Spouse Calls: Questions from a ‘brat’
November 16, 2008
Q. I was a military brat for only about six years. My stepfather was in the Army. We followed him from California to Germany and back. I was wondering if you noticed a link between children who were raised at least for a few years in the military who have problems with relationships as adults.
As much as I liked moving around and seeing different parts of the world, I think there was some negative impact on me and my brother and sisters that might not be obvious. It took me years to realize that I have issues with long-term relationships. I think that in all that moving around, I became accustomed to losing friends and never seeing them again.
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. If I’m not happy in a relationship, it seems so easy for me to pick up and move on. I don’t keep in touch with some of my long-time friends. I’m wondering if this is a result of my childhood as a military brat.
Being picked up and moved around so many times really changes you. Have you heard of anyone else with similar issues?
A. Your question is shared by many military brats, Chris, including me. Each of us wonders how the past shapes us.
It takes more than mobililty to mold one’s personality, for good or ill. Events such as moving are only one factor. The way your parents viewed military life, general health of family relationships and your own personality are all influential.
Most military children move frequently. Obviously, all are not identically affected. Even siblings respond differently to the same family situations.
Donna Musil is a filmmaker who grew up in a military family. As an adult, her own questions — similar to yours — led her to research, write and direct the documentary, "Brats: Our Journey Home."
While making the film, she interviewed many grown military children, so I asked her for insight to answer this question.
Musil said the behavior pattern you describe is common among children who move frequently.
"The problem is this," she said, "the skills you learned to survive a life of constant moving are the exact opposite skills you need to build a stable adult relationship with someone, be it friendship, work or romance."
Children who move frequently, Musil said, learn to make friends quickly, but not deeply.
"You knew you were going to move in a year or so, so you weren’t going to pour every bit of yourself into something that you knew was going to be taken away," she said.
Taking responsibility for one’s actions can also become a problem, according to Musil.
"If you screwed up in one place, so what? They’d never know it in the next place."
"Now that you’re an adult – and presumably living in one place – you have to learn a whole new set of skills," she said. "Primarily, you need to learn to trust all over again. Trust that relationships do last; that it’s okay to get angry and have disagreements with people."
It is possible to work through these problems rather than avoid them, said Musil.
Military life also produces positive traits, among them the ability to adjust to new surroundings.
"To flourish in your new non-brat environment, you’re going to have to learn a few new skills," Musil said. "But have no fear — you can do it. If brats know how to do one thing, it’s start over!"
For more comments from Musil, information about her film and other recommended reading for military brats of all ages, see the Spouse Calls blog.
Terri Barnes is a military brat, a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Contact her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog here.