Each year, April is acknowledged as the Month of the Military Child and my heart immediately opens wide to celebrate this amazing segment of our population. Statistics say that almost one million kids live within the military community and their resiliency and perseverance inspire me. But I didn’t always feel that way.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, I jumped into this military community with zero information and I didn’t even care. After dating my husband long-distance for four years, he could have told he was moving to Mars and I would have said “I’m coming with you!!” But admittedly, as I entered the military world I held to false stereotypes and negative assumptions of the kids around me, mostly because their lifestyles were so foreign to my own childhood experience.
I assumed the military life must (obviously) be too difficult for a child. Moving houses and cities? Forced to leave friends? Being the new kids at school? HORRIBLE!! I assumed that by the time our future children were in school, we would need to quit this Navy thing and return to our hometowns to give them a “normal” childhood, like the ones gifted to my husband and me. I assumed this life would be nothing but hardship and heartbreak and no one dreams of burdening innocent children with such things.
But then I started noticing the military kids around me, especially the teenagers. I started noticing that they were happy, well-rounded, confident kids. I noticed that they had very close relationships with their families, special bonds with their military friends and ways of looking at the world that were different than I thought. (Sure, there were kids who struggled but was it more than the civilian world? Not noticeably.) My heart began to slowly expand…
“Maybe the military might not ruin them…”
“Maybe we could do this a little bit longer if our kids seem okay…”
“Maybe the military might allow them to…thrive?”
MIND BLOWN. Is it even possible, I thought? To spend twenty years moving your kids around and have them still be functional beings? I watched even more closely. We moved to Europe and I saw kids learning to speak different languages, befriending kids from other nations and adapting to the personalities of different adults and cultures. Some kids had bounced from country to country, spending ten years abroad and accumulating a lifetime of experiences that many American adults never acquire. Back in the U.S., I saw kids bouncing from coast to coast and adapting to a wide array of situations. I saw kids move from the city and adapt to small town life. I saw kids from the countryside move to Washington DC and adapt to noise and traffic and fast-paced expectations. Military kids have lived east, west, north and south and are able to account for American culture in very mature, intelligent ways.
I have seen kids walk confidently into new schools, conquer the first dreadful day, find friends and prove to themselves that they can do difficult things. (Such an experience would have probably emotionally unhinged me as a child.) I marvel at the confidence of my own children who have moved many times and developed unique social skills and subtle resiliency that I wasn’t forced to learn until I was an adult, moving away from my hometown for the very first time. As my oldest looks towards college I see a fearless soul who can intelligently debate east and west coasts, who knows that family is always just a plane ride away, and who knows that the world is her oyster and she is untethered and free to go where she chooses. Because she has already gone so many places before.
Now please listen to me… I don’t mean to paint an overly rosy picture of this military life and gloss over the immense challenges. Do some military kids suffer from anxiety and depression? Yes. Do some military kids find the lifestyle difficult to navigate? Of course (as do many adults). Do some families decide that the military is causing too much stress for their children? Absolutely. There are times when the government simply asks too much of these young people and families must pivot. I’ve seen and heard of brilliant military members exit the community at the pinnacle of their careers to prioritize their children’s needs. I stand and applaud these parents!
I’ve seen children parted from a parent for a solid year and the world seemed upside down, wrong and unnatural. I’ve seen Navy families deploy three times in three years. My own household has seen its fair share of excruciating goodbyes and we know more tears loom in our future. But when all is said and done, I refuse to accept the stereotype that all military children are struggling beyond their emotional capabilities. It’s just not what I’ve witnessed. I’ve seen too many success stories to stamp military kids with that label!
What contributes to the success of these special people? I’ve thought about it over the years and the answer is obviously unique to each family. But I would offer one idea here: the formation of character, forged through trial and fire. We Gen X-ers are often accused of coddling our children and it’s difficult to deny (*cough, cough* participation trophies). We desire to produce character and perseverance in our kids but we have fallen prey to the narrative that discomfort is bad and happiness is always good. We move mountains to protect our children from challenging situations but then wonder why they don’t exhibit confidence. We take away the opportunities for emotional growth but then wonder why they are immature.
The truth is that some characteristics cannot be academically taught, but must be organically grown and experienced- like resiliency, bravery, perseverance and fortitude. Military children grow in character every day as they face the smaller and larger challenges confronting them. Navigating through friendships, change, discomfort and sacrifice forces them to dig deep, plant strong emotional roots and ground themselves in ways beyond their years. I’ve seen it again and again. They have climbed mountains, conquered the steep terrain (even if they fell down a few times) and proven that they are overcomers. And that’s why my heart will be forever touched by this population. ❤️
So as we celebrate the Month of the Military Child, let’s take a minute to honor these special kids who serve our nation in such a unique way. Let’s give them a loud round of applause because I think we can all agree that THEY DESERVE IT. 🙌 🙌 🙌 🇺🇸