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The 4 'Family' Members an MHP Needs (And 3 They Don't)

Must-Have Parent

"Family" can mean something different in a military community.

There's your family-family, sure. Those are the people you grew up with, the people who knew you before you started wearing a bra. The people who are (still!) hoarding the last existing copies of that fifth-grade class picture of you with a perm (hypothetically speaking, of course). They're the people who live in that place you try to visit at least once a year. Twice, if there's an airfare sale.

But, much as they'd probably like, they can't be your on-call family. They're just too far away. So you have to build your other family. Your military family. Military life is insanely, stupidly hard without "family."

The 4 Family Members Every MHP Needs:

  1. The Dad (aka, The Emergency Babysitter ). This is the person you know you can actually call late at night to watch two of your kids so you can take the third to the emergency room.. This is NOT your regular babysitter. This person might not even be your friend. Emergency babysitters include the old retired military couple on the corner, the military wife you know from the last two duty stations but have never hung out with, and the person you met when you first moved in who gave you permission to list her as the emergency contact number for your kids' school. The emergency babysitter -- much like a fire alarm -- must only be used for actual emergencies. Abuse her, and you'll lose her.
  2. The Mom (aka, the person you call when your world is falling apart). The Mom doesn't have to be older than you; age is totally unimportant in Moms. She could even be younger. She could even be a he. The Mom always seems to know what to say to make life a little more manageable, and she has the uncanny ability to discern whether the situation calls for coffee or wine. It's a remarkable skill. Moms are generally not the life of the party nor the wittiest person in the room, but everyone seems drawn to them nonetheless.
  3. The Sister-from-another-mister/ Brother-from-another-mother. When you don't have your actual sister or brother nearby, you need a stand-in. Someone you're instantly at ease with. Someone you don't try to impress. Someone who can tease you without hurting your feelings. Someone who doesn't get mad when they sit on your couch wearing black pants and when they stand up their butt is covered in dog hair and Cheeto dust, hypothetically speaking.
  4. The Grandma (aka, The "I've Been Here Forever" Person). In a town full of transients, there's a lot to be said for someone who has, literally, been around the block -- every friggin' block. This person can tell you which preschool is the best, the trick for scoring drop-in care at the CDC, which local festivals are fun and which ones are just "meh," and all the other things it can take years to learn. Bonus: For reasons no one really understands, this person is also usually good at baking.

Must-Have Parenting is hard enough. Don't let these bad "family" members drag you down:

    1. The Dirty Uncle. The dirty uncle might be a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend, a friend's husband -- there's just no telling what form he might take. He can also be a she. But you'll know the dirty uncle fairly soon after meeting him because he'll find a way to make an innuendo out of everything. You'll also notice that conversations with a Dirty Uncle often veer into awkwardly personal territory. It's funny at first, but then -- like that weird Christmas Eve -- the Dirty Uncle starts to seem ... just dirty.
    2. The Judgy Aunt. Judgy Aunts spend so much time tsking that you might think they have a tic disorder. No matter what someone is doing, the Judgy Aunt has an opinion -- a negative one. She truly believes she is an expert on everything -- and she just knows that everyone else is doing it wrong, wrong, wrong. A warning: Sometimes Judgy Aunts sound wise, maybe even like a Grandma. Do not get the two confused! One legitimately knows it all, the other acts like a know-it-all.
    3. The Trashy Cousin, aka the Drama Llama. Regular llamas can carry packs of up to 75 pounds. Drama llamas can carry double their weight -- and then some -- in problems. You'll know the drama llama from her Facebook posts, which usually begin with "Can you believe this?!!!!" The drama llama is always upset about something. The slightest affront will send a drama llama (much like real llamas) into a spitting, hissing fit. In person, drama llamas tend to start conversations with, "You will not believe what I heard!" (However, this is phrase is also used by genuinely excited Brothers and Sisters.) Drama llamas are a lot of fun -- at first. But the trouble they bring is not worth the laughs.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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