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Undeniable Truths About Raising a Military Child

I brought my baby home from the hospital in a blue stocking cap that read N-A-V-Y. It was my little sign to the world that I was raising a military child and I knew it. Bring on the criticism.

I meant, bring on the suggestions. The helpful tips. The thoughtful observations. Because when you bring a military child into the world, you can expect that everyone will have something to say.

That’s what our San Diego Spouse Experience audience found when their kids were born, too. They thought it would be helpful if we could have a little list of things we could all just accept as a normal part of rearing a kid with a military parent. Here are their suggestions:

undeniable CHILD1. Babies CAN be born if only the mother is present.

This biological factoid may surprise the civilians in your life, but when you give birth to a military child during deployment, only the mom needs to be present to win—even if the mom IS the service member. As my husband’s first boss was fond of telling young wives, “You only need to be there for the laying of the keel, not the launching of the ship.” I had to look up what ‘keel’ meant. Graphic.

2. Your child will live in several homes.

Right now, in your neighborhood, among your child’s friends, there is a person who was conceived right there in the house where they still live. Yes! There are children who will attend the same school system from Kindergarten to high school graduation!! Your military child will not be one of them. And that’s a challenge to overcome.

3. Your service member will miss important events.

Want your neighbors to gasp in horror? Mention that your service member will miss your child’s birthday. Your anniversary. Back to school night. Christmas. The fact that your service member will be present for the majority of these events during your child’s life will pass them by. Focus on the good stuff.

4. Your children reveal they are Murphy’s Spawn.

You may have the most trouble-free children in the world. They are probably the kind who potty trained at three months and slept through the night on the day they came home from the hospital and ate peanuts and strawberries to their hearts content all summer long.

The moment your service member deploys expect them to forget how to use the bathroom, wake in the middle of the night to ask if you locked the doors and break out into the kind of allergies that require visits to the emergency room. It’s a mystery how Murphy’s Law will hunt you down.

 5. You will experience Invisible Babysitter Syndrome.

Everyone will tell you that you need to get a babysitter and take a break for yourself. You will agree with this. But finding said babysitter will seem impossible. Paying the babysitter will seem even more impossible. You will troll your Starbucks for likely looking teens and get a bad name for yourself.

 6. You will long for your mother-in-law.

Some military kids will have grandparents who live close. Who love to babysit. Who invite kids for a week in summer. Who come to stay with kids while the parents go away for the weekend.   Blessed are they who have lovely grandparents to make military life easier!

7. Your child will need Popsicles.

If you are married to a good person in uniform, it is a given that your child will cry when their parent in uniform leaves and when they are just gone too long. Your children will want their daddy. Or they will want their mommy. And your heart will break as you keep them company wanting that absent parent. This is not a bad thing. It just hurts. Hug each other. This is often a good time for a Popsicle.

8. You will feel like a single parent (while telling yourself you aren’t).

Your military child will have a parent they think of as the Must Have Parent—the one they must have around all the time to feed them and make sure they go to school and drive them to the dentist. They will also have a parent they think of as the Must-Do parent—the one who must get out there and do what the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Army or Coast Guard tells them to do.

When the Must Do Parent is out there doing, it is a hazard of life that the Must Have Parent feels like a single mom or single dad. Resist this with all your might.

 9. A parent in uniform appears larger in the childhood mirror.

If you are friends with a military brat or two, chances are that on Veterans Day your Facebook feed was full of pictures of their moms and dads in uniform. What was hard as a child often fades to affection, pride and awe in adulthood.

10. Your neighbors will always focus on the negative.

Raise a kid in the military and you can guarantee that everyone will be focused on the deployments, the moves, the peril. We should all watch out for those things. But as a parent, don’t lose sight of the steady income, the drug-free parent, the medical care, the dental work.

That stuff counts too.   A lot. Give yourselves a little credit and know that someday your child will be looking back on their military life. I hope, with pleasure, with respect, with wonder.

U.S. Air Force photos of saluting children Christopher DeWitt

Group photo by Lucas Silva

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