Letting go and holding tighter

By SGT Rachel Grothe | 88th Readiness Division | Dec. 12, 2018

Bloomington, Minn. —

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- The 88th Readiness Division hosted a family strong bonds event in Bloomington, Minnesota, the weekend of December 7, 2018.

 Service members at a Strong Bonds retreat learned relationship and communication skills specific for their current stage of life during morning workshops, and practiced those skills in the evenings, ensuring families are emotionally healthy and prepared to handle the missions given to their Soldiers.

 Sergeant 1st Class Santonya Ransom has attended multiple Strong Bonds events over the years and different stages of his life.

“The motive is different when you go as a single, as a couple, as a family. I think ideally when you go as a single you’re going to figure out how to better yourself and get ready for a relationship. As a couple, you’re building a relationship and a marriage you have that relationship, but now you want to figure out how to hone in on those skills that got you into the relationship,” said Ransom, senior human resources sergeant, 327th Military Police Battalion, Arlington Heights, Illinois, next to his wife and daughter.

 Strong Bonds events hosted by the 88th are open to Active Duty and Reserve component member participation, but the events are particularly meaningful for Army Reserve Soldiers.

“Reserve component Soldiers and their family members don’t get to engage with the Army as much as Active Duty. Their kids don’t get to engage with each other as much. Spouses don’t get to engage as much, so the engagement with others is huge,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Scott Speight, course instructor from the 81st Augmentation Detachment, Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“It’s the only program that has an extended period of time where everything is paid for and it’s intentional that they spend time together through the curriculum,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Joseph Ledger, brigade chaplain, 646th Regional Support Group.

 The training, a variant of 7 Habits, from Franklin Covey, was held at round tables with multiple families at each table, and families switch tables to maximize interaction.
“It’s changed a lot in the 12 years I’ve been teaching Strong Bonds. Twelve years ago there were 600 slides for the weekend. Now there are 51 slides for the whole weekend. It’s less talking at you, and more talking as families, with coaching,” said Ledger, before classes begin. The tables were set with instruction booklets, coloring books, and wolf ears for the kids.

 The coaching and classes included children over seven, along with moms and dads.

“We encourage kids to contribute, and bring them in. We acknowledge that kids have skin in the game,” said Ledger. “Our goal is to start building habits that align with where you want to be in your relationship with your family.”

Children’s public engagement can raise eyebrows and pinken the cheeks of parents, but it’s normal.

“Parents, prepare to be embarrassed. Your kids will throw you under the bus and back over you,” said Speight, encouraging parents to let go of control and let their children engage with the 93 people in the room.

“If you continually disengage your children, they will become disengaged adults,” said Ledger.

 The kids are engaged. They lead the way writing family mission statements on the papers hanging from the walls. They tell the room their favorite activities with their parents.

“My dad takes me on dates. We always get new pictures when we go on a date. It feels special,” said Adelyn Buchino.

 The children’s participation reminded parents of what’s important.

 They watch a clip from Everybody Loves Raymond, demonstrating the destructiveness of getting lost in the details and day-to-day tasks, like cleaning, instead of spending quality time together.

“They’re adults, and they’re still terrified of their mother. Is it more important to keep your couch clean than it is to build a relationship with your family?” Speight asked.
“You’ll justify your end means by saying I’m training them to be responsible adults. You’ll end up training them, and losing them in the process,” answered Ledger, before talking about his own struggles with his family meeting his overly high cleanliness standards. “It devastates my daughter every day that she can’t live up to my standards. I had to realize that’s my problem.”

The time spent on menial tasks tends to eat up time. The rest is often given outside of the family.

“We’ll go out of our way for relative strangers at the expense of our family. Who’s the first person we’re willing to disappoint?” Speight asked the room.

“Your spouse,” Ledger answered after letting the room contemplate.

“It’s so true,” one of the 91 participants replied.

“Because they’ll forgive me,” said another.

 Strong Bonds retreats are a time for families to center and take the time back for each other.

“My wife and I are both military. Her unit is in Alabama, mine is in Illinois. Our schedules conflict quite a bit. So, family time is one of those things we don’t get a lot of. We definitely needed the Q-T,” said Ransom.

“We want you to learn some stuff, but if you can say you had fun, then that’s a successful weekend,” said Speight.