Military families know that deployment and training often mean long periods of separation. Getting through it takes planning, patience, understanding and a willingness among family members to work as a team.
The same “mission mindset” that can help military families get through those tough periods of separation can be employed when a veteran with a family decides to pursue a college degree.
Jacksonville University’s Chief Government, Military and Community Relations Officer, retired Brig. Gen. Michael Fleming, recommends that student veterans with families don’t try to do it all on their own.
“Get your family involved. It’s not just, make decisions and then go home and announce it to your family,” Fleming said. “Only by engaging your family and developing a family plan will you be successful.”
Make a Plan of Action
Fleming’s advice applies for nearly half of all student veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 47.3% of student veterans are married, and 47 percent have children. Only 15% of student veterans are traditional college-age students; most are age 24-40, which means they are more likely to have started a family or are considering it.
As with all family matters, communication about the pursuit of higher education is vital. Before making the decision to take classes, a number of factors must be considered, and all family members should be given the opportunity to provide “mission-specific” input.
Even before you enroll, you need a plan of action. To develop that plan, begin by considering the following questions:
- What career path do you intend to follow?
- What field of study will help you land a job in your preferred industry?
- How much time will you need for lectures, discussion, studying, writing and other academic requirements?
- Will the career you choose require a great deal of travel or long work hours?
- How will the time commitment required for school and, later, your job affect the family dynamic?
- What can family members do to help?
Think of other questions that could come into play over the course of the next few years. Your family circumstance is unique, so your plan should reflect your unique goals and challenges.
On a Mission
The answers to these and other questions will give you a start as you and your family formulate a plan. If it helps, think of your family as a unit on a long-term mission.
Your goal is to successfully complete your coursework and move into a rewarding career while also meeting the practical and emotional needs of your family members. It’s a tall task that requires discipline, foresight and a lot of teamwork.
As Fleming recommended, keep your family front-of-mind from the beginning. Remember that even though you will be the one taking classes, your academic commitment could come into conflict with family priorities.
It is important that all family members be given the opportunity to communicate their needs. For example, if one of the kids plays soccer and needs you to drive her to practice, that routine will need to be factored into the plan.
When choosing a career path, decide if you and your family are geographically settled or if you have the flexibility to move where the job will take you. One way to determine if a move might be necessary is to check the employment listings in your city or region.
For instance, if you are interested in a nursing career but are not willing to move, you should find out if there are nursing jobs available at nearby clinics or hospitals before committing to a course of study related to that field.
You also should take into account the professional and/or academic goals of your partner. Will he or she work full-time while you take classes? Is he or she also a current student, or planning to enroll? This needs to be settled before you begin to pursue your degree.
Another important factor: Do you expect to work a full- or part-time job as a student? Have a family discussion about short-term and long-term financial goals, and try to stick to a monthly household budget that takes into account any reduction in your pay related to school work.
Once your family’s plan is in place, use a shared calendar and updated to-do lists to make sure everyone stays on the same page. The calendar apps on smart phones can be synced to keep all family members in the loop regarding your study hours, and you should guard those hours relentlessly.
Communication doesn’t end when the plan is in place. In fact, it’s only the beginning. Throughout your academic career, be sure to keep the lines of conversation open and honest.
When school-family conflict becomes unavoidable, allow yourself and your family to accept that even the greatest plan has its limitations. Stay focused on the big picture – a better life for you and your family through higher education.