Hey everyone! I thought I’d hop on here and write a quick post in honor of the month of military children. Yes, I know the month is almost over, oops. I will get the hang of this blogging thing eventually. I promise!
What is the Month of Military Children?
In the early 1980s, the Pentagon created a month-long celebration and appreciation for the children of U.S. military personnel. So, similar to women’s history month, it is an opportunity to spotlight a particular population and show appreciation for them. You can read more about it here.
Who are the Military Children?
If you are not familiar with the military community, you might be surprised to know that there are different kinds of military children within the community. Each subgroup has their own unique lifestyles and challenges.
The subgroups cane be divided differently by other people. But this is how I categorize them and how we did so in my graduate studies.
Active Duty Dependents
Active duty dependent children earned the badge of honor of “military brat”. These children are the ones who move often whenever their military parent(s) receive new orders for the next duty station.
As I stated above each subgroup face their own set of unique challenges. This is not an all-encompassing list though.
- Active duty families move regularly
- The active duty parent deploys often and can leave the family behind in unfamiliar locations
Military reservists are our citizen soldiers. Many who are in the reserves work a full-time job on the civilian side and then use some of their free time to train with their assigned military unit. Many reservists are required to report to duty one weekend a month and train for two weeks a year. Once a reservist is activated, they are a part of the full-time military. Often times when they are activated it is so they can be deployed for a natural disaster or to a war zone.
- Reservist families generally do not live near a base, so they may not have the military community to lean on in tough times
- If a parent is activated, the children struggle with the change or not understand the reason why their parent is leaving for such a long time
The children of veterans are the children who were born after their parent had retired or separated from the military. These children may not have been around during their parent’s active years of service, but they are still a part of the military community.
- There is less attachment to the military community than active duty and reservists
- Fewer organizations offering support to children of veterans
- Parent may struggle with PTSD and the child may not fully understand why
What Makes Military Children So Special?
So, I might be a little biased, but I do believe that military children are an incredibly special population. Many face more challenges in their short lives than some adults. Many of these children take everything in stride and come out the other end as some of the strongest people out there.
Here are a few examples of what makes military children so special
When I was in grad school studying the military community, I came across study after study that stated that military children are so much more resilient than their civilian counterparts. I know from experience that this is correct. This is simply because military children have such different experiences than the average children in the civilian community. Children of first responders should also be listed as equally as resilient as military children because they can face a lot of the same circumstances.
Resilience is defined as, “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” (Oxford). Military children definitely fit the definition of resilient. Regardless of whether they are military brats, children of reservists, or children of veterans, these children are able to recover well from most adversity they face and are very tough individuals.
Military children often times have to say “see you later” to one or both of their parents with no idea where they are going and sometimes worry that they will never see them again. They have to learn to understand that their military parent will not make it to every one of their ball games, recitals, or other special events because the mission comes first. “Mission comes first” is a statement used a lot in military households and the children learn to accept that whenever something supersedes the family’s plans or wants/needs.
Military children can adapt very well. It takes some practice, but most military children are able to roll with the punches rather easily. This does not mean that they are not disappointed. If the military parent gets orders and the child has to miss playing the rest of their sports season, they are sad to miss out, but will continue to practice so they are ready to play again once they are settled in their new duty station.
Military children learn to bloom where they are planted. Their parents work very hard to maintain a level of normalcy regardless of where they live. Sometimes that means mom drives an hour one way to make sure her kids can still go to dance class. But, sometimes things happen and the children cannot attend dance class or join a sports team. Some duty stations cannot accomodate for everything. But, many military children take that as an opportunity to learn a new skill. They may even find that they like their new sport or activity more than the one they were sad to have to end.
Make Friends Well
Many military children are able to make friends really easily. Even the more introverted children can make friends quickly. Often times this is because military children are the “new kids” at school rather frequently. Other kids are curious to know the new kid and the military child’s adaptability skills come in handy when learning to chat with new people.
Military children will often gravitate towards other military children. Two military children can meet for the first time on the first day of school and connect very quickly. They could be best friends by the end of the day! This is because there is often a level of understanding that military children have about the lifestyle.
Knows How to Maintain Relationships
Military children have to say good-bye to a lot of their friends while they are growing up. But, thanks to social media and technology, military children are able to maintain close friendships easier than ever before! When these children are able to see each other again in person (sometimes after years of long-distance friendships) it is as if they were never separated.
Most military brats move about every two years. That means in 18 years, a military child can move on average 9 times. Some move more frequently, others less frequently. It honestly has everything to do with their parent’s job within the military and the need. A change of duty station could be just down the road or on the other side of the world!
Many military children are blessed with the opportunity to travel around the world before their 18th birthday. Some are even born in the military base overseas! This ability to travel allows the military children to see parts of the world others can only dream of! The government pays for the move to and from the overseas locations. But, once living overseas, out of pocket travel is a lot less expensive and most families are able to take advantage of their time there to visit neighboring countries as well.
Living in a foreign country is a somewhat immersive experience. While most live within the fortress of the military base, the families are still able to travel and live as though they are part of the host country’s community they may live in.
Personnel are encouraged to blend is as best as possible when off base overseas. So, this encourages military children to learn customs and languages of their host countries. They then can take these skills back home to share with their extended family and friends.
Love of Country
Being a part of the military community gives many people an increased love of country. Many are very patriotic and are proud of the fact that they are able to serve their country and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Military children are taught the values that built America and understand at a noticeably young age that freedom does not come free. These children are also taught principles of the different branches of the military. For example, Air Force brats will learn about integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
Many military families are able to go back several generations and name someone who served in each of those generations. Some military children will claim that joining the military is a family tradition or is the family business. So, it is not surprising to see many military children who grow up to then join the military or marry a service member.
Military Children Can Struggle Too
Skills and traits military children obtain are often positive. But, military children can struggle sometimes.
Unsure of Where They Belong
It is a running joke in the community to not ask a military child where they are from. This is because most military children are not sure where they can call home. Is it where they were born? What about where they lived the longest? Or is it where their grandparents live? Or do they claim where they just moved from? Some military children may not have every lived in the same area as their extended family.
When the military child grows up and is on their own, or when the military parent retires or separates, it can be hard to know where they belong. Once the military parent is no longer active duty, the child loses a part of what they called home. When they go to live their own life, if it is not with the military, they can struggle to find the right part of the country to live in. They might wander for a while to find where they feel is the best place for them. They might find that cities with large military presence is where they want to live so that they can find other people like them to connect to.
Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere and moving around a lot can make it difficult sometimes for military children.
I stated earlier that military children can make friends rather quickly and that is true. But some military children can have a hard time maintaining healthy relationships. Some children make extraordinarily strong connections with everyone they meet in a short amount of time. This can make every move exceedingly difficult for these children. Each time a friend moves can mean for true heartbreak for them. When they have to move and leave all their friends, it can be devastating.
Then, there are children on the other side of the spectrum who have built walls around themselves and not allow anyone to get too close to them because they know they will be moving again. These children are friendly to almost everyone, but the friendship is still very topical. The child does not allow any kind of vulnerability around others nor do they try to make any deep connections with anyone else.
Both extremes can be unhealthy for military children and this is why it is important for parents to be able to help them through any struggles they are dealing with. A visit with a counselor may be helpful as well.
Military children can suffer from increased anxiety compared to civilian children. Anxiety can also manifest at younger ages for military children. A lot of this has to do with the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty in the lives of military families. Children are unsure where they are going to school the next year, whether they will get to play their sports, whether they will see their friends the next school year, whether their parent will be home from training or deployment on time. Some worry that they will lose their military parent in combat. Some military families can struggle to keep food on the table, so some military children worry about where they will get their next meal.
There is a lot of worry that can happen, and some children worry these things at surprisingly young ages compared to their civilian counterparts. Many military children will also not express these feelings of anxiety to their parents. Many feel like they need to keep their thoughts to themselves because it makes them weak and weakness is not compatible with a military family. They may also believe that having anxiety over their parent would jinx them somehow.
This is another situation where parents need to be aware of mood or behavior changes in their child. If counseling is necessary, there are many avenues for them to get some help.
Not an All-Encompassing List
This list of triumphs and struggles of military children is not all-encompassing. This is because each military child is different and have different experiences. No two military children will ever have the same childhood. That is one thing that makes life as a military child so interesting.
Some children do lose their parent in the line of duty. That loss and trauma can lead to a lot of heartache. Many outside the community share their condolences, but after a while, the children and the widows are often left to fend for themselves a lot. This is a whole other side of the life of the military child.
Just a reminder, this post is not meant to offer textbook definitions nor offer any medical or psychological advice. All the information shared here today is meant to show appreciation for military children and offer some information about their lifestyle.
My Experience as a Military Brat
I am a military brat. I am an Air Force brat to be a bit more specific. My dad served 26 years in the Air Force. He retired when I was 19. In those 19 years, we moved 10 times. I was born in Ohio and three months later we moved. I have never been back to Ohio since. Eventually, I attended middle school in Germany and graduated high school in South Korea.
There were times where my dad missed dance recitals because he was deployed. But there were other times where he was able to be the umpire at my softball games. Orders came down the line sooner that we expected sometimes, while other duty stations allowed us to extend our time there. Some places allowed us to see family easily, while others were on the opposite side of the world. My parents were my only constant my entire life. My brother moved out of the house when I was 4. From 4 to 19 it was just the three of us all the time and we were a team.
I made friends really easily in some places. Other places, there were kids who knew about the military lifestyle and did not want to be friends with me because I would be leaving soon, and it wasn’t worth it to them. I also made some of my closest friendships because of the military community. If it weren’t for the Air Force, I would have never met my husband. In fact, the Air Force has helped form the last three generations of my family.
Life Beyond the Fortress
At nearly 30, I do struggle with the idea of belonging sometimes. I still belong in the military community as a military brat and a spouse to a veteran. But, there is still a disconnection. For example, I cannot just go onto a military base on my own. Now that I am grown, I do not have access. I feel like I have been locked out of the fortress in a sense. My military ID was a security blanket of sorts. When I had one, I knew that I could go onto almost any base and feel comfortable and safe, especially when we were overseas. I do not have that feeling of security anymore. But, I am working through it.
I could go on for days about my life as an Air Force brat. I love how I grew up. If you want, you can read more about it here. There were tough times. But, I would not have changed my childhood for anything. Those experiences made me the person I am today. I am grateful for my experience and extremely blessed that my daddy came home.
How Can You Show Appreciation?
If you want to show appreciation for military children, you can Purple Up in the month of April. The color purple is used in the military community when an event or cause crosses all branches. So, purple is used for children from all the branches. Click here to learn more about the PurpleUp campaign!
The Fisher House is an organization that offers housing for family of injured military personnel. These homes are located near major military medical locations and offers housing and meals to families while their service member is healing. This also allows the families to be near their service member since some treatments require the service member to be transferred to another location.
The Gary Sinise Foundation does a lot of good for the military community. Gary hosts the Snowball Express every year where he invites children of fallen soldiers to Walt Disney World. This is a vacation that allows the families to connect with others, offers workshops to encourage healing from the loss, and just an opportunity to have some fun. The Gary Sinise foundation is another organization that I love very much.
You can work with your local church or other organization to throw a party for military children to show appreciation. With social distancing still going on, maybe find a way to do a virtual event.
Military children do not want to be treated any differently than others, nor are they looking for special treatment. But, it is good for them to know that they are not alone, and that other are thinking of them and their parents.
If you are going to do something to show your appreciation for our military’s children, please share your stories below or tag me in your posts on social media!