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It Takes a Village: Caring for Military Families

Lila Vizzard knew precisely what to expect when her husband, Lt. Col. James Vizzard, was deployed to Afghanistan in December, 2010.  This was his first time in Afghanistan but his fifth deployment since the couple married 16 years earlier.  Experience had taught Lila that, for the next year, she would be a defacto single, working mom to their 10-year-old twins, Liam and Jack.  Despite working from home, her position with a national consulting firm is full-time, the hours are not flexible and she must travel overnight on occasion.  With James away for a year at a time, she needed to establish reliable child care.

"One of the biggest challenges for military families is finding enough good childcare providers," explains Lila.  "Because you move so much, it's like you're always starting over. Setting it up has been different for us every time because the boys have been a different ages and my work circumstances continue to fluctuate."

James and Lila are among the more than 43 percent of all active service members who are parents to nearly 2 million children.  Today, about 80,000 of the more than 220,000 women on active duty are in dual-military marriages.  An estimated 35,000 of them are single moms.  When it comes to caring for the little ones, military moms are no different from their civilian counterparts -- they want someone who can be trusted, especially during an emergency.  Yet, these stats highlight the unique challenges they face and why quality child care is so critical to them and, by extension, the country in general.

Child care became a pressing issue for the military during the 1980s when many servicemembers declined to re-enlist because of the lack of adequate care resources for their children.  Since then, the military has made a concerted effort to provide available, high-quality options.

While stationed at West Point and Ft. Levenworth, the Vizzard twins were enrolled in the Child Development Center on base but that was not a viable option at Ft. Knox.  Having had what she considered the gold standard of child care, Lila was unwilling to settle for anything less.  She learned about Care.com, an online resource for finding care, from other moms in the area.

"I was prepared to do my own background checks and screening but this was a built-in part of the service," she says.  "That told me that this organization understood and embraced military parents' need for quality resources."  She placed an ad and found someone who could tutor and provide after-school care for Jack and Liam.

Christina Ano loved living in close proximity to her large, extended family in upstate New York.  However, she did not fully appreciate what that meant until she and her husband, Joshua, were stationed a thousand miles away in Omaha with two small children.  "I was surprised at how difficult it is being a military wife with two kids and no family around," she says.  "My mom always talked about how the grandparents would sometimes take us overnight when we were younger but I lose out on that.  The boys are with me all day, every day and sometimes I just need a break."

Being a stay-at-home mom with a military spouse who is unlikely to be deployed eased her child care burden but left Christina very little time for herself or her husband.  So, when the couple arrived at Joint Air Force Base in Charleston, SC, 18 months ago, they promised to carve out a little time for themselves.  Of course, this meant finding a reliable babysitter for 3-year-old Garrett and 2-year-old James.

She heard about Care.com from a friend.  "I was a little nervous at first because it is the Internet but I heard about the background checks and felt comfortable that this wasn't like getting a babysitter on Craigslist," she says with a laugh.

She posted an ad and, after a two-hour telephone interview and in-person meeting, she  ultimately settled on a young navy wife and college student.  "We hired her for the next weekend which was our anniversary and everything went great," recalls Christina.  "I used her until they got stationed in Virginia earlier this year but found two more babysitters on Care.com."

When Garrett starts pre-school this fall, Christina will still have two kids with her most of the day and in her free time she has agreed to be the child care provider for her neighbor's new baby.

10 comments

Oldest comments are listed first

  • i know how hard to wach your loved ones leave i am a babysitter and i know my dad was in the army and i was 7 years old and hade to wach my dad leave so if any one out looking just email me and i will get back to you

  • I can understand this story to a \

  • I understand military life the hardship that it can bring along with it. I was a marine wife, and worked on base at the Child Development Center. I know and understand what the children feel, and need that are going through the everyday life of being a military child and the hardship or deployments and training, and the changes in family. If anyone is in need of advice or a babysitter, or needing someone to help provide the extra attention to their child, while the work or need to get out of the house just email me. Simpre Fedlis and God Bless

  • My twin sister is in the Navy so I know it's hard to have a loved one in the armed forces. I can only imagine how much harder that is for it to be your spouse and to have kids!

  • My fiancee is in Afghanistan right now as well. You and I share a unique connection thru our loved ones' selfless bravery. Stay strong and thank you to your husband for his service.

  • What a small world... I met Lila and her boys in Austin, Tx while working at the daycare they attended. I stayed with them as long as a week while she was out of town on bussiness trips. They were the most delightful boys and I have missed them dearly over the years. I just found her recently on FB and then came across this today. Too Funny!!

  • Hi I used to work on base in Tustin 1980's, Ca(In the day care at night) Friday & sat nights, and half to watch my own child...during the day but the horror stories that military wives could not go to work there was not enough room for the kids to go to the day care on base, and no care at night. Now that I'm a grand mother I hope that my son's wife is getting the care while he's in Afghanistan Gods speed semper fi Michelle,Oceanside,ca love being a nanny

  • I just want to offer an open THANK YOU to our American Military Service families for sharing your loved ones with your fellow Americans. Your challenges are often unspoken, and under appreciated by too many of us on a day-to-day basis. I appreciate your human will in accepting and striving through the challenges active duty puts on a family. Your determination and camaraderie as military families is commendable. I respect your sacrifices, large and small. You provide support to the backbone of our American Freedom. Thank you! May the loving support of family, friends and military mates bring comfort when times are hard. May the twinkle of the stars in the sky keep you close when its dark. May each dawn bring you closer to a reunion's embrace. May our lord protect you all both at home, abroad and while serving active duty. With the deepest of gratitude, I will keep you in my prayers.

  • My name is Kathy McKenna and I want to thank all of the military families for your bravery and sacrifice that you must endure while your loved ones are off on deployment. I worked closely with a man that was just a few weeks from retirement as a Navy Seal when he was deployed for to CA for more training to go to Irag and then Afganistan. I stayed awake many nights praying for him and his family. He made it back fine but when his wife heard she was beside herself as she thought surely he wouldn't be deployed this close to retirement and asked him not to go. Just forget the retirement but he couldn't do that. He went through too much training as a Navy Seal to just walk away from his retirement pay and all that. Thank God he make it back fine. His family is so happy now and he won't be deployed again as he is finally retired. Thank you God for watching after John and his family during his last deployment and please watch out for the rest of our men. Kathy from Denver, I also do babysitting and am registered with Care.com if you need help.

  • First off I would like to thank all the militarya families for your sacrifices and service. I also was an officers and mother. I worked at the PX and shoppettes on post in the states and overseas. There were many times I had to miss work because the daycare situation was horrendous. My husband was a Warrant Officer, helicopter pilot and was gone most of the time and my son struggled by not having consistent care. I can appreciate what you go through plus the worry for your loved one who is deployed. Please make time for yourself to be pampered or just go a walk with a friend or even by yourself. You deserve it and your sanity depends on it. Thank you again :-D

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