As most of us know, April is the Month of the Military Child. It’s an entire month dedicated to reminding both the general public and military families alike that our children serve our country too. Our military brats learn how to salute before they can speak, how to repeatedly say hello and good-bye (sometimes in multiple languages), and how to adapt to new locations and situations. They do this not because they choose to, but because they were born into a military family and it’s the only life they’ve ever known.
This month, as I celebrate my own military brats, I think not only of the sacrifices they’ve made in the past and the sacrifices they will undoubtedly make in the future, but also the cumulative effects this lifestyle will have on them and the paths they will choose to follow in their adult lives. I can’t help but wonder if their military life will end when their father’s career ends or if they’ll choose to embark on a military life of their own. And I don’t know how I feel about that.
Although my son is only a second-grader trying to figure out what will happen in the next chapter of Harry Potter and why everyone makes such a fuss over girls, I can clearly envision him as an 18-year-old high school senior, sporting a high and tight as he sits at the kitchen table and announces he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the military. And I don’t know how I feel about that.
I can also picture my daughter, now a sassy preschooler, years in the future as she brings home her handsome boyfriend, a young man just starting his career in the military. She flashes a shiny ring as she exclaims, “Mom, I want to be a military wife just like you.” And I don’t know how I feel about that.
Military life is rewarding in so many ways, yet challenging in so many others. It’s not an easy life, and sometimes I find myself wondering if I would do it all again had I known what I was getting myself into over a decade ago. (My answer is usually yes, but I definitely have those days when I’m not so sure.) Then I wonder how I would feel watching my children follow the same crazy, unpredictable path. How would I explain to them that juxtaposition of rewards and challenges so that they truly understand what they’re getting themselves into? Should I try to talk them out of it or should I encourage them?
As parents we only want what’s best for our children. We want to protect them from the struggles we’ve had to overcome in our own lives and we want them to learn from our mistakes instead of repeating them. We try to offer them advice, to warn them of heartache, and to guide them to happiness. But at some point we have to let them go to make their own decisions while we sit back and hope they make the right ones.
Of course I’ll support my kids in whatever professional and personal paths they choose to follow. And of course I would be beyond proud if either of my children grew up to wear a uniform or marry someone who did. Hopefully by the time they’re old enough to make that decision, my husband and I have done our jobs, not just by guiding them to happiness, but also by teaching them how to find their own happiness. And if they find their own happiness on paths that lead them back to the military? Fortunately I have a good decade to figure out how I feel about that.
How would you feel about your children growing up to become service members or military spouses? What advice would you give them?