playing board games, watching football or movies together while
using Skype/Facetime, or simply talking on the phone while
relaxing. Engaging in normal activities together helped foster
natural conversation and meaningful connection. Technology
made it possible to be there when it mattered such as for a birthday or important event.
The best conversations parents reported having with their
kids occurred while doing mundane and boring everyday tasks
such as math homework, folding laundry, or cleaning their room.
The conversations felt natural and the activity wasn’t interesting enough to monopolize the child’s attention, allowing them
to converse at the same time. It was also an opportunity to
share the workload or chores with the child’s normal caregiver,
whether a grandparent or an ex-spouse/partner.
Parents reported difficulty connecting with preschool children
due to their short attention spans. One dad described a Skype/
Facetime call with his daughter. She said, “Watch me dance,
Daddy!” After a few minutes, she forgot he was there and wandered off. Some parents found that including a puppet, a game or
a coloring book helped to maintain the child’s attention. Typically
the kids want the parent to play, too.
DEVELOPING A PLATFORM FOR SHARING
To promote discussion within the context of a person’s relationship, an effective platform needed to be sustainable to
provide an opportunity to share the same information. It also
needed to be neutral and to include diverse relationships. It had
to be asynchronous to bridge multiple times zones and the delivery needed to be flexible, with a minimal demand of less than 15
minutes per day to accommodate busy lifestyles. Ultimately, the
Resilient Relationship program became a website as a free and
sustainable resource: www.connectrelationship.
The purpose was to provide some “self-help” resources to
stimulate early discussion in healthy relationships. But such
efforts can’t replace the need for counseling in a struggling rela-
tionship. More than 24 YouTube vides were embedded in the
website, paired with questions to stimulate discussion. Sepa-
ration is sad enough, so, when feasible, light- hearted or funny
existing videos were chosen to illustrate a point. Stories from
the Lajes community were captured on video and shared both
on the website and on the Community Access Channel. Other
videos were created using Pow Toons to create short animated
videos on communication skills, such as “I” Messages.
AN OVERLOOKED DEMOGRAPHIC
AND BIGGER ISSUE
The Resilient Relationship program was designed to help people get through their assignment. During the creation of the
Resilient Relationship program, I met Ricky, a recently divorced
dad trying to remain an active part of his children’s lives. He
wants what is best for them, including a stable home life that his
military lifestyle cannot provide. It is hard to remain an active part
of his children’s lives from so far away and he needs a long-term
solution. My discussion with Ricky revealed that there were
some issues that the program did not fully address.
Each day Ricky passes an empty playground and baseball
field on his way to work at Lajes. The sight of the playground
makes him sad because he wishes he could play with his kids.
Ricky hasn’t told his kids about the playground and how it
makes him feel because he is afraid it will make his children sad.
He tries to stay positive and avoids discussing anything negative with his kids.
In only sharing the positive and fun things, Ricky has become
the ‘fun’ parent. The kids don’t see him doing the boring chores
like mopping floors, folding laundry, and cooking which are the
everyday normal activities they would experience if he lived
with them. Although Ricky loves to cook, his children don’t
know this because he stays in a hotel and eats out when he
visits. His efforts to keep from making his children sad have
unintentionally skewed their view of his world. He feels like
a visitor in his children’s world and is concerned that his kids
aren’t a part of his.
Ricky shared a few things he has learned over the past year
with me. His kids need to hear there was a time when Ricky
and his ex-wife loved each other. Rebuilding a friendship with
his ex-wife has to be a top priority, because she has great
influence on Ricky’s ability to communicate with his kids—not
just in terms of controlling access, but in subtler ways such
as removing distractions or turning the TV off. We considered