April is the month of the military child, so before the month is through, I figured I’d better address this very important and personal topic.
There is no doubt that military kids are special. They put with an awful lot, to include long separations from one (or both) parents) due to deployments or Temporary Duty Assignments; as well as frequent moves leading to new schools, friends, houses, and lives every few years or so. Some military children must adjust to a very different mom or dad following a deployment. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects the entire family and a parent may return forever changed. Although much has been publicized about severe cases of PTSD, even in its mildest form, it can render a once outgoing, cheerful parent to one who is subdued, anxious, vaguely depressed or just unable to concentrate on anything for too long.
Thankfully, we have not gone through this in our family, but our boys have had to deal with many separations from their dad. Some just due to long workdays, others because of TDYs and deployments. Other times their dad is just busy and distracted with phone calls and work at home. He is “there but not there.”
I think military kids endure even more subtle things that fall below many family’s radar screens. In any military family, where the business of war is a constant—and, let’s face it, it always is—there is a low-grade tension that permeates daily life. It may be so slight as to almost be undetectable but it is there nonetheless.
There is also a sense of uncertainty about moving and whether a kid will get to finish a certain grade or graduate with his or her class. Our older son is 12 and therefore, I suspect the next move we make will affect him more dramatically than previous moves. He will be a rising eighth grader when we next pack up—not sure how that will play out but am guessing it will be tough for him to start over somewhere completely new. Many families have rising high school seniors and an upcoming move. This creates a difficult and often stressful situation for all.
My family moved often when I was a child but we were not military and I was lucky enough to finish middle school and all four years of high school at the same schools.
Of course, some kids look forward to changing schools for a variety of reasons. They may be experiencing bullying, or are just not fitting in at their current school. Others may not be challenged academically or, are falling behind, grade-wise. Sometimes a fresh start is just the ticket for kids struggling with these issues.
Many people believe military children have better social skills and more curiosity about the world in general than the average civilian kid. This can be debated but assuming it’s true, perhaps these skills are honed from more exposure to a variety of locations, cultures, and ways of life. For example, spending three years in Germany followed by several in Alaska and then a stint in northern Virginia is bound to create some character-building and life lessons. Seeing different lifestyles, experiencing vastly different climates and types of terrain, and even learning new languages, can be an invaluable education for a kid. Just like adults, some children embrace the experience of living in new or foreign places more enthusiastically than others. We all know the family stationed in Europe who rarely want to travel farther than their local PX. But this tends to be the exception rather than the norm.
Which brings me to my next point. Kids take their cues from their folks and if I am grumbling about an upcoming move, you can bet my boys aren’t going to look forward to it either. Same goes for a deployment. I need to watch my attitude and choose my words carefully as my husband’s year away approaches. Not to say that I should be a “Pollyanna” about it but the older I get, the more I see the connection between what I tell myself and how I feel. Since I pretty much wear my heart on my sleeve, our sons can read my moods well and, as the old adage goes: “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.”
So let’s celebrate the military child! He or she has many challenges but also many advantages...and so many opportunities. Hug a military kid today and tell him he’s special, because he is.