Raising a family in the military can be a two-edged sword. Yes, your children are still children, but they are also part of a community where they may have to grow up a little faster.
More is expected of military children than most children in the civilian world. Generally, there are always exceptions to the rule; military children are better behaved and more polite than most children. They learn early on how to listen to their elders and interact with all sorts of people.
Changing schools — often
The girls’ school at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, was run by the Department of Defense. Only one other Air Force Base elementary school in the Continental U.S. was a DOD school. Teaching at such a school was a prime job, and many of the teachers stayed their whole careers at these schools. I think the pay was higher, but parents also played a role in their child’s education.
Many bases we lived at had elementary schools, but they were run by the local school district. Even then, teachers sought out jobs on base. One teacher told me she loved teaching military children because they were nicer than kids in the other district schools.
Moving around the world
Other aspects of growing up military are not so positive. Our children moved eight times with us, so they went to several different schools. Our girls went to three different elementary schools on the same base.
Moving can be stressful for children who have to leave their friends and possibly extended family. Children are resilient and tend to make new friends faster than their parents, but it is still hard. As a parent, you can help your child through this transition by listening to what they say and don’t say. Pay attention to cues they might not be adjusting. Be encouraging but not pushy. If your child doesn’t want to play soccer, don’t force them. Offer several activities they may enjoy and let them choose.
A good way to transition to a new location is to read up on the location. Find out what the base and the local town, or even state, have to offer. Let each child pick something they want to do to explore their new surroundings. Help them get excited about trying new things that are particular to that area. And be excited about the area yourself. We looked forward to moves because of the adventures each held for us.
Those deployment blues
Deployments are also tricky. Children miss their deployed parent and they react in different ways. Some act out at home and in public, others withdraw and don’t express their sadness. Setting a routine quickly is crucial.
Whenever the Good Chaplain deployed, we had a chick-flick night, where we would put on our pajamas, watch movies, and sleep in the living room on the first Friday he was gone.
Planning special outings, like a drive-in movie or a trip to the swimming pool, help give the kids something to look forward to. Also, having a system to count down the days until the parent comes home is helpful. One friend put Hershey Kisses in a jar to represent the number of days of the deployment. Her son got one Kiss a day, and when the jar was empty, that was the day Daddy would come home. When the return date got pushed back, she simply added more kisses to the jar. I think that only works on younger kids.
Positives of being a military kid
But on a positive note, nuclear military families seem closer to each other in part because of all the moves. We turned moves into vacations and stopped in interesting places. Plus, being twins, our girls always had each other to lean on whenever they experienced something new. But it does seem generally military children are closer to their siblings and their parents.
Military children also get to live in places other kids can only dream about. They meet people from all over the world, and their friends are of all races, colors, and ethnicities. And no one bats an eye.
Kids get to do new things like dogsledding in Alaska, snorkeling in Hawaii, or traveling through three countries to get to school every day, as Tech Sergeant had to do when his family lived in Belgium. Some people never leave their home state.
Raising kids in the military opens up more opportunities to shine. It builds confidence. It builds character. It shows the children how adaptable and strong they are in new situations. If they decide to live a different lifestyle in adulthood than a military one, they can. Illinois Girl chose to plant roots. Mrs. Tech Sergeant chose to marry the military and continue to live this particular adventure.
Next up I will be talking about careers for the military spouse.
What things have worked for you in raising your military kids? Reply in the comments below.