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This Month Isn't About Us

Must-Have Parent

Each week, I write this column for Must-Have Parents, the people who find themselves doing the bulk of the parenting because the other parent has to work. Most everything I write is from the solo parent's perspective. How to juggle everything, how to find happiness in the chaos -- these are my usual themes.

But April is the Month of the Military Child. It's a whole month dedicated to these incredible little people we military-connected parents are dragging along with us on this unpredictable, unorthodox ride.

This is their month, not ours.

None of us would be parents, Must Have or otherwise, without our children -- obviously. I mean, we all learned that in 10th grade health class, right? Remember that bag of sugar we had to draw a face on and carry around? Those childbirth videos we had to watch that were supposed to scare us away from even tempting teen pregnancy?

The videos, even the STD ones, didn't broach what is truly the scariest thing about parenting -- the crippling fear that we might be doing it wrong. Teenagers wouldn't have understood that fear.

For most of us, parenting is the job that we feel the least confident about. We doubt our ability to do it well most of the time. But it's also the job we care the most about getting right. Because ... children. They get one childhood, and that means we get only one shot.

No take-backs. No do-overs.

The consequences of failing are unthinkable.

We all know what the ideal family is supposed to look like: a heterosexual mom and dad, two-to-three kids, a house, a pet, a manicured lawn where Dad plays catch while Mom looks on, smiling serenely, holding a platter of freshly baked cookies -- there are family dinners, grandparents nearby, little league sports and dance recitals.

Everyone is always smiling in the ideal. The sun is always shining or, when it does rain, they wear cute galoshes and carry brightly colored umbrellas. Bad things don't happen. Life doesn't present choices where every path is bad. Terrorists don't attack. Stock markets don't crash. No one worries about money.

Families never volunteer to do something that they know will make their family less than ideal, because it's the best option they have.

In the ideal, the family is in charge of their life. They make their own choices. They're never told to pack up all their stuff, leave behind their friends, and move somewhere new -- and do it again in two or three years.

Parents don't go away and miss an entire school year. Christmas morning isn't Skype'd. Parents don't die, lose limbs or have trouble sleeping. Kids don't find themselves earning failing grades in a school district that is totally different than their last one. When a child wants to talk to a parent, that parent is in the next room, or at least available by phone.

And on, and on, and on.

This is a column for Must-Have Parents, meant to empower solo parents to perform this mission as well as we can, and to know that we aren't the only ones out there doing it.

But this is not a column that pretends that soloing parenting is the ideal, because it's not. And I think we all know that. We're all grown-ups here, and these babies aren't bags of sugar.

And so what does it mean for our kids when we -- the big people charged with forming and protecting them -- select a life path that we know will negatively affect their lives? What impact will that have on them, and how can we lessen it? And, most importantly, when they reach adulthood and the sum of all of our choices is known, will the total be positive? Will the good outweigh the bad?

Will the creative solutions we found as parents inspire them to innovate in their own lives -- or will they see their childhoods as jerry-rigged?

Will the richness that was added to their lives by living in different places, among many different types of people, overcome the sadness they felt by moving and leaving behind the people and things they knew?

Will the pride of service and sacrifice compensate for having one parent frequently gone and the other exhausted and overwhelmed? Will being a part of history make up for the things they missed?

April is the Month of the Military Child because these kids deserve it. They deserve to have a month of celebration for being the only draftees in the long war. They deserve to be honored for the hardships they've endured.

We parents? We're still figuring it all out. We'll probably always be still figuring it all out.

But our kids? They're awesome.

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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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