A girl (not worth naming) once said to me “you chose this lifestyle,” and while this statement is indisputable (and ignorant) there are millions of children that did not – they were born into it. We often overlook the impact this lifestyle has on the little hearts and minds of military children. April is the Month of the Military Child, a time to stop and recognize that it’s not just the spouses at home missing their loved one, struggling with constant change, or hurrying up just to wait.
As a military spouse, resiliency to me lies in my ability to endure and adapt to change on a regular yet unpredictable basis and keeping my sanity while doing so. It goes without saying – It’s hard some days.
Think about when your spouse comes home from work and delivers the news that they’re leaving again. Or, to get that phone call with the worst of worst news that they’re homecoming date has been pushed back another week.
Now, think about the despair that consumes every inch of your body and mind in that moment. We process, become sad and angry, we start to accept it, and then we begin to prepare for it. What do our children experience when we finally take the plunge into that emotional and heartbreaking conversation informing them that mom/dad is going away again, or that our countdown has been extended?
My kids experience the same emotions, but they tend to surface sporadically throughout the duration of the deployment, whereas I typically lose it all at once upon receiving the news. I wonder sometimes, is it that my kids do not grasp time perception fully? Is it that they have forgotten about that time they didn’t see (FaceTime) or talk to their dad for 3+ days the last time he was gone? Is it the innocence in not knowing how dangerous it can sometimes be?
I’ve concluded after going through the motions of one deployment and/or TDY after another that it’s a little bit of everything with a whole lot of resiliency.
the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
So, what is it that makes these children so phenomenal?
• Military Child to Military Child Exposure •
This is a big one for my kids. My family is fortunate in that my husband doesn’t have a typical military job, he’s currently under a special duty assignment, and although he’s gone often, it’s usually no longer than a couple of weeks, or at worst a few months. With that said, we’re surrounded by military families that undertake parental absences for much longer periods of time with very minimal “home time” in between trips.
I am not one to condone the “I have it worse than you” argument, but I am the first to admit that my family has it pretty dang easy in comparison to others. Because of this, I frequently remind my daughter that while it’s always ok to miss your dad, we have to remember that it’s short term, and other kids go without seeing their parents for much longer. I’m always working with her on being grateful for our situation but also helping her understand that it won’t be this way forever.
• The Chosen Family Support •
Some spouses are like “we’re only in it for the health insurance,” and I’m like “I’m only in it for the family I get to choose.” Be honest, they aren’t all keepers, but the ones that are, man, they are so fricken amazing!
My chosen family members are at soccer and t-ball games when their dad can’t be. They’re at birthday parties helping me prep before and helping me clean up after. They’re taking pictures and videotaping or holding the iPad so we can FaceTime. They are there in every capacity to help the struggling single parent get through the moments alone while helping the absent parent be a part of the moment as much as humanly possible.
These acts of kindness and support are what influence military children the most. They may be missing a parent this time at the school awards ceremony, but look around at all of the other people who care and love them. It takes a village to raise a child, and that village consists of military families.
• The Caregivers •
Oh my god, y’all!!!! The Caregivers! The babysitters, teachers, and added staff. There are no words that accurately define the love these individuals give to Military Children.
Every day in the month of April the Child Development Center (CDC) has a theme or celebration for the kids, and every year they host a parade at the end of the month that includes hand made shirts, flags, streamers, and decorations. My daughter participated for three years in a row, and this year will be my son’s second year. I have saved all of their shirts over the years because really, what’s cuter than an American Flag hand print on a t-shirt?
I can only speak on behalf of the CDC’s at our current base, but I would love to assume this is a universal practice.
Thank you to the teachers and caregivers (some of which are also spouses) that are patient and empathetic during the emotional morning drop-off after a parent has deployed the previous day. Thank you for giving my (sometimes hard to love) child an extra hug when he needed it the most. Thank you for taking laminated pictures of their dad to hang by their nap spa
ce. Thank you for teaching them the meaning of Reveille, The National Anthem, and Taps. Thank you for helping my husband and me in raising versatile, brave, and confident Military Children.
If I have ever viewed myself in an resilient light, it’s because my children have been the reminder I needed to do so. Yes, the men and women in uniform make sacrifices, some of which I may never fully know or understand. Yes, the men and women standing behind those who serve also make sacrifices. Likewise, military children are born into this world not knowing anything different. Never knowing what it means to be carefree and steady, yet they press on one day at a time, often teaching us how to cope. Counting down the days until it’s time to take that Welcome Home sign to the airport.
I take pride in knowing that although this lifestyle is somewhat difficult for Military children, it makes them fearless and grateful amongst other things. I feel my daughter’s heart break a little every time she hugs her dad goodbye, but I also know that in some way this is a gift. She understands the significance of having him take her to the park or a daddy daughter dance. She knows that sharing breakfast with him on a Sunday morning could come to a halt at a moment’s notice.
There are so many things I take for granted as an adult and as a military spouse, but military children are constant reminders to enjoy every minute spent together, to love, laugh, and hug each other as often as we can. We are all just one phone call away from being separated again.
The next time you thank a military member or spouse for their service and sacrifices look down around the legs of the military member, you’ll also find a well-deserving military child needing to be thanked as well.