I live with a bunch of “brats.” Military brats, that is. The term military brats has been around for a long time and refers to the children of military life, not to be confused with “being a brat” (although there have been times ...). My husband and all four of our children are military brats. I, on the other hand, grew up civilian. As a parent, I often reflect on the differences between being raised a civilian (my childhood), my husband’s experiences and now our children’s experiences.
The most obvious difference is that I lived most of my childhood in Nassau County. I went to school, from first grade on, with the same group of children. I can look at my high school yearbook and remember some of my classmates who were actually in my first grade class. Ironically, that’s how I remember many of them. Unfortunately for me, that’s probably how many of them remember me as well. My husband, on the other hand, lived all over the country, as well as Germany and Japan and attended three different high schools. I often look to him for guidance and reassurance that this lifestyle is ultimately going to be OK for our children. I worry a lot about the effects of constant moving. What does that mean to military children? Specifically, what does all of this mean to my children?
As I’ve written before, I try to emphasize the “silver lining” aspect of our lives with my children. As with so many challenges in life, your perspective is key in how you deal with them. My children have lived in many states including Hawaii, as well as Europe. They have attended numerous schools and have had to carve out their own niche in each new location. As they’ve gotten older, they handle the whole moving thing with much more grace and assurance than I do. When they were younger, moves were preceded by tears as they prepared to leave their friends and schools. Now, there are no tears. This fact, while it does take some of the drama out of the moving process, sometimes makes me sad. They will not have those lifelong friendships that I was fortunate enough to experience growing up. On the other hand, it makes me incredibly proud that they have become independent and mature enough to go into a brand new school, about every two years, and make their way. It is a gift they have that will serve them well throughout their lives.
As a military parent I’ve realized it is important to recognize that “where” you are raised, is not the same as “how” you are raised. Consistency, whenever possible, is how many of us try to keep the concept of “home” alive and well despite geographical instability. For many in the military some of the best mechanisms of stability are traditions. The military has its’ own set of traditions that are the same everywhere. Families too, have their own traditions. Wherever you may be assigned, family traditions, new and old, help establish that sense of home. They don’t have to be formal or even something we consciously recognize. They can be as simple as daily routines. They make the transition from Thanksgiving in Italy to Thanksgiving in Louisiana a little more seamless.
It’s not all about differences, however. When I think about my children’s lives I am also struck by the similarities to my own childhood. While the geography may change, for the most part, kids are still kids. Most of the issues and problems my children face, have little to do with their military lifestyle. More often, they are just the “normal” teenage things. Dating, music, grades, shopping, gossip; almost a replay of my own teen years. This “normalcy” gives me a lot of comfort.
Like all military parents I know, my husband and I simply try to do our best, that’s all we can do. Our children have certainly had their share of challenges but they have also had many wonderful opportunities. They have had to sacrifice some things yet have been rewarded with a rich history of life experiences. While they will never have a clear answer to the question “where are you from?” they will almost always be comfortable discussing it with someone new.
Angela Owens is an Army spouse of over 20 years and also a former Army officer. She and her husband, their four children and three pets moved to Brooklyn this past summer from Ft. Polk, Louisiana. The Owens have been assigned all over the country, to include Hawaii, and also in Europe. Angela was born in the Bronx, and raised on Long Island.
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