The Month of the Military Child: Strength, Resilience, and Challenges for the Youth of Our Service Members

Posted by Venée M. Hummel, LCSW on Apr 12, 2019 8:00:00 AM

“We are the children of warriors. And although it was initially a role not of our choosing, it is a role perpetuated by many of us with pride … It is an attitude, a way of being.” (Wertsch, 1991, p. 350)

month of the military childApril is the Month of the Military Child, with purple ribbons signifying support and gratitude to the young family members who sacrifice alongside their military moms and dads. There are nearly two million U.S. military-connected children and adolescents living at home and abroad for overseas assignments. Unlike the careers of many civilians, service in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines affects all aspects of life and has great implications on each family member. For the military child, the lifestyle presents with many opportunities for strength-building and has potential to also create unique challenges.

The Opportunities and Challenges of Moving

According to the Department of Defense Education Activity, military children move approximately 3 to 6 times during the K-12 years, three times more often than civilian families. This means a multitude of goodbyes, from friends and classmates to teachers and sports teams. There is also the loss of familiarity in the environment of the house that has been home and the routine of his or her school. While the military strives to condense the majority of moves to the summer months to ease some of the stress on children, that is not always possible and leaves some children and teens to become the new kid during the middle of the school year.

Through these frequent experiences, military children often demonstrate their resilience through their social skills, ability to maintain relationships with friends over long distances, open-mindedness towards different cultures, and increased adaptability to change. However, it is important to remember that these transitions and adjustments are stressful and can at times exceed the skills and resources that a military child has. Moving changes routines and expectations, while also experiencing decreased social support; these factors can impact family cohesion, academic performance, and behaviors at home and at school.

The Opportunities and Challenges of Separations

Another major aspect of military life are frequent separations between child and their military parent(s). In our post-9/11 reality, most Americans appreciate the impact of overseas deployments on families; yet it is important to remember that not all separations long-term overseas deployments.  Military parents are often in training for weeks to months at a time, possibly in a different time zone and potentially without cell phone access days or weeks.

These frequent separations results in changing routines, expectations, and responsibilities at home for children. Family cohesion can easily be impacted as caregiving roles shift between parents or others providing care during a parent’s absence. Most military children are able to count any number of missed birthdays, major holidays, and significant school events.

When faced with yet another deployment -- in particular overseas combat deployments, it is not uncommon for children to experience a range of mental health stressors, including:

  • higher stress due to additional responsibilities,
  • increased anxiety,
  • persistent concern for his/her parent’s safety.

Many children are able to lean on their home front parent or caregiver for support, seek comfort from their social circle, pass the time with school activities and hobbies, and find helpful ways to make sense of Mom or Dad’s absence. For many military children, a sense of pride develops for both their military parent’s service and the family’s sacrifice. At time, though, the added stress of military separations can result in behavioral changes, academic challenges, and persistent emotions of sadness or anxiety.

More challenging experiences with separations and deployments could be attributed to a number of possible sources (and often a combination of several), including:

  • the absence of stability or reliability on the home front (at home, at school, and/or in the community),
  • compounded stress of multiple transitions at once, and
  • lack of sufficiently developed coping skills.

The Strength and Honor of the Military Child

In the introduction to her insightful book on the unique experience of the military child, Mary Edwards Wertsch quotes fellow military child Pat Conroy who wrote:

“The gathering of fighting men should be thanking their children, their fine and resourceful children, who were strangers in every town they entered, thanking them for their extraordinary service to this country, for the sacrifices they made over and over again to the United States of America, to its ideals of freedom, to its preservation, and to its everlasting honor … Military brats, my lost tribe, spent their entire youth in service to this country and no one ever even know we were there.”

Military children did not volunteer to serve; however the service of their parent(s) has created this life where they learn of service, sacrifice, resilience, multi-culturalism, adaptability, and community. They have life stories filled with challenges and ways in which they have persevered, all before reaching adulthood. The month of April provides a platform for recognition and celebration, allowing us to honor those who are the faces of love, support, and encouragement behind the fighting force.

“We are the children of warriors. And although it was initially a role not of our choosing, it is a role perpetuated by many of us with pride … It is an attitude, a way of being.” (Wertsch, 1991, p. 350)

 

Read more:

Wertsch, Mary Edwards. (1991). “Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress,” Harmony House Publishers.

 

VenéeM. Hummel, LCSW

Venée M. Hummel, LCSW is a clinical social worker and clinician at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors in Killeen, Texas, and an instructor at the Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University. She provides clinical services to veterans and military-connected family members, with a specialty focus on evidence-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder, suicide prevention, and the impact of deployments on children, couples, and the entire family. She previously completed a fellowship in combat trauma research, assessment, and intervention at the STRONG STAR Research Consortium and Consortium to Alleviate PTSD at Fort Hood, Texas. Ms. Hummel is also the proud daughter of a US Army soldier with over 30 years of active duty service, and she is honored to dedicate her career to giving back to the community that helped raise her.

The opinions, representations and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of One in Five Minds or Clarity Child Guidance Center. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. One in Five Minds and Clarity Child Guidance Center accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

 

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Topics: Military Families, Mental Health Wellness

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