MOTHER'S DAY 2013: A single mom soldiers on with strong support
It is 5:30 a.m. and Lisa Whittaker kisses her sleeping daughter, Kyndall, 7, and gently wakes her up. Minutes later she welcomes a babysitter and kisses her daughter goodbye.
The single mother heads out to begin her day as Lt. Col. Lisa Whittaker, commander at 78th Signal Battalion. On this day, she knows she will be coming back to see her daughter in the evening. But like all military parents, that is not always the case. Deployments and TDYs have popped up throughout the years.
“It was tough because I missed her second and third birthdays because of a 15-month deployment,” she recalled during a recent conversation at her home on Camp Zama, Japan. “That was very challenging.
“I remember when I saw her when I first got back. I was worried if she would respond to me, but she came right to me and hugged me,” Whittaker said of her biggest fear as a mom.
Like most, she uses internet technology such as Skype to maintain a strong bond with her daughter while on the road.
“I think that the best thing, clearly, is to make sure your children feel secure. That’s the biggest thing, and maintaining that connection with your children (can be helped by technology),” the 19-year veteran said over the cheerful voices of her daughter and mom, who was visiting from the States. “She blows me kisses on the phone.”
Whittaker is quick to point out that it’s not all about technology. Support from family – the extended Army one and her blood relatives – is the key.
“I have a really good support system,” she said. “The parent that keeps my daughter when I travel is actually a retired military mom. So in terms of identifying some of the challenges that I face, she’s been there and she’s done that. My daughter is very happy in her care.”
Whittaker has a good idea what her daughter goes through, having grown up as a military brat herself.
“I was a military kid and we traveled. And now my daughter is a military child and we travel,” she said. “We enjoy this and it is familiar to us. If she thinks I am going on a trip or we have to go somewhere, she starts packing her backpack. It’s her way of saying ‘I’m ready.’”
But Whittaker knows that it’s important for a child to be a child. Whittaker carries on her mother’s teaching model to her daughter, which is “you’re not an adult until 21 and self-supportive.”
“I think that in the military community, you have such a focus for the mission and when you’re mom, it’s so intergraded,” said Whittaker’s mom, Belinda Whittaker. “I think it’s important that kids know that they’re loved and they know that mom has an important job. I see Kyndall, she is very responsible, and I think that goes hand-in-hand in the military because (kids) have to be.”
The military mom and grandmother went on to explain how things have changed throughout the years. “The biggest challenge is the separation. It’s difficult and maintaining the connection,” she said. “I think today you see schools more geared toward making sure you are able to connect to your child when you’re away and we didn’t have that before.”
Lisa Whittaker said she tries to be a good model for her daughter, just like her mother was for her.
“I clearly changed after I had my daughter. I think I am more patient,” she said. “In terms of motivation, I am motivated to always try to be a good role model for my daughter.
“(Kyndall) likes to volunteer maybe because she sees us (soldiers) volunteer in our community,” said the proud mom. “Those are the traits that I want her to pick up on because I clearly want her to be a good citizen. That is very important to me. I just think it’s important to be involved in the community and give back.”
“She’s a good mom,” her 7-year-old daughter told a visitor later that day. “She lets me have a snack and lets me go wherever I want to go.”
Lisa Whittaker believes that striking a balance between work and home is the key to be a good military mother.
“We are all clearly busy,” she said. “For (military moms), the biggest challenge is providing the structure and routine because those are the things, in our case, that help my daughter do well. When I try to maintain a routine, that’s when I notice we heap huge benefits.”
“I think military moms are great,” her mom chimed in. “They just need to know that they are great and they need to know that it’ll all work out. Just do the best you can and the kids will appreciate it.”