Can single parents enlist in the military?


I have always had a great deal of respect for the men and women on duty. They put their lives on the line to protect the lives of others, and that in itself is an incredible sacrifice. For military personnel raising families at home, the sacrifice is even greater. While most of those who enlist in the military return unharmed from the deployment, some fathers, mothers, husbands and wives do not. Even those who do are often gone for months at a time. As a single parent myself, it never even occurred to me that joining the military myself was an option.

Technically, single parents can join the military, but it’s not an easy route.

I am fortunate to have a mother who loves being a grandparent. She spends most of her time with my daughter so that I can work. But even with so much support, I couldn’t go to a recruiter and sign up today. To join the National Guard Reserve, I could request an exemption and cross my fingers. To join another branch, I would have to give up my parental rights before they give me a chance.

This is all hypothetical, but for me it would be an instant dealbreaker. For others, this may not be the case. A 15 year old mom then left her, aged 2, in the care of her own parents to become a parachute jumper. She was incredibly daring and made a permanent mark on the court. However, that was in the early 1900s. Today, the regulations are much stricter.

Each branch has slightly different requirements, but all require relinquishment of custody. For the Navy, you cannot enlist for six months after the court order takes effect. For Marines, you are not eligible for a full year. For the Army and Air Force, you must make a commitment not to attempt to regain custody after basic training. If you do, you could be released and face fraud charges.

It is also strongly advised against, or even prohibited by certain branches, to renounce your parental rights specifically to join the army. The military can’t have people trying to shirk their parental responsibilities by running away to join the Air Force, can they? Custody agreement must be in place prior to enlistment. No recruiter will advise you to give up your rights to be eligible for active service.

Is the policy fair?

It may sound harsh, but the single parent policy isn’t there for a reason. The military relies on its members to show up for work anywhere, anytime, without hesitation. They do not have time to excuse a soldier who cannot deploy because something has happened with their children. For this reason, they must have legal assurance that your commitment to service is your top priority.

Parents who are already on active duty when they divorce are not completely exempt from these regulations. They need to establish a family care plan that ensures that a non-military person is ready and willing to care for your child 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without notice. If they don’t, they are fired.

Granted, new military single parents have more leeway than single parents hoping to enlist, but there is also a reason for that. If you are already on active duty, you have already demonstrated that someone else is available to care for your children. For new recruits, it’s more of a gamble.

If you have enough support, you can enlist as a single parent.

If you are determined to enlist and have a very healthy relationship with your child’s other parent, relinquishing physical custody might be a reasonable option. Grandparents or other close relatives are also solid options, as long as they are willing to become full legal guardians. As long as they are on board, this is an option to consider.

Having said that, once you give up custody, you can’t go back. You are ceding your voice as a parent to someone else, so it is best that it is someone you trust and someone who fully supports your decision to enlist.

Why would a single parent want to enlist anyway?

For all the same reasons anyone else, really. Some aspire to a goal, or to be part of something bigger than themselves. While serving one’s own children gives many parents a purpose, some aspire to serve on a much larger scale.

If someone else already has full physical custody of your children, or if it is a reasonable option for your family, joining the military can be beneficial for you and your children. Military Parents set an example of commitment and persistence – and the rewards don’t hurt either!

At the end of the day, approximately 8% of military personnel on active duty are single parents. If you decide to enlist, you will be in good company.

If you’d like to learn more about what it’s like to be a single parent in the military, watch the video below.


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