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Is Military Childhood a Wild Ride?

Must-Have Parent

Ever wonder how your kids will remember their childhood when they're grown?

If you're reading this column, it's probably because your parenting situation, like mine, feels more like "One Day at a Time" than "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."

For every parenting win, there's at least one parenting fail. For every perfect, Facebook-able moment, there's a "thank-God-the-windows-are-closed-and-the-neighbors-didn't-hear-that" moment.

I often wonder what my children's take-away will be. Will they think back on this chaotic life as exciting or as, well, chaos?

My sister told me the other day that when she thinks of our childhood, she thinks of a stagecoach. She said, the way she remembers it, we kids were inside, clinging to our seats as our mother held the reins and raced us over bumpy terrain, outrunning robbers and laughing her head off as she whipped each wild turn.

It is an absolutely perfect metaphor, especially if you've ever met my mom.

She's a phenomenal person, and the older I get, the more I appreciate her. But life with her was never predictable. She and my dad divorced in their mid-30s and, with four young children at home, my mother went back to school, earning a law degree at 40 and embarking on a challenging new career after spending more than a decade as a stay-at-home mom.

My father moved out of state for work, and we kids had to fend for ourselves a lot. We had to grow up fast and get comfortable with being bounced around. Come to think of it, my childhood prepared me well for my adult life as a military spouse. But, as a kid, learning those lessons was hard.

So I wonder how my children will describe their childhoods someday. Will the stagecoach metaphor fit for them, too? And will they embrace it or resent it?

Like me, they're growing up with an often exhausted, over-committed, ambitious mom, who frequently has to go it alone. Like me, they have a loving father who isn't around very much. They're learning independence early, and in an environment where the risks are high and very real, much higher and more real than any I had to face.

But when I think back on my own stagecoach life, my strongest memories aren't of fear or worry, they're of excitement, adventures, new experiences, and having an extraordinarily close connection with my mother and my siblings. I remember my mom being stressed and unable to help me with the little things -- but I also remember her always finding time to join me in fighting the really important battles.

I remember the pride I felt when she graduated law school and passed the bar exam. It felt like an accomplishment for our whole family. I've seen that look in my own children's eyes when we attend my husband's work events or when they see my name on something I've written. Our accomplishments belong to the whole family.

My stagecoach life taught me that all options were on the table, provided that I worked harder than everyone else and was willing to be uncomfortable. It taught me that chaos is only terrifying when you aren't used to it, and that the enemy of success isn't failure -- it's complacency.

And, stagecoach or no, I'd like to think that I'm passing some of those lessons along to my children.

But I do wonder how my kids will remember this time in their lives. Will it be a rough-riding stagecoach? A freight train careening off the tracks? A smooth sailing cruise ship? A repetitive carousel? A golf cart putting down a perfect path?

Personally, I'm aiming for Party Bus.

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Military Parenting Rebekah Sanderlin

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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