Month of the Military Child – The Ups and Downs of a Military Child

In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy, too.
~Robert Brault

April is the Month of the Military Child. Deployments and serving in the military is tough on the servicemember and the spouse, but it’s equally as hard (if not harder) on the servicemember’s children. Military children often need more support than a civilian child, especially during deployments.

This month, to honor our military children, I’m dedicating each Monday to Month of the Military Child (except today since I didn’t have internet this week… so I’m catching up on this past Monday’s post). Since we don’t have children, I’ve asked a few guests to blog about their experiences with military children and provide some insight into how we can help these children excel during what may be the toughest time of their young lives.

My second guest post of the month is about a side of the service that is often overlooked… the Reserve side. As a reservist myself, I thought it was important to highlight the children who live as civilian children… until they are thrust into the military life with a deployed parent.

This guest post will go through some of the ups and downs military children experience.

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I am an Air Force wife, mom of two, personality psychologist, freelance writer, runner, and cook. I blog at www.LeadingMama.com. I

Like Father, Like Son

wake up early, no matter what. I have big ideas and I love a challenge. I say “yes” too often and I hate sitting still. I’m addicted to coffee, chocolate, and my kids. When my husband isn’t home, I secretly sleep on his pillow and wear his t-shirts. Our family life is proof that “change is the only constant,” with four deployments, two babies born, and five moves in the past six years. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My son is a mama’s boy.

I am a boy’s mama.

Our attachment was not instantaneous. There was no magic. Our attachment grew in the small, shared moments of life.

It took root when I held my tiny, hungry baby and I fed him. It grew as I soothed his anxious cries, singing whatever song I could pull from my weary brain. It bloomed when we snuggled in for naps together, breathing in and out simultaneously. Our lives are so richly intertwined that it is hard to tell where I stop and he begins.

Best Buds

My son is a military child. I am military mama.

No matter what comes, Carson knows he can count on me. I am his constant.

My husband is a military dad. He loves our children completely. But he doesn’t have the luxury of constancy. He misses out on everyday opportunities for fatherhood. It’s been that way since the beginning.

Four months from my due date, my husband was selected for command of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan.  In an instant, our “military family planning” went out the window.

Chris would miss the first 15 months of our son’s life. He’d miss his birth. He’d miss his first smile, first steps, first word. He’d miss his first Christmas and his first birthday.

“If it had to happen, it is best that it happened now,” he rationalized. “He’s too young to know I am not there. He won’t remember it.”

In some ways, Chris was right. Intellectually, Carson doesn’t remember that his Dad missed those things.  But emotionally, he knows.

He knows his dad is gone way more than he is home. His dad has been TDY or deployed more than half of Carson’s four-years-long life.

He knows he wants his mom to buckle his seatbelt, to hold his hand, to sit next to him in restaurants. He knows he wants his mom to read him stories, to wipe his tears and his bottom, to make his dinner. He knows his mom will make everything all right. He knows he can count on me.

A while back, I asked Chris what he wants our kids to remember about him when they are adults. He said “I want them to remember that I served in the war….I was awarded three Bronze Stars….I helped the people of Afghanistan reclaim and rebuild their country.”

His answer seemed so sterile, so historical, and so sad. His answer seems so different from my own.

I want my kids to remember that I loved them. I want them to remember how I kissed their hurts, how I read their favorite stories, how I played catch in the living room. I want them to remember that I carried them when they were tired, that I called them “Booty” and “Punk.” I want them to remember ice skating and train trips and Christmas cookies.

It took me a while to make sense of my husband’s response and to accept its wisdom.

Boys will be boys

My husband knows he missed out on important, irreplaceable moments in our son’s life. He misses them every day. Even when he’s not deployed, his responsibilities keep him away from home in mind if not in body.

Those missed moments are painful for Chris and they are painful for Carson. “Daddy has to work” is a lackluster reason for missing the spring preschool concert. “Daddy has to work” doesn’t make him feel better when the phone rings during dinner. “Daddy has to work” cannot begin to express the importance of Daddy’s job. Sure, Carson understands about “bad guys” and “good guys,” but he can’t grasp how bad the bad guys are. And he doesn’t yet know how good his Daddy is.

My husband hopes his children –  when they are all grown up – will understand why he wasn’t there. He hopes they will be proud of him. I hope so, too.

My son is a military child.

He runs outside every afternoon when retreat sounds on base. He puts his hand on his heart and stands still until the National Anthem ends. He is proud to be an American.

Then he waits in the yard. Sometimes he waits for hours. He waits for his Dad to come home, playing and puttering until he sees his Dad’s car round the bend. Then he runs all-out toward the end of the driveway and holds his arms up high so his Dad can pull him into the car through the open window. They maneuver into the garage together, four hands on the wheel.

As they interact, their attachment grows. They talk over dinner about daycare drama and last night’s episode of Wipe Out. Then they adjourn to the dining room to race slot cars until I say it is bath time. Carson bumps Chris’s car off the track with amazing skill. He declares himself the winner. His Dad is the happiest loser I’ve seen.

In those small moments, my son and his dad are not subject to military priorities or the deployment schedule. My son feels his Dad’s love as surely as he feels my own. He is a military child.

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Check back next Monday as I hope to have a guest post on the Exception Family Member Program.

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3 thoughts on “Month of the Military Child – The Ups and Downs of a Military Child

  1. My father was in the Air Force when I was growing up, so I am a military child. I loved my dad wholeheartedly. I wanting nothing but his attention and approval. So much so that I was often found sitting in engine cavities when he was taking apart cars on the weekend or watching John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or Star Trek (all things I still love) beside him on the couch. I’m still proud of my father’s service both at home and abroad during war time. But I am sometimes sad when I am in the midst of sharing a story about an event in my childhood..and I realize I have no idea if my father was present or not. He was TDY or serving in Desert Shield/Storm or just working the day shift so much that I have very few clear memories of his presence. Of interacting with him, at least. And that is the only thing that makes me sad about having been a military child, really. And it’s something that I’ll never tell my father, because I love him too much to tell him something that might well hurt him.

  2. Oh, Audrey. I am so sad for you when I hear that. And worried for my own kids. I waited a long long time to have children because I wanted to do it with the right guy. Turns out now that they hardly get to spend time with him. It is very hard being a military child. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. This really hit home for me when I read this. My husband is in the Navy, I deal with this on a daily basis. My husband joined the military in August 2009. Since then I have seen him a total of 4 months all together. He had just got out of bootcamp when we found out we were pregnant with our number 2, before this time her was here with me 24/7. This was new to me and I was just ready to move to his duty station to be a family again. He was stationed in Washington in January 2010, we planned in moving up there shortly after, but things changed and he would end up going on deployment the end of that year. Not only that, he would be gone 2 weeks out of every month until September. I was very angry, beyond words can express. So we decided as a family, me and my daughter would stay in my home city. It all went downhill from there. His schedule changed numerous times, I was going to doctor’s appointments all alone, my daughter school programs, doing everything ALONE, which I was not used to. I was angry all the time. It has taken time for me to get used to him missing our sons first everything. His birth, his birthday, holding him as a baby. Everything. I’m still not used to it. Here it is 2011, we still have not lived together in 2 years. He’s gone about every other month, and its extremely hard. Not to mention that Im only 24 years old and I feel as if Im 40! I do so much on a daily basis its crazy. I work, I take care of my kids, I go to school, all by myself. It’s a hard job. But, I do it because I love my husband more than words can express. I know someday we will look back at this and realize how strong this has made our relationship. As far as our children, I hope one day they can build up a relationship, and they can say they want daddy, and not me. 😦

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