My children are total brats, and I couldn't be prouder
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: April 23, 2021
From the time I toddled around in droopy diapers, to the day I drove off to college in my Volkswagen Beetle, I lived in one small Pennsylvania town. The kids who picked their noses next to me in Mrs. Rowley's kindergarten class were the same ones who walked across the stage with me at our high school graduation. I had one hometown, one high school, one brick house, one yellow bedroom, and one best friend who I gabbed with each night on one rotary phone while draped across one mock brass twin bed.
By contrast, as a military child, our oldest went to three high schools. He grew up in 10 homes, in four states and two foreign countries. He said goodbye to seven best friends, six piano teachers and four Boy Scout troops. He played on three varsity football teams, and his academic transcripts are almost as complicated as the U.S. Tax Code.
Essentially, my son, and his two younger sisters for that matter, are total brats.
No, not that kind of brat. Although our kids have definitely displayed their fair share of unruly behavior, infuriating teen arrogance and near-juvenile delinquency; I'm calling my kids "military brats," which has an entirely different connotation.
The colloquial term “military brat” has been used for many years in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Pakistan and India to refer to the children of active duty service personnel, and similar phrases have been used in other countries around the world. However, because “brat” is commonly known as a pejorative word to describe spoiled or unruly children, there is often confusion as to whether “military brat” has negative undertones.
A few years ago, I posted a comment in a military spouse group on Facebook, in which I used the term “military brats.” A young Navy spouse quickly admonished me for using such language. “Our children are NOT brats,” she replied.
Was she right to correct me? Does “military brat” denigrate our children? Why else would an otherwise derogatory word be used in this context? Should the antiquated phrase be rebranded to better reflect this distinct American subculture?
Although researchers have been unable to pinpoint the exact origin of the term, credible sources indicate that it may be a centuries-old acronym for "British Regiment Attached Traveler," used to describe dependents accompanying British Army members being stationed abroad, or perhaps a contraction for “barracks rats.”
Over the years, the term expanded and evolved to become a universal descriptor for kids who move with their military parents and thereby develop unique personality characteristics and cultural identity. Regardless of the hazy historical origins, the theories, research and usage of “military brat" in literature, films, documentaries, songs and on the internet, indicate that it is most certainly a compliment, not an insult. In fact, less than 6% of ex-military children object to the term.
I must admit, there were moments during my husband’s 28 years of active duty service when the acronym might as well have stood for our constant worries that our three kids would be Bullied, Ridiculed, Abused and Taunted after each of their multiple moves to new schools. Wracked with guilt, we felt Blameworthy, Remorseful, Apologetic and downright Terrible. We had to remind ourselves that our children were Brave, Resourceful, Amicable and Tolerant. Eventually, they made new Buddies, formed new Routines, found Acceptance and felt Triumphant.
But kids will be kids, even the military ones, and ours milked our parental guilt for all it was worth. They Bellyached, Refuted, Accused and shed Tears. They said their new schools were full of Buffoons, Rednecks, Airheads, and Tramps; and claimed they needed Bonuses, Riches, Allowance and Toys to cope. The stress threatened to cause us Balding, Reflux, Anxiety and Tension, requiring Botox, Rogaine, Antacids and Tequila, but somehow, we all survived.
No matter what the term “military brat” conjures in ones’ mind, I think we can all agree that military children are worthy of recognition. So on April 30th, National Military Brats Day, I’ll been beaming with pride that I’m the mother of three children that are admittedly, completely and unapologetically, military brats.