It’s great to be a military child! (but not always)

April is Month of the Military Child. My kids love it because their schools, daycares, and other programs plan special events all month to celebrate military kids. Everything from fun parties and games to “Purple Up” day and free events in the community. It’s a great month to live on or near a military base, and it is nice to give our kids a month of their own in which we recognize their sacrifices in this life that we chose for them.

Because that is the truth: we, the parents, chose this life for our children. And while there are tons of benefits of being a military child, it is also challenging, unfair, and difficult.

In our house, we try not to dwell on the negatives so much. We acknowledge the bad moments and sad situations while trying to focus on all the good things that military life has given our family. As I sat and thought of what I wanted to say about being a military kid, I thought of my kids and what they say about their lives.

It is good and bad.

My kids have been born in different places. They have traveled and lived overseas. They have flown in planes, rode on trains, ventured in huge cities and small villages, conversed in multiple languages, and eaten foods I had never even heard of. They have gained more life experiences before 10 years old than some people do in their entire lives.

There is a steady paycheck. Food is always on the table. My kids have always been able to see a doctor when ill, visit a dentist, and attend decent schools. We always have a house to live in. Their friends are all in the same boat, so they can all relate to one another.

But flip that, and this can be bad too. Life is inconsistent for them. They may fall in love with one home or place and have to leave it. Best friends have to become long-distance friends. They may welcome mom or dad home from a deployment or extended training to say goodbye again shortly afterwards. Their routines, schools, friends, and lives can and will be dictated by their parent’s career. The needs of the military will always come first, and that is a difficult concept to understand as a child.

It is fun but hard.

Who wouldn’t love to travel and see life potentially around the world? To get the opportunity to move away if you do not like where you live? The chance to make new friends and experience new things? It sounds adventurous and exciting. But what if you hate that adventure and change?

I have at least one kid that does not love all the change. She is attached to places and people. Even though she was excited to move to Hawaii, she had a terrible time moving away from her school and friends in Germany. I have another kid that doesn’t mind the military lifestyle but has been counting down the days to leave Hawaii since the beginning. She misses four seasons and is not a huge fan of tropical living.

So while there are fun moments and exciting elements, being a military child is hard. You may have seen the graphic floating around Facebook that talks about how military children will lose more people before the age of eighteen than some people do in a lifetime; I think while this may be true and is worth noting, it is a negative way to look at their lives. This life means that military children will experience more and encounter more people and things. This is both fun and hard.

It is great! But not always great.

The husband and I have always joked that with four children, at least one of them will hate this life. So far, we have no haters but some definite emotions about elements of military life. My children love their father and his work; they are proud of him always. They have thoroughly enjoyed some of the moving and traveling in our life. And they are thankful for a steady yet inconsistent life where they know that food is on the table, their needs are met, and there is love.

But it is not always great. They are frustrated and angry when Dad has to leave for long periods of time; even if they are used to the TDYs, deployments, and extended absences, they do not like them. Dad has missed birthdays, holidays, important school and sport events, and other milestones and moments in their lives; no one hates it more than he does, except my kids. I’ll say it again: they are used to this life, but that does not mean it is great.

It is not great to leave behind a best friend or a beloved teacher. It is not great to be so far away from family and to see them infrequently. Moving every two to four years is not fun, even if the new location sounds exciting. My children have said goodbye to their father on three of his deployments and his three separate years in Korea; I cannot even calculate the time spent apart for training, exercises, and various other events. It is not great to say goodbye so often, to anyone in their life.

So my children can tell me both positive and negative things about our life and their childhood.

I have one daughter that can point out different types of helicopters because she is so used to them. My kids can conversationally speak in a few languages. They have learned to be flexible and to adapt to whatever this life throws at us, something I still struggle with. I hope this sets them up to be versatile and talented adults.

But at the end of the day, they are proud to be a military child.

Nothing makes them happier than to welcome their dad home, no matter how long or short the time apart. My son is obsessed with my husband’s squadron and certain people there. My girls love telling people about their dad’s job and how awesome they know he is. And they know that even when it is hard, even when it is not fun, they are serving a bigger purpose as a military child.

dad in military uniform with daughter
Moments with Dad are rare – April 2014

So during this month, we celebrate and reward our children for being military children. This may not have been the life they chose, but it is the life they can and will thrive in.

For more info on Month of the Military Child, click here!

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