. Gary spent 22 years in the Air Force and retired in 1993 with the rank of Lt. Colonel. Their daughter’s husband is an active Marine (deployed in Okinawa, Japan).

Mike: What are some of the challenges to marriage in the military?

Jeanne: First of all, just the separation. Gary was also in special ops, which meant that we didn’t know when he was going, for how long, and where he would be. The balance of power that goes back and forth was hard. When he’s home we share power, and then when he leaves, I would do it all my way (laughs). It was hard to readjust to that.

Gary: The military, for me, was exciting. I enjoyed the travel…though I don’t like to tell Jeanne that (both laugh) – but I could see the problems with the children. When I did come home, it was like “Dad’s home, he’s the #1!” And Jeanne would always feel like, “What am I, chopped liver?” I didn’t worry about dying –maybe Jeanne did – it was the uncertainty, the constant deployments, the movement, not being really a part of the kids’ lives that was hard. Now, as I look back, there were things that I didn’t do, didn’t have the time to do, or didn’t choose to take in – ball games, birthday parties, anniversaries. three years, we had three priests.

We’ve been lifelong friends with two of those priests; they come and visit us almost every year, and that was thirty years ago. We were lucky that we had the Church. We found out from living in Guam, that since you’re thousands of miles away, the church is family. It pulled us together, and I think we are so much stronger for that experience, because of that isolation and the Church filling the need for family.

Jeanne: Gary was gone a lot, and the priests would come by and check – I had little children at the time – to see if everything was OK. They were just friends. Growing up in a Catholic family, if my mother had the priest over for dinner, it was linens, china, fancy stuff. So when our first priest stopped by, I thought, “I’ve got to do all this.” But as we got to be friends, it was “Here’s a paper napkin, just sit down and have a glass of beer” (laughs).

Mike: What are some things that local parishes could do to be helpful of military families?

Jeanne: Our church now has a lot of retired Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, but not so much active duty. One thing I appreciate is a book we put on the altar every Sunday that has the names – anybody can write in it – of any military person or family that is deployed. It’s a symbol of how important it is to pray for our military families.

Mike: As for the ministries on military bases, how were those helpful?

Gary: Our first real experience with military chaplains was on Guam. We would have a new priest every year. In Mike: Gary said that death was not on his mind. Jeanne, how about for you?

Jeanne: Yes, I always had it in the back of my mind. Gary’s very first assignment was at Westover, Massachusetts, where there were lots of bombers shot down, so I was familiar with the official car and the chaplain coming by and telling the wives. It was always, “Thank God it’s not me,” and then, “Oh my gosh, it’s my friend,” and then the guilt of “What can I do for them, because I feel so bad that it’s them and not me.” But our church family was always very close, so we could minister to one another. I was in a women’s group where we talked about those things, so just knowing that the other wives were feeling the same thing helped a lot.

Mike: What are some of the other challenges children face when a parent is in the military?

Jeanne: It was more an issue with discipline in our family. We have three daughters, and in my eyes, they could do no wrong, and in Gary’s eyes, they could do no right, so we were a good team (laughs).

Gary: The moving all the time – every two, three, or four years – was extremely hard on the kids. In fact, our middle daughter had written that they were so scared to go to school the first day, that they went to bed together and held each other’s hands.

Jeanne: But as traumatic as it was, all three say today that it made them stronger. They are very independent, strong women, and they do credit a lot of that with having to be the new kid

Another thing is just getting the families or spouses of deployed soldiers together. When our daughter’s husband went to Iraq, it was hard for her to meet other wives whose husbands were deployed. If the Church set up coffees, little gatherings, or something where they could initially get together; then they could take it from there. You need the support of someone who is going through the same thing.

Gary: It depends on the community. If you have a lot of families of deployed, you can do a lot, but if you have five families out of 800, they tend to fall by the wayside. We pray for them every Sunday in our intentions, and the book is there; but outside of that there wasn’t anything for them.

Jeanne: Something our priest does is when soldiers attend Mass, he takes time at the end to welcome them, and the church gives them a standing ovation. Our son-in-law laughs about being embarrassed, but it is good for the family and the children to see that the community appreciates what their dad does.

Gary: We always concentrate on the deployed, and pray for them, but we really need to establish a constant prayer for the ones left behind, because they need our prayers every bit as much.

Jeanne: A lot of enlisted personnel and their families really struggle financially. They may have enough money to live month to month, but their refrigerator goes out, and they don’t have anything extra. That’s another thing the Church can do, if you get to know the families.

Gary: It’s sad in America that our young airmen, in the first five ranks, are on food stamps.

Mike: What about childcare – just watching the children for a few hours – could that be helpful?

Gary: In most daycares, there’s no room for the two hour drop-in. That’s a big deal, if our Churches could step up, just that two hour “go get groceries”

Mike Allen is the Director of Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. See www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com for a partial list of counselors who support marriage.

 

Blessings of Age – A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops

Blessings of Age is a Pastoral Message on Growing Older Within the Faith Community. It is addressed to Older Persons, Caregivers. and Pastors, Pastoral Staff, and Parishioners. Following is an excerpt from the final section addressed to Pastors and Pastoral Staff.

A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Because parishes differ in their particular needs and resources, we offer a few foundational principles for parish ministry with older persons.
1. Older people are providers, not just recipients, of pastoral care.
2. Older people themselves should help to identify their pastoral needs and decide how they are met.
3. Older people are as diverse, if not more so, than other generational groups.
4. Older people need a mix of activities that connect them with each other as the larger faith community.
5. Spiritual health affects and is affected by the individual’s physical, emotional, mental, and social health. While the faith community is especially concerned about meeting spiritual needs, it cannot ignore these other realities.–1999

Editor’s Note: Ten years after this Pastoral Letter was written, family ministers can easily affirm the above principles. The challenge is to actualize these goals in specific, concrete ways lest they become pious platitudes.

What Family Ministers Share With & Can Learn From Military Chaplains?

By John Van Epp, PhD

It all began around ten years ago when Chaplain Colonel Bloomstrom from the Chief of Chaplains office approached my booth at a conference and ordered 50 of my relationship courses for chaplains to teach. Since that first encounter, I have had the incredible honor of personally training over 3,000 chaplains in my courses by traveling to most of the Army bases across this country and overseas. This has been a journey of inspiration as I have developed many close relationships with these chaplains and their families, listened to their stories of sacrifice, dedication, and love for fellow soldiers, and watched them care for the spiritual, personal, and relational needs of others. Let me take this opportunity to brag about them.

A typical chaplain’s closet is filled with many hats.
• The administrative hats of organizing activities, retreats and services;writing contracts, reports, and budgets; delegating to and managing their assistants and subordinates; and working under the authority of constantly changing superiors.
• The educational hats of taking annual classes, gaining certifications; teaching classes and conducting retreats related to spirituality, faith, marriage, child-rearing, dating and mate-choice; preparing devotionals and sermons, and running worship centers and services.
• The military hats of daily PT (physical training), deployments, PCS (Permanent Change of Station) every two or three years, promotions, battle wounds and deaths (chaplains conduct most of the services and family care for those who have lost their lives), and working within the chain of command.
• Finally, there is the counseling hat which deals with marriage preparation, helping service men and women with countless personal and marital struggles, healing broken trust, post-traumatic stress, and dealing with loss. Even this list hardly does credit for this most noble profession.

But what has moved me much more than their expansive work load is their expansive hearts. I have yet to meet a chaplain who was not driven by love, compassion, and sacrifice. I am sure there must be some out there who have lost this vision, but they must be few and far between because I have only come across those who genuinely care about those they serve.

One of my common experiences is to hear chaplains talk about conducting funeral services for those who lost their lives in battle, and the heart-wrenching task of caring for their spouses and families. Several months ago, I was teaching my programs to new chaplains in the Basic Course at Fort Jackson. An announcement was made that a convoy in Iraq had been attacked and among those killed was an Army Chaplain – the first lost in this war. There was an immediate hush as they interrupted our class to pray for the families involved. At lunch I spoke with numerous staff about this loss including the director of the basic course, and each one showed deep emotion as their eyes welled-up with tears.

On many other occasions I have had similar experiences with other chaplains. It usually would begin with a chaplain looking at me and saying something like, “We lost six from the 101st last week.” This comment would be followed by a long, silent stare as he fought back his emotions. I would have thought that “compassion fatigue” would have set in years earlier for some of these veteran chaplains; but for most, their hearts remain soft an receptive to the pain of those to whom they minister.

I am most familiar, though, with the Strong Bonds Program that the Army Chaplaincy initiated some ten years ago. Their mission is “to provide programs in weekend retreat settings that will strengthen relationships in marriage, family, and dating (for singles).” The Chief of Chaplains established the Strong Bonds Program and provided funding in order to improve the quality of family relationships among their soldiers.Chaplains become trained and certified in a number
of relationship courses and then take single soldiers, married couples, or entire families on weekend retreats and teach them one of these programs over the course of three days. The Strong Bonds budget provides the funding for the course materials, the lodging, any necessary childcare, and
the transportation. The weekend is balanced between class time and free time for relaxing, recharging, and reflecting on what they learn.

I have listened to hundreds of chaplains as they excitedly described these retreats and the positive impact they have had on dating soldiers, married couples, and families. The common denominator between these many stories has not been the specific programs taught, or the locations of the retreats, or even the activities of the weekend. Rather, it has been the love of the chaplains for the well-being of the soldiers and their families under their care.

Chaplains long to see better dating practices, stronger marriages, and happier families and have established a new “social structure” in their military culture to facilitate preventative programs in relationship education. Our society at large can learn much from this micro-society for there is a tremendous need to create social structures where individuals and couples take relationship courses long before the need for remedial intervention.

In fact, the Church should also consider following the example of the Army Chaplains and fund classes and retreats to their communities in non-church settings that specifically address the needs of dating, marriage, and family life.

Most of the courses used in the Strong Bonds Program have secular and Christian versions which allow chaplains to teach the secular version to those who would not usually attend a religious retreat in order to both benefit their relationships and to provide a bridge of credibility for the Chaplaincy. In the same way, Churches could provide these courses which would benefit the community by promoting Christian principles on dating and marriage in practical and non-religious ways while also providing an outreach to unchurched people.

The military has been a leader in many advances that have now become normalized in our public sector – satellite systems, the Internet, and energy to name a few. The Army Chaplaincy has now established an example for us to follow: creating new social and organizational structures where relationship classes are taught throughout the year in both Christian and secular settings in order to promote healthy dating practices, stronger marriages, and happier families.

“The Way We Get By”

By Kathy Beirne

Aging (as we saw in the Fall 2010 NACFLM Journal) is a challenge to the elderly person and to those around them. Aron Gaudet was concerned when he couldn’t reach his elderly mother on the phone. When he finally got her, she told him that she had been greeting the troops coming through the Bangor, Maine airport. She was part of a crew that meets each incoming troop transport plane, and wished departing soldiers well as they left for the war zones.

Aron, who had wanted to become a documentary film-maker, had found his subject. His film, The Way We Get By, describes the work these dedicated greeters do and was hailed as one of the best documentaries of 2009.

The greeters receive phone calls when a plane is due in. Many of them travel a long distance to get there. They provide cell phones to the combatants to call their loved ones. One volunteer told a story of a young soldier who was talking excitedly on a phone. It turned out he was coaching his wife through childbirth!

The film shows how people can support soldiers without being for or against war. More importantly, it is a wonderful tribute to the way a cause and a community can help older people feel vital and able to get up every day despite physical, emotional, and economic obstacles. It’s also a great example of ways ordinary citizens can become advocates for those who are in the military and for their families.

Just recently, a relative in Illinois had a neighbor whose son was being deployed to Afghanistan. “She’s a single mom, and Chris is her only son.” Gail told us. “The Bangor group’s kindness was as unexpected as it was overwhelming to her. They even posted his photo on their Website. There are just no words to express how grateful she was, getting to see his smiling face once more before he left the country.”

In March 2010, the Bangor group passed the one million mark for the combatants they had met. Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine said of them on that occasion, “The compassion and dedication of these volunteers is truly inspirational. Day and night, week after week, they work to make sure that the last thing our troops get before leaving home is a warm handshake and the first thing they see when they return is a smiling face.”

Through the Eyes of a Military Family

Mike Allen of the Journal Commission interviews
Gary & Jeanne Barnes

Editors Note:
For this “Serving Military Families” issue, we thought it would be helpful to talk directly with a Catholic couple who has experienced the military’s affect on family life. Gary and Jeanne Barnes of Gulf Breeze, FL, have seen a broad spectrum of military life. Gary spent 22 years in the Air Force and retired in 1993 with the rank of Lt. Colonel. Their daughter’s husband is an active Marine (deployed in Okinawa, Japan).

Mike: What are some of the challenges to marriage in the military?
Jeanne: First of all, just the separation. Gary was also in special ops, which meant that we didn’t know when he was going, for how long, and where he would be. The balance of power that goes back and forth was hard. When he’s home we share power, and then when he leaves, I would do it all my way (laughs). It was hard to readjust to that.

Gary: The military, for me, was exciting. I enjoyed the travel…though I don’t like to tell Jeanne that (both laugh) – but I could see the problems with the children. When I did come home, it was like “Dad’s home, he’s the #1!” And Jeanne would always feel like, “What
am I, chopped liver?”

I didn’t worry about dying –maybe Jeanne did – it was the uncertainty, the constant deployments, the movement, not being really a part of the kids’ lives that was hard. Now, as I look back, there were things that I didn’t do, didn’t have the time to do, or didn’t choose to take in – ball games, birthday parties, anniversaries.

Mike: Gary said that death was not on his mind. Jeanne, how about for you?
Jeanne: Yes, I always had it in the back of my mind. Gary’s very first assignment was at Westover, Massachusetts, where there were lots of bombers shot down, so I was familiar with the official car and the chaplain coming by and telling the wives. It was always, “Thank God it’s not me,” and then, “Oh my gosh, it’s my friend,” and then the guilt of “What can I do for them, because I feel so bad that it’s them and not me.” But our church family was always very close, so we could minister to one another. I was in a women’s group where we talked about those things, so just knowing that the other wives were feeling the same thing helped a lot.

Mike: What are some of the other challenges children face when a parent is in the
military?
Jeanne: It was more an issue with discipline in our family. We have three daughters, and in my eyes, they could do no wrong, and in Gary’s eyes, they could do no right, so we were a good team (laughs).
Gary: The moving all the time – every two, three, or four years – was extremely hard on the kids. In fact, our middle daughter had written that they were so scared to go to school the first day, that they went to bed together and held each other’s hands.
Jeanne: But as traumatic as it was, all three say today that it made them stronger. They are very independent, strong women, and they do credit a lot of that with having to be the new kid.

Mike: As for the ministries on military bases, how were those helpful?
Gary: Our first real experience with military chaplains was on Guam. We would have a new priest every year. In three years, we had three priests. We’ve been lifelong friends with two of those priests; they come and visit us almost every year, and that was thirty years ago.

We were lucky that we had the Church. We found out from living in Guam, that since you’re thousands of miles away, the church is family. It pulled us together, and I think we are so much stronger for that experience, because of that isolation and the Church filling the need for family.

Jeanne: Gary was gone a lot, and the priests would come by and check – I had little children at the time – to see if everything was OK. They were just friends. Growing up in a Catholic family, if my mother had the priest over for dinner, it was linens, china, fancy stuff. So when our first priest stopped by, I thought, “I’ve got to do all this.” But as we got to be friends, it was “Here’s a paper napkin, just sit down and have a glass of beer” (laughs).

Mike: What are some things that local parishes could do to be helpful of military families?
Jeanne: Our church now has a lot of retired Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, but not so much active duty. One thing I appreciate is a book we put on the altar every Sunday that has the names – anybody can write in it – of any military person or family that is deployed. It’s a symbol of how important it is to pray for our military families.

Another thing is just getting the families or spouses of deployed soldiers together. When our daughter’s husband went to Iraq, it was hard for her to meet other wives whose husbands were deployed. If the Church set up coffees, little gatherings, or something where they could initially get together; then they could take it from there. You need the support of someone who is going through the same thing.

Gary: It depends on the community. If you have a lot of families of deployed, you can do a lot, but if you have five families out of 800, they tend to fall by the wayside. We pray for them every Sunday in our intentions, and the book is there; but outside of that there wasn’t anything for them.
Jeanne: Something our priest does is when soldiers attend Mass, he takes time at the end to welcome them, and the church gives them a standing ovation. Our son-in-law laughs about being embarrassed, but it is good for the family and the children to see that the community appreciates what their dad does.
Gary: We always concentrate on the deployed, and pray for them, but we really need to establish a constant prayer for the ones left behind, because they need our prayers every bit as much.

Jeanne: A lot of enlisted personnel and their families really struggle financially. They may have enough money to live month to month, but their refrigerator goes out, and they don’t have anything extra. That’s another thing the Church can do, if you get to know the families.

Gary: It’s sad in America that our young airmen, in the first five ranks, are on food stamps.

Mike: What about childcare – just watching the children for a few hours – could that be helpful?
Gary: In most daycares, there’s no room for the two hour drop-in. That’s a big deal, if our Churches could step up, just that two hour “go get groceries”

Helping Families When Sexual Abuse Is Disclosed:

Recommendations for Ministry Leaders
by Dr. Joseph White

When sexual abuse is disclosed, either by a child or by an adult who was sexually abused as a child, there is always pain – first on the part of the victim of abuse, but also on the part of those who love him or her. For this reason, a disclosure of sexual abuse can be particularly devastating to families, whether the abuse occurred within or outside of the family context. As ministry professionals work with families in a variety of contexts, they might sometimes become aware of situations in which a disclosure of abuse has been made. The following are some suggestions for ministry leaders:

Listening is key. Sometimes when someone is dealing with a traumatic situation, we are at a loss for words. But persons facing difficult circumstances often need to be heard by us more than they need to hear something from us. Empathic reflection is most important initially. As difficult it may be to hear about someone else’s trauma, remember that as ministry professionals, we are the face of the Church. Make sure to send the message that we have time to listen, and we care about what they are going through.

Believe the disclosure and encourage parents and family members to do the same. Only an estimated 5% of allegations of sexual abuse are false, and these usually occur in very specific types of circumstances.

Reassure parents that what happened is not their fault. Because parents know that they are their child’s primary protector, parents often feel enormous guilt upon hearing that their child has been victimized. Tell the parents that you know how much they care for their child and that you are certain they would have done everything they could have to prevent the abuse if they had known.

Make sure the abuse has been reported. As professionals who work with children, we are
obligated to report abuse if we become aware of it. In most states, the criterion is “reasonable suspicion.” We don’t have to decide whether or not allegations of abuse are true. If we have cause to believe a child has been abused, we must report and leave it to the authorities to investigate as necessary. The obligation to report child abuse exists even if the abuse is reported after the victim has become an adult. We can never know if the perpetrator might still have access to children or might abuse a child in the future. For this reason, a report should always be made.

Advise parents to avoid leading questions and allow professionals to investigate the abuse.
There have been cases in which perpetrators have been acquitted because a child was
inappropriately questioned and asked leading questions when the allegations have been made. Encourage parents to listen emphatically and attentively and to reassure the child of their love and protection, but advise them not to ask questions about the abuse until a trained professional has all the facts.

Encourage parents and families to seek therapy. Sexual abuse can be extremely stressful for children and teens, and the emotional damage does not simply disappear when the abuse ends. To help prevent long-term negative consequences, encourage the parent to make an appointment with a counselor or psychologist who specializes in working with children (or, for adults remembering abuse, encourage them to see a therapist with experience in treating post-traumatic stress). Counseling can also be beneficial for parents coping with the stress and grief associated with their child’s victimization.

Dr. Joseph White is a Clinical Child Psychologist and is Board Certified in Sexual Abuse by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.