Written by Cmdr. Carrie McKinney
You do not have to look far to see that Coast Guard families come in many diverse and equally amazing forms. From traditional nuclear families, to single parents, same sex parents, blended families, adoptive parents, dual military member parents, and numerous others, the picture of a typical Coast Guard family is changing. Coast Guard support to our families is also undergoing an evolution. There have been several milestone policy changes during the past two years. These programmatic updates mandate improvements to key topics greatly effecting pregnant service members and new parents, and many of these changes have already had tremendous impact. However, our work is not done. Family support is two pronged-Coast Guard policy support and Coast Guard member support. To compliment policy changes, there is no substitute for a well-trained and connected workforce, whose members use their experience to support and guide each other during challenging life events.
My husband, Cmdr. Blake McKinney, and I have three children, Phoebe (8), Penelope (5) and Maverick (3), who keep our lives full of love, laughter, and constant chaos. Becoming a parent was the most impactful and wonderful experience of my life, it was also the most terrifying and frustrating. When our first child was born, I felt completely overwhelmed by the competing demands of being a new parent and active duty member. Over the next few years, in addition to my own experiences, I dedicated hundreds of hours to understanding the myriad of challenges young Coast Guard families face. I read policy, explored family support resources and programs, talked to subject matter experts, and met with numerous new and expectant parents. What I discovered was the Coast Guard had tremendous resources available, but most people were unaware of their existence. Additionally, most new families did not have a support network to assist them during their transition to parenthood. In 2013, I founded Providing Assistance & Resources to Expectant New and Toddler families (PARENT). PARENT is a volunteer group operating out of Coast Guard Island Alameda with the goal of providing peer support, mentoring, and resource guidance to new and expecting Cost Guard families. During the past six years, PARENT mentored hundreds of duty Coast Guard parents, facilitated 40 informal networking sessions, and trained 60 members on infant/child first aid and CPR. PARENT sponsored both a “Dependent Benefit Seminar” and “Child Care Seminar” with experts representing Tricare, Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, Legal Services Command, Education Services, Health, Safety and Work-Life, the Child Development Center, and a variety of other family support services. PARENT created a guide for new and expectant parents and disseminated the document to members at various units throughout the Coast Guard. Recognizing the financial burden faced by many young families, PARENT coordinated seven “Baby Gear Donation Events” accepting over 14,000 donations of gently used baby items and clothes and providing them to hundreds of Coast Guard families at no cost. All of these events have educated families and created opportunities to develop supportive relationships amongst parents.
Grassroots efforts like PARENT are key to facilitate Coast Guard member support, but they cannot function without the many individuals who volunteer their time and talents. It is also imperative supervisors and senior leaders understand their role in guiding new parents to financial, administrative, medical, emotional, and spiritual resources. All Coast Guard members must recognize and intervene when a new parent is struggling with day-to-day challenges and especially during potentially dangerous situations such as post-partum depression, chronic sleep deprivation, and other post-partum medical conditions. Just as important, parents must advocate for themselves. New and expectant parents should research current policy, procedures and available resources, keep their supervisor informed throughout the pregnancy and postpartum, and work with their command to anticipate challenges and address unforeseen circumstances. Although not every Coast Guard member has the desire to be a parent, everyone benefits when we work together to provide support during this universal human event.
Organizationally, the Coast Guard has made tremendous strides to improve support to our families, it is equally important we provide support to one another. We must harness this momentum and continue to work together to ensure every Coast Guard family feels valued and supported. There has never been a better time to be pregnant or a parent while serving in the Coast Guard!
The recent Women’s Retention Study and Holistic Analysis (WRSHA) provided recommendations that would assist the Coast Guard in communicating initiatives that are intended to address concerns that affect the total workforce. This includes concerns for the member’s personal life when starting and/or expanding a family. CDR Carrie McKinney, CDR Morgan Holden, and CDR Monica Hernandez are credited with the creation of the locally generated New and Expectant Parent Resource Guide. Due in large part to their ingenuity and initiative to assist Coast Guard members becoming new parents, the Health, Safety and Work-Life Directorate (CG-11) teamed with the Office of Diversity & Inclusion (CG-127) to the expand on their stellar work and create the Coast Guard Pregnancy & New Parent Resource Guide for members to use Coast Guard wide.
This guide can be found under “Family Support” at: https://www.dcms.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Assistant-Commandant-for-Human-Resources-CG-1/Health-Safety-and-Work-Life-CG-11/Office-of-Work-Life-CG-111/Parent-Resources/
While not all-inclusive, this guide will serve as a reference for the entire Coast Guard workforce and their families. The policies and resources described in this guide, for Commands and members, are designed to ensure the health and well-being of expectant and new parents as they navigate pregnancy and parenting. It is our duty to ensure our members are taken care of before, during, and after the birth or adoption of a child and ensure they return to work fully mission capable and prepared.