This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC).
The UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center is honored to continue to serve and support the military-connected community during COVID-19! For appointments call (310) 478-3711 x 42793 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Childhood is complicated in its own right. You're starting to glimpse the way the world works but it doesn't really make sense. You try on different personalities to find the right fit like jeans at the department store. You're pretty sure if you sit too close to the TV, you won't go cross-eyed, despite what the adults say. There's a winged fairy that slips in your room in the middle of the night to discreetly buy old teeth that have fallen out of your mouth.
Now let's throw into the chaos a parent who is often absent because of their job, to uphold the values and safety of the nation. This parent or parents have been the reason your life's uprooted every two to three years, and you've had to roll with it. It's never been up to you, but somehow you've found pride in the path you are on.
Few know what it takes to be a "military brat," and there are times it can feel more like a burden than a privilege. These children are collectors of experiences, good and bad, and richer for it. Military brats have a level or vocabulary and self-awareness beyond their age. How can I describe these kids who sacrifice precious time with their active duty parent, while enduring move after move? Resilient. Astute. Optimistic.
It's no surprise that some of the most famous and successful people in our society are military brats... Kris Kristofferson, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis and even... SHAQ?
From an outsider perspective, it may seem as though the life of the military brat is full of contradictions. I hate moving but I love having lived in different countries. I am proud of my parent but I'm frustrated when they work so much. Learning how to say goodbye gets easier, but not really. Yet despite all these challenges, there are certain advantages military children can take with them for life, long after their parents have separated from military service.
So, to shed a little light on the oft-misunderstood life of the so-called "military brat," I did some interviewing of my own. Here are the advantages brats say they've gained that help them even after their parents have become veterans:
Being bilingual is not exclusive to military kids, but when I polled my friends' children, the love of learning and speaking different languages was so strong that it deserves a place. They met new friends in other countries when kids at their new school would come over and ask about their English. They found excitement and acceptance in the phrase, "¡Hola! ¿Como te llamas?" As the kids got older, they had a harder time retaining a language not taught in American curriculum, like Italian, but they said when they visited the country, it came right back to them.
Moving is tough. It's a constant hustle of unpacking and repacking. It means making new friends and then saying goodbye. It also means playing baseball with the Alps as your outfield, and being personally invited to a gaucho's (Argentinian cowboy) ranch to pet their goats and eat homemade empanadas. They understand the chance to travel comes with moving often, but there is a trace of exhaustion to hear them talk about it.
When I asked two sisters what their favorite thing is about being a military kid, one said, "Moving all over the world." When I asked what their least favorite thing was, the other said, "Moving all the time." It's complicated.
Possessions are easy come, easy go. After all, the smaller amount of "stuff" you have, the less you have to pack up and move. One girl even said she likes to leave some things behind for her friends to remember her. Yet despite all the moves, you learn to be flexible. Life's an adventure.
"The world is a book, and those who don't travel only read one page." - St. Augustine
It's a big sentiment, and these kids get it. Every single one said they get to see cool things no one else gets to see, or that they've probably been to more countries than most adults. While the moving is exhausting, the flip side is that it has afforded them some beautiful sights that sets them apart from non-military kids. Traveling gives you a whole other perspective on the world and this is a skill that brats can take with them in any profession.
It's easy to vilify the effects of social media, but we forget that for those who move around a lot it is a means to keep in touch. The sisters who lived in Argentina practice their Spanish by talking to their old friends on the phone. Through email and messaging on Instagram, this generation of military brats is able to continue friendships and gain perspectives of old acquaintances across the globe using the latest technology...even Snapchat. Impressive.
Like playing the piano, if you practice social skills you will get better at it. One teen said because he's met so many people, social skills come easy to him now, and that includes speaking in public. He learned from his dad how to greet people, and attributes it with enthusiasm to being a military kid. Oh, and he was just given the Principal's Award out of his entire class this year, by the way.
It can make a kid nervous at first — that's understandable, but the overwhelming consensus is: "worth it."
Department of Defense
While this may not be the most fun advantage for military kids growing up there is definitely a sense of discipline that is learned from an early age. Whether it's keeping your room "inspection ready" or just learning so say "sir or ma'am," the values military children learn often translate into success in college, careers and even in their own families.
Sense of Service
No, not all brats are going to follow their parents footsteps and join the military. While some do, most military children choose their own path in life but they never truly give up the sense of service. This can often translate into roles in their community or in some cases even elected offices. It's this commitment to others that truly distinguishes brats from their peers.
A special thanks to the kids who let me pry into the wonders and difficulties of their unique lives. Garrison, Lily, Veronica, and to the countless other "military brats," we all say thank you!
Now, please excuse me while I cry and watch videos on Youtube of parents coming home early from deployments to surprise their kids.
This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC). If you are in the Los Angeles area, you can request a free Lyft ride to take advantage of their benefits for veteran families.