What to do when your military kid doesn’t like military life
(Photo: U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Schneider/Released)

By Susan Reynolds

I loved growing up Army, and I mean I loved growing up Army. I traveled around Europe, made friends easily, and felt as if our installations were a little slice of heaven on Earth. It seemed idyllic because it was.

In fifth grade, a new girl came to my elementary school. Exciting, right? This girl was miserable. Her mom was miserable, too. They hated, and I really mean hated moving to Germany.

I didn’t understand. Why would anyone hate moving? Why would anyone hate moving to Germany? Sure, it wasn’t the United States, but that’s what made being overseas wonderful. It was different and fun to learn about another country.

But not for this girl. She was so unhappy.

I remember talking to my parents and getting the answer, “Well, each move is what you make of it.” My parents provided examples of places to visit in Germany, activities on post for kids, and how we are a family even though we’re far away from our extended one.

That conversation, and many like that one over the years, made an impression on me. Military families make the most of every installation, even if it’s to places we don’t really want to go.

While that’s a great sentiment and mindset to have, some families and some of our military kids still struggle. Military life is not always the life for them.

I’m raising a child, who likes the idea of military life, but the reality of military life is something else entirely.

My son loves going on post. We have airplanes, helicopters, our own bands, and the Exchange. (For some reason, the Exchange is the coolest place and I think it’s because of the toy section. We have a great toy section at our Exchange.)

Seeing soldiers and airmen is normal. Going to the commissary to say hi to our favorite deli employee is fun. The housing with playgrounds is amazing. Our installation is good at caring for families.

It’s no wonder my son loves this part of military life. To him, it’s an idyllic idea, just like it was for me as a child.

Then reality hits and it hits hard. Military life also means his daddy is deployed to scary places. My son’s friends move and he moves. Suddenly, this safe, little world that he lives in has changed. It’s not a good change, but it’s not a bad change either. It’s just change, and he doesn’t fully understand it.

I wouldn’t say that my son hates military life because he doesn’t. Like most people — especially children — he doesn’t like the sad parts of military life. Honestly, I can’t blame him for that; I don’t like them either.

My son is getting a little older now. He’s six, which means he understands more about this military life we have chosen. I can share the stories of my military childhood with him, and he loves them. Sharing the experience of being military kids has created a special bond.

I allow my son to share with me fears and concerns about his daddy deploying. The questions he asks are tough, and it forces me to face my own fears and concerns; however, I am thankful for the honest questions and conversations.

It’s not an easy conversation when your child asks, “What if my Daddy dies?” Suddenly, I’m in the middle of a conversation I don’t want to have, but I have that conversation and give answers that ease his worries.

I told my little boy that his daddy has had both the Army and Air Force train him to stay alive. Because of the special training, Daddy knows how to come home to us. To my surprise, that answer worked and I think it’s because I was truthful.

Military life isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. There are so many great parts of this life: The patriotism, the instant family no matter where you live, the places we get to see enrich our military experiences.

However, we have hardships, too. We say goodbye to that family, move constantly, face long separations, and watch our loved ones deploy repeatedly.

It’s not surprising my son doesn’t have the best opinions of military life. His dad has been gone for half of his life. If that had been my military childhood, I’m not sure I would reflect upon it with such fondness.

Military families have resources available which I have used and loved. I feel we all must do what works for our families. And what works for my family may not work for yours. We go to reading at the post library. Since we have so many great playgrounds, we pack a lunch and play until we drop. We find our family and let them know that they are always going to be a part of our lives. We do the best we can and roll with the changes.

Thinking back to that girl in my fifth-grade class, I remember inviting her over and asking her to tell me about her friends in the States; she was grateful. As the months passed, her dislike for Germany faded. New friends, new experiences, and new adventures helped her.

As a mother and military spouse, I plan to continue to use the lessons I learned as a child from my mother: Have truthful and thoughtful conversations, seek out what is good about each duty station, and find ways to thrive.