Too often I find myself thinking about how the military lifestyle has affected me, a military spouse. My blog and many others I follow are directed toward military spouses and how we can overcome the difficulties of deployments, numerous moves, demanding schedules, single parenting, and the unpredictability that is military life. I get so wrapped up in how I am going to get myself through the next challenge that I forget to think about how it could be affecting the kids. I assume that they will follow my lead and trust that everything will be okay, but what if that’s not enough? What if while I’m busy managing my own struggle they are facing a struggle of their own in their little hearts?
It doesn’t seem fair that a young child be faced with the grief of a parent leaving for months at a time. All the parenting books claim that children need routine and structure, and if this is the case than an event such as a deployment would certainly throw their lives out of whack. On top of that, they’re subjected to the stresses and frustration of the parent who is home, which only adds to the burden of separation anxiety.
I grew up in an environment where my dad had a regular eight to five job and was always home on the weekends. Our family never had to face the burden of separation nor did my brother and I have to experience a mother who was frazzled and exhausted as she faced months of single parenting. When I think about what my kids must go through while their dad deploys or even departs on shorter, very frequent trips as he must do in his current position, I am saddened that they must deal with such emotional turmoil. My heart aches when daddy can’t be there for important activities or to simply play with them at the end of the day. I cringe at the guilt I feel when I have taken my own frustration out on them when I am exhausted beyond belief.
But this is the only life they know. They do not have the same experiences I have to compare their lives with. No military kid does. This life of deployments, moving, excitement and frustration is a military child’s norm. They learn to say goodbye before they even understand what that means. They discover how it feels to miss someone at a younger age than most kids. They quickly learn the art of making new friends because they have to do it so often. When I compare my life with my kids’ lives, I realize that they have dealt with more in their first five years of life than I dealt with until I was in my twenties. So far, they have experienced far beyond what I could have fathomed as a child. Does this mean they are being forced to grow up too fast? Does it mean that they are missing out on the innocence and carefree nature of childhood?
The qualities that many military spouses don’t gain until they marry into the military are the same qualities that our children are gaining at a very young age. They learn acceptance and flexibility. They learn to lean on loved ones for support. They learn to harness their inner strength to overcome obstacles. They learn what it means to honor our flag and our country and our troops as they witness first hand the sacrifices it takes to defend our nation.
Do these children grow up too fast? If you ask me, they are merely acquiring life skills that every child should have. Rather than having a fairy-tale view of life, as I did when growing up, they develop a better appreciation for what life really is: hard. But this gives them the opportunity to see that the hard times are what make the good times that much better, and despite the difficult circumstances, they are able to maintain their child like innocence and enjoy being a kid just as much as anyone else.
When I got married and left behind the only life I had ever known, I was ill-prepared for the challenges that were ahead. But I am happy to know that my military kids won’t have the same problems I did because they will have already developed the skills needed to thrive as an adult. Most importantly, they will know how to find peace and contentment no matter what circumstances they might face.