My claim to fame as a child was how often I moved (eight times before I turned 18), and how many states I lived in (six, from coast to coast), and how many schools I attended from kindergarten through high school (eight, including a different one for each grade in high school). Yes, my dad was in the military. He was a career Air Force officer, so I grew up with the expectation that the longest we would be anywhere was four years and that Uncle Sam was in charge of where we would live next.
As a young child, this felt awful. I was painfully shy and hated meeting new people and saying good-bye to friends. But by the time I hit upper elementary school, I was getting used to the process of uprooting and rerooting, and was even beginning to enjoy it. By the time I graduated from high school, I could look back with pride on my military upbringing and see so many good things that came from it.
This list is for the military moms out there who wonder how their semi-nomadic lifestyle is shaping their children, and if that shaping is negative or positive. Obviously, I can’t speak for every military child, but I know a lot of us feel the same way, that growing up as a military “brat” made our childhoods – and now, our adult lives – richer, deeper, and better in so many ways. Here are some of them:
I learned to adjust quickly.
Moving as often as we did, if I didn’t adjust, I would be miserable. I learned how to set up my new bedroom quickly. I taught myself opening lines for beginning new friendships. I learned how to remember names. I discovered the clubs to join that would let me meet more people. I found my niche in band and the Thespians to help me find my tribe in high school. I began to get excited about new moves because I could try new things and not get in a rut.
My family really mattered to me.
We were far from grandparents and cousins, so when we did get to see them, we really valued those times. But the bond I had with my parents and brother growing up was especially close. When you move a lot, your family is your lifeline. My brother and I were playmates and best friends, and while we now live hundreds of miles from one another, I know he still has my back and vice versa.
I got to see the world!
Well, not the whole world. I often envied my army brat friends who got to travel to Germany or other foreign locations. We stayed in the U.S. my whole childhood, but I got to see our country from coast (Alabama) to coast (California) and north (Massachusetts) to south (Alabama, Virginia), and even the middle (Ohio, Nebraska). Traveling is second nature to me, so when I had the chance to go to China several times during college and graduate school, I jumped at it, and when my husband suggested a six-week road trip to see all the National Parks instead of a honeymoon in the tropics, I said yes right away.
I learned what real friendship is.
I learned how to make “friends” quickly, but I also learned how to make real friends deeply. I fought my own shyness and figured out how to turn being the new kid to my advantage when it came to meeting classmates and joining clubs. But in those groups, I also found one or two friends in each place that I still keep in touch with today, many moves and thirty years later. Our friendships have been sustained by snail mail, e-mail, and now social media, and I know if I need them, they are just a phone call away.
I gained a deep appreciation for what it means to be an American.
Growing up all over our nation, I never knew how to answer the question, “Where are you from?” My answer sometimes ranged from saying where I was born, “but I moved when I was six months old,” to saying where my last home had been, or where my parents were born. These days, my most common answer is, “My dad was in the military, so I’m from all over America.” My accent depends on who I’m with at the moment. My childhood friends were from all races and nationalities. I’ve been to both Disneyland and Disney World. My childhood memories are of orange trees in our front yard in California and my fifth birthday party in Alabama and a blizzard in Massachusetts. And I have a pride swell up when I hear the national anthem because I know the service my dad, and later my brother, gave to this great country, and the price they paid in one move after another to provide that service.
I know that you don’t have to be a military kid to have these advantages, but I also know that God used my experience of growing up in the military to grow them in my life. If you are a military wife wondering if this nomadic lifestyle is good for your kids or not, I want you to hear these words from one very grateful “brat” – as hard as it was at times, I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up any other way.