My husband and I have raised a couple of kids who are, in fact, no longer kids. The eldest, our daughter, is heading toward 30 and is married with two little ones of her own; our son is engaged to be married and just a few years younger.
Their dad and I have learned a lot about child rearing through those years when our children were with us. Sometimes we learned from the mistakes we made. But then again, nobody’s perfect. We’ve learned that from infancy to young adulthood, the challenges are many — but so are the joys.
Sometimes as parents, we observe the world around our children and we are worried for them. We now have some of those worries for our grandchildren. Scary things are going on out there. Some are serious and some are common childhood experiences that are part of growing up. As parents, we wish we could shield our kids from so many hurts and disappointments — and from all real danger.
But we can’t, so we try to equip them as best we can. I think what many parents do not appreciate is the real influence they have in their children’s lives. We teach them to brush their teeth, tie shoes, button and zip, and to ride a bike or swim. Many of us fail to realize, however, that we can also teach them that we know of a safe haven from the churning seas and blustery winds of life.
That safe haven is a home and family where they find unconditional love, acceptance of who they are and appreciation for the unique person they are. If that child belongs to a family that encourages the free, but respectful, exchange of ideas and authentic praise when it is warranted, consequences for behavior when that is needed — and plenty of good humor and hugs — a child will probably want to come home to that safe haven and will hopefully look forward to it at the end of each school day — or whenever he or she has been away.
The child who feels safe and loved will share about his or her day. Communication is key in helping children to deal with the issues and events in their young lives. When family members treat one another with respect, we foster an environment of harmony and support. Helping a family member can be as simple as setting the table or cleaning up after someone else made the effort and took the time to prepare a meal for everyone.
But help could be as crucial as figuring out together what to do about a bully at school. Support and respect also involve listening to one another with patience.
Children who know their parent or parents will respectfully listen will be more inclined to share and ask for help or guidance. Even if it is just to tell someone of a frustration or concern, not going it alone can be awfully comforting and can reduce stress in a child’s life. We have learned as adults that keeping something worrisome to ourselves increases our stress and makes it much less easy to bear. The same is true for our children.
Of course we care for our children, but how can we show our children that? We can directly tell our children we love them, and we should! But the smaller ways of listening, setting rules that are for their health and safety and in consideration of others, attending to needs they cannot yet meet for themselves — but also encouraging independence and critical thinking — are all concrete ways of showing that we care.
I believe that children need and want to know their limits, and providing those limits clearly and consistently also demonstrates our love for them.
Knowing their limits enhances feelings of security.
The above observations could be true for any family, military or not. One factor to highlight about Army or other military children is the consistency parents can provide when so much in their children’s lives is ever changing. Many of our military families move every two or three years. There is a statistic out there that says the average military child moves nine times by the time they are 18.
I witnessed first hand how disruptive moves were in my own children’s lives and how emotionally difficult it was.
Our military kids are brave and they are extremely adaptable in most cases. But a big help to them in making transitions is the love they receive from their parents and other members of their immediate family — and the consistency of rules and expectations. Routines that remain the same as much as possible during a move or a deployment, for example, can go a long way in enhancing a feeling of security for a child when so much of their lives is unpredictable.
Parents can provide much needed stability and security within the home when the world outside is unknown or scary. In addition, a sense of humor, a sense of adventure and a lot of love are some of the ingredients to help us all get through our crazy Army life.
One of my favorite quotes by Mary Anne Radmacher is “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is a small voice saying I’ll try again tomorrow.” I have witnessed that courage in my own kids as they were growing up. As a mom, sometimes your heart aches for them as they start again at another new school; making friends, finding their place, learning the different ways of doing things at the new school, joining new teams, clubs and other extra-curricular activities.
As a parent, you think how brave they are to do it again and again. And you are so very proud. God bless our military kids. They deserve the best we have to offer, for they are the best of us.
Lynda MacFarland is the wife of the III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general. She is a proud Army wife, mom and advocate for military families.