There are 1.7 million American children and youth under 18 with a parent serving in the military. 900,000 of those children have seen one or both of their parents deployed multiple times. These military brats endure incredible sacrifices to live an unpredictable and challenging lifestyle. That’s why every April, the military community celebrates the Month of the Military Child. This is our chance to honor these true heroes.
I have 2 military brats of my own. At ages 3 and 7, they are just starting to understand the implications of their daddy’s job. They know he frequently “goes on trips.” They know he works late. They know that a lot of times they have to depend on me to be both mom and dad. But they don’t really comprehend it all. They’re too young to understand why we live the way we do.
That lack of understanding is both good and bad. It’s bad, of course, because we have no way of explaining to the kids why their dad disappears. What do you say to a 7-year-old boy who desperately wants his dad to be there for his 1st baseball practice of the season? What do you say to a 3-year-old girl who repeatedly screams, “I want my daddy back” every time she’s tired or upset? Telling them that their father is performing an important job for our country offers absolutely no solace in those heartbreaking moments.
But that lack of understanding is good in a way because they haven’t yet figured out that they are any different than anybody else. For instance, the other day I sat down with Big C to talk to him about how he feels about being a military brat, and he looked utterly confused. I listed off several ways his life may be different than most kids and asked how he felt about those differences. Again, confusion. Finally I said, “Do you know that most daddies don’t wear camouflage uniforms to work?” He had no idea.
Sometimes I feel guilty for turning my children into military brats. They didn’t ask for this life. They didn’t have a choice. This is the only life they know, a life of moving around the world, having to change schools and make new friends, and often living without one of the most loved and influential people in their world. I worry about them, about how they’ll be affected by military life as they grow older. Will they rebel and misbehave? Or will they join the military themselves? Will they resent us as parents? Or will they appreciate the experiences military life has offered them? Will they hate us? Or will they one day understand? It’s impossible to know. In the meantime, my husband and I simply try to be the best parents we can be despite our unique circumstances.
So as we celebrate the Month of the Military Child, give some extra thought to our country’s military brats, those brave, resilient children who silently serve our country too. If you have military brats of your own, give them a few extra hugs and I love you’s. (And visit Blue Star Families because they’re giving out certificates to honor military brats!) And if you don’t have military brats, find someone who does and thank them for the important, yet often forgotten, role they play in the military community.