My own awkward and painful memories of middle school flooded my mind. I had watched my son, only 12 years old and now in seventh grade, enter gracefully into a mostly civilian school mid-semester with dreams of performing in the talent show a year later. As a military spouse, I have figured out the rhythm of moving, making friends, and starting over. But as a parent, I must confess, it is painful to watch your kids go through it.
Now my husband and I were about to jump out of our skin as we watched the entire middle school file in to watch tender hearts perform their best, and one of them was ours.
I had already replayed in my head what I would do if even one kid in this gym "booed" my son. Did they even know what he had gone through? How many schools he has been in? The bullying, the friends he had left, the ones who had left him, the tears he shed when we said, "it's time."
For the last year and half, we listened at the dinner table as he shared his efforts to look for a seat in the cafeteria, sign up for after school activities and teach himself soccer during recess. Day after day, he got back in the game even if no one passed him the ball, until one day he said he finally scored a goal. He is a self-motivator, no doubt, something I think we find in most of our military kids. But watching from the sidelines as a parent is intense.
On a recent Lifegiver podcast episode I interviewed Pam Brummett, a mentor-friend of mine that revolutionized my view of parenting. When I first met Pam, her kids were far older than mine, her oldest in middle school while I was still freaking out about potty training. This family impressed me. They lived, and still do, a life of service -- and their kids are very much part of that mission. One day, after I had sat with a new widow for three hours, she and her children came into my house and cleaned it from top to bottom. No complaints, no push-back. The kids knew exactly what their efforts were for and that changed my view of parenting forever.
Now Pam's kids are in high school and college. I got to sit down with her to find out how she does it. Here are a few things that made a big difference for her. You can listen to the full interview here.
3 Military Parenting Secrets for Raising Teenagers
The most important thing to teach your kids is respect and love. Pam and her husband learned to choose their battles, but respect was crucial. Saying "ma'am" and "sir" taught the kids to be respectful toward their parents and others. Safe affection has always been in the home. Pam says her children still come in to greet her when they walk in the door with a hug which she playfully says is not negotiable.
Relocations will not ruin them. Pam said her kids look back with great memories of all the places they have been. In fact, the only time they struggled was in a school that was mostly civilian, where they felt few understood them. As her kids now enter college, she said they are over prepared for independence as well as life's disappointments. Turns out, military life doesn't ruin your kids.
Be a part of their lives. Pam has always made her kids' friends feel welcome in their home. When she realized the kids were going to Starbucks for long study sessions, she purchased coffee and snacks and now hosts them in her home. This way she can keep an eye on the teens and get to know who her kids are hanging out with. On her last birthday, some of them even stopped by the house to give "Momma Pam" her birthday hug.
Back in the middle school gym, it was almost time and I was hoping all that Pam had told me was true. We saw a hint of his shoes from under the curtain and my stomach dropped. They announced him stage and the entire gym erupted with giant screams. I even heard some of the other kids chant his name.
The curtain opened and the gym continued to cheer. My heart gripped in my chest as my husband and I looked at each other in astonishment. Every day wouldn't be like this and the next school would bring a completely different set of challenges. But today, these kids had no idea how they were changing my son's life. Their cheers rewarded the courage my son has for years had to dig deep to find. Constantly showing up, pushing through the tough stuff, and re-inserting himself all paid off.
And his performance? Well, he nailed it.