Spouse calls: When ‘military brats’ grow up
If you, like me, are a parent of a military child or two — or several — you probably wonder how this life affects your children. What are the lifelong effects of frequent moves? Will my children be emotionally stunted if they attend three different high schools, only visit their grandparents once a year, or can’t answer the question: “Where are you from?”
As a grown-up military kid myself, I have some empathy with my children. They are quick to remind me, however, that I made only half as many moves in my Air Force brat-hood as they have made in theirs.
I have now been a military wife for more years than I was a military child. In those years I have met quite a few military members and spouses who are also grown-up military children. Evidently, some of us not only survive military brat-hood, but thrive on it and even choose military adulthood.
So, I started asking grown-up “military brats,” especially those who chose a military life as adults, about their childhood experiences. What were the ups and downs? What are the overall effects of the dynamic military life?
Air Force Lt. Col. Robyn Chumley, daughter of an Air Force dad, said she had a hard time finding a downside to her military childhood.
“You know, as soon as I think of a negative, like moving so frequently, I realize it’s a positive: seeing new places, meeting new people,” Robyn said. “I somewhat envy people who’ve known their neighbors for years, watching each other’s children grow up … But I wouldn’t trade my experience as an Air Force brat — as an airman — for their sedentary life.”
Eric Bohnensteil, who did not choose the military as an adult, said “The gypsylike existence of being a nomad without roots” was the worst part of being a military kid.
Leaving friends behind, almost everyone agreed, is a downside, but not always a deterrent.
“My sister always had a hard time making new friends. She was very shy,” remembers Kelly Sublousky. However, Kelly said, both she and her sister married into the military.
Kelly, like most I interviewed, said the opportunities to see the world, and the pride of serving one’s country, are the best things about military life.
So what kind of adults does that life produce? That’s what we really want to know, as military parents.
“I learned tolerance from being in the military family as a community,” said Melissa Muse. “So many of the families were blended or contained spouses from other countries. No one looked at or judged this as anything but normal.”
Valerie Mackin, grew up in the Navy and Army, served 20 years in the Air Force and is still a military spouse.
“My cautious approach in letting people get close to me can be attributed to being a military kid,” Valerie said. “Why get too close when you know they will be out of your life in a few years?”
Overall, the grown-up military kids I talked to said they consider themselves adventurous when it comes to travel and cultures, open to meeting new people, but choosy about long-term friendships. Perhaps this is because long-term usually means long distance as well. Those friendships require effort and maintenance, so they may be few and precious.
“I have always valued friendship, and now I have lots of friends in places all over,” said Laurel Evans Riffey.
Next week: Grown-up military kids talk about military parenting. Check out the list of Web sites for military kids of all ages on the Spouse Calls blog.
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives in Germany, where her husband is currently stationed. Send questions or comments to her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog.