I didn’t grow up in the military. No one in my family had ever joined the military or even talked about the possibility. In one of the places we lived while I was growing up there were quite a few military families, although we did not live near a base. I remember hearing the term military “brat” used in regards to kids whose parents were in the military, but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why these kids would willingly call themselves a brat. To me growing up, if you were called a brat then it meant you were not a very nice child. That’s certainly not something I would have wanted to be identified as, nor would I have called myself that! But now that I have my own military “brats,” I understand the term in a completely different way, meant in an endearing way and earned through great sacrifice. These kids are stronger and more giving than many adults I have met.
My husband joined the Army National Guard after our kids were born. It was a decision that we made together and was something that we saw as being a positive direction for our family. Our families had very differing opinions on our decision, at least at first. Why would we want our kids to grow up in the military life? How could my husband willing leave his kids for months at a time? What if one of our kids wanted to follow in his footsteps? I know our families were shocked at my husband’s decision to join and their questions were out of genuine concern for our family and our children. And I have to admit, I asked myself those questions many times myself. But our decision to become a military family felt so right and looking back now, we have seen the positives that this life has brought to our children’s lives.
Our kids have become stronger and more appreciative because of our life with the military. They know what it means to sacrifice and they give of themselves to help others. The kids were sad when their dad left for deployment last year, but they understood that he had an important job to do. They never asked why their dad had to be gone for so long and they really stepped up to help me out at home. It was humbling to see my children, at only seven and five, stand tall and proud as they watched their dad walk away from them while I was the crumbling mess.
Appreciation for family is also something that our children have gained from our time with the military. They know that at a moment’s notice, their dad could be called away for duty. They also know what it is like to go for months without having their dad at home, so when he is at home they are grateful for the time they have with him. They have given up birthdays and holidays with Daddy, they have played baseball seasons with mom as the only spectator and they have been taught how to ride bikes by grandparents, but they remember and appreciate the simple moments with their dad. Reading books at bedtime and helping with homework when he is home is just as precious to them as any holiday. They don’t take for granted the time we get together as a family, a characteristic that I hope will continue in them throughout their lives.
One of the greatest aspects of life that I think my children have gained from being military kids is a sense of love and pride for their country. They stand tall, with their hands over their hearts, every time the National Anthem is played. They know how blessed they are to live in this country, and that kids just like them in other countries do not have the opportunities and the freedoms they are given here. And they know that those freedoms do not come free. They look up to people, like their dad, who work hard to ensure that they can enjoy the freedoms that come with living in this great country. They are proud to be Americans.
This month, Month of the Military Child is a time to show appreciation for these wonderful military “brats,” these incredible children who serve their country in their own way, patiently waiting for their turn with their mom or dad. It is a time to show them that we recognize their sacrifice and that they are not forgotten in this crazy, military life. I know that personally, I would not be as strong of a military spouse without the love and encouragement of my own amazing military kids.