If you're a single parent or part of a dual-military couple, you've probably thought about who will care for your child if you are deployed. Your choice of a caregiver will depend on a number of factors, including your child's age, the caregiver's relationship with you and your child, and whether the caregiver shares your parenting style and values. Before asking someone to care for your child, it's important to ask a lot of questions and think about what will be best for everyone involved.
Who is available to care for your child?
Think through all of the people you know who could care for your child. Would your child thrive and feel safe with that person and family in your absence? Caregivers can include the following:
- Relatives. Consider your child's grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
- Friends. If close friends aren't available to care for your child, they may know somebody who can, such as one of their own relatives.
- Neighbors. By staying with a neighbor, your child will remain close to home and may not have to change childcare programs or schools.
- Childcare providers. Caregivers who work in a child care program may be willing to care for your child in your home or theirs.
- State foster care. If no one else is available, your state social services agency may place your child with a foster family as long as you pay for the child's care.
If you're having difficulty finding someone to care for your child or deciding whom to ask, talk with your Military and Family Support Program/Center, or Child and Youth Services staff on your installation or in the Joint Forces Headquarters State Family Programs.
What if your child has to move away?
Your first choice of a caregiver may be a relative or close friend who lives far away. However, this may not be the ideal solution for your child. Your child may prefer to stay close to home near familiar people and friends. If your child moves out of town or to a different state, there are several issues to consider:
- Health care. Identify a new pediatrician and dentist for your child, as well as other medical professionals your child may see regularly. Before lining up new providers, check beforehand to make sure they are covered by your medical and dental plans. Visit TRICARE for specific coverage information.
- School or childcare. Check on enrollment requirements for school and childcare. With childcare, the fees may differ and care may be hard to find in another location.
- After-school activities. If your child is moving far away, he or she will have to withdraw from lessons, sports, or other activities. You may want to find similar activities in the new location.
- Friends and family back home. How will your child stay in touch with friends and family members back home? A move far away may put a temporary end to visits with friends and family at a time when your child needs these people more than ever.
Do your parenting styles and values match?
As a parent, you probably have certain beliefs about the best way to raise your child. Talk openly about these beliefs with possible caregivers to see what you agree on and where your values and parenting styles differ. You may find that your differences are too great to ignore, or you may decide that they are minor enough to overlook for the time you are deployed.
- Discipline. Does the potential caregiver share your feelings about the proper way to discipline a child? Do you agree on what sort of behavior should be punished? Do you feel the person may be too strict or too permissive?
- Communication. How will your caregiver support your child's ability to stay in touch with you and other important people in your child's life? Will the person encourage your child to send you photos, emails, or letters, or to call you? When and how will the caregiver contact you if there is an emergency with your child?
- Entertainment. Do your rules about television, video games, movies, and Internet use mesh with your caregiver's rules?
- Nutrition. Will the caregiver provide the type of food you want your child to eat? If you follow certain dietary guidelines or don't allow your child to eat certain foods, such as candy and soda, look for a caregiver who will abide by your wishes.
- Recreation. If your child is fond of certain activities, such as hiking or bowling, will the caregiver support these?
- Religion. Do the caregiver's religious beliefs and practices mesh with yours? If not, are you comfortable with your child living with someone who doesn't share your beliefs?
Will your child have a safe and comfortable home?
Here are some questions related to the safety and comfort of a caregiver's home for you to consider:
- Can you trust this caregiver to provide safe, healthy, and nurturing care for your child? Has the caregiver provided long-term care for any other children? Will the caregiver provide you with names for references?
- Will your child be safe? The potential caregiver may be a good person, but the home may not be safe. Perhaps there are aggressive dogs or the home is on the water and your child doesn't know how to swim. If your child is very young, is the caregiver willing to childproof the home by locking up dangerous objects or chemicals?
- Will your child have his or her own bed? It's OK if your child doesn't have his or her own bedroom, but there should be a comfortable place to sleep with clean bedding.
- Does the caregiver have good parenting skills? He or she doesn't have to be a parent to provide loving care to your child but should be a competent, emotionally stable person.
- Are there other children and family members in the home? If the caregiver has children of his or her own, how will your child fit into the household? Will your child get along with the other children and the spouse?
- Is the caregiver responsible with money? Remember, you will be providing for the financial care of your child, so you should trust that the caregiver will use the money for its intended purpose.
- Is there a smoker or alcohol user in the caregiver's home? Will your child be exposed to second-hand smoke or alcohol in the home? If this is unacceptable to you, are you comfortable asking the caregiver and others in the home to smoke outdoors or refrain from drinking alcohol when your child is present?
- Will the caregiver have to make childcare arrangements? If the caregiver works or travels frequently, he or she will need to enroll your child in childcare or find a babysitter. If so, are you comfortable leaving the choice of a childcare provider to the caregiver?
- Does the caregiver have the energy and patience to keep up with your child? This is especially important for young, active children.
- Does the caregiver understand the emotional challenges? Children of all ages will go through emotional and behavioral changes when separated from a parent. The caregiver should expect some changes and be comfortable dealing with them.
Choosing a caregiver for your child while you are on deployment is an important decision. By thinking through your choices carefully and by talking openly with potential caregivers about your expectations and wishes, you'll deploy feeling confident that you're leaving your child in good hands.