Are Spouses the “Must Have Parent?”


All parents are “must have” parents. I think we would all agree that kids need their moms and dads to love them and protect them and help them make their way in the world.

But lately I’ve been wondering if military families (and many civilian families) are constructed a little differently because one of the partners has a profession that requires a lot of travel and/or long, non-negotiable work hours.

In my research on long military families, I found that work demands like these meant that the partner most consistently in the home bore more of the weight of the day-today family.

My 11-year old told me that person was the “Must Have Parent.”

It’s a helluva concept. I hope you will bear with me on this because I want your ideas about the whole thing, not just the title of the blog.

This is how he came up with that term. From the time my kids were babies, I played stupid little games with them to keep their dad present when he was deployed.

This time I got in the habit this time of teasing my 11-year old when he was being especially adorable. “Who loves you, Peter?” I would ask him.

“You do,” he would laugh.

“And who else?


Exactly. I wanted him thinking: Mom loves me. Dad loves me. Life is good.

Even after my husband came home from his last deployment, this was still a habit with us. So one day I asked him again, “Who loves you Peter?”

“You do.”

“And who else?”

“Daddy,” Pete said, as always.

Then he stopped me and looked into my face. “But you are my Must Have Parent, Mommy.”

My husband was standing right there. He gave a little shrug, in that way of fathers. Because in that moment, we both knew what Peter meant.

Peter was telling us that it was OK for Dad to deploy as long as the Must Have parent was in place.

As long as the Must Have Parent woke him up every day and fed him a butter roll, he was OK. As long as the Must Have Parent reminded him to practice his trombone and picked him up from school if he was sick and tucked him in at night, he was OK.

As long as our son had his Must Have Parent relentlessly, constantly, physically present, it was OK for Dad to deploy.

Peter would miss his Dad all the time (of course), yet it was basically OK for dad to be gone and to come home and to be ready to go again with a Must Have Parent in place.

This assessment was a little hard on both Brad and me. It was like Peter was announcing he could cope with only one kidney.

But it was the way he understood his own life.

It made us curious.  So we talked about his version of the Must Have Parent over dinner. “If one person is the Must Have Parent,” I asked. “What does the other parent do?”

“Well, he is the worker parent,” Pete said.

Brad kind of liked that assessment.

“I work too, Honey.” I reminded Peter gently. (I work full time. It is kind of hard to miss.)

Peter considered that for a minute while Brad and I suggested other terms for the partner who had to be gone so much of the time.

“I think the other parent is the Must Do Parent,” announced Peter. ”He has a lot of things he must do before he can come home.”

The Must Have Parent and the Must Do Parent raise the I’m OK Military Child?

I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that this is the way our family has functioned since my husband’s first deployment when our daughter was five months old.

This is the way my own family functioned when I was a kid. It was OK if my Must Do Parent was serving in Vietnam because my Must Have Parent was doing the laundry and driving us to swim lessons and saying our prayers with us at night.

This is not the way my brother the architect and his wife the dietician raise their girls.  Both of them come home every night. They come home every night.  Neither of them travel much.  They share childcare and chores.  They are both present.

Our military family cannot work that way.  So got me to wondering about other military families and civilian families in which one of the partners has a profession that requires a lot of travel and/or long, non-negotiable work hours. Is this the way other kids assess their families too?

I asked Peter if it was all right if I shared his idea with you. He said I could. So we are hoping you will tell us about how your family works.

Do you have a Must Have parent and a Must Do parent? Are your kids basically OK with their servicemember when he is gone as long as the parent at home holds it together? How does your servicemember feel about that? How do you feel about that ?

What else would you call that model of familymaking?  Suggestions are welcome.  And if you are a dual military family or a single parent, how does that work for you? Please let us know. We’re curious.



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