Written by Dawn McDaniel, Founder and CEO of Bravo Delta Coaching
While they may not wear the uniform, military children experience additional challenges and make sacrifices for our country and our freedom that few understand. They are brought up in homes where pride for your country is more than a fleeting thought a few times a year. They are strong and resilient and because of this, may appear stoic in the face of adversity. They may turn the other cheek when barraged with an onslaught of messages about war, explosions, injuries, and death. They take it in stride, but it does leave a mark.
It is tougher now than it was a decade or several decades ago, when I was a child. Today the news is littered with stories of war and destruction, and these children have loved ones right in the middle of it.
Military kids face unique challenges.
Fortunately, the very young are able to escape without too many negative effects. However, as these children grow, the heavy emotional baggage associated with long separations, deployments, and uncertainty weighs them down and distracts from their daily routine.
I recently read a statement made by a twelve-year-old girl. She explained how her father had been deployed seven times since this war began. She shared that he missed many things in her life and she struggled with homework because of worry. Her pain was evident in a few short paragraphs. Her teachers and peers could not relate, they did not understand. They did not offer her the support she needed simply because they could not understand what she was going through, or the burden that she carried every day. Many military children share her experiences.
What can we do to increase our awareness, and offer more support?
At the end of 2010, there were 1.2 million school-aged children connected with the military. Only 63.8 percent came from active duty where there is greater understanding based on proximity to a military installation. That leaves over 400,000 children of National Guard and Reservists who presumably go to school with few, if any, children who can relate to their plight and understand their challenges.
Our military children know the sacrifice and live it every day. They are aware of the emotional toll the war can take on their families and themselves. They struggle through the instability of constant transitions–from monthly training missions to pre-deployment ramp ups, from deployments to reintegration, and the new, post-war “normal” to which they must adjust. With each transition comes its own set of challenges.
Military children left on the home front feel the pains of long separations and know their parent will miss their performance in the school play, their entire hockey season, or the state competition they have worked for years to achieve. While technology has come a long way and offers the military family greater comforts and better communications, it can never quite hand the star of the show flowers, or rush the field at the end of a game. Some things simply cannot be replaced.
Not all military children are the same.
Children of an active duty parent are most likely surrounded by a community, neighbors, and friends who are also military families; people who can relate to their challenges. In short, they are afforded a “built in” support system. However, 40 percent of all U.S. forces deployed to support the war on terrorism come from a Reserve component. That means their children are spread throughout the United States, in small towns and communities–possibly even yours.
While the burden for this group of military children is no lighter than those of the active component, they are faced with additional challenges. The Reserve component military child bears this burden largely alone. They may be the only military family in their class, maybe even their school. Their teachers and school administrators may not understand what it is like to have a family member in the military. They may not understand the sacrifice those on the home front make. Perhaps they didn’t give the war a second thought as they made the choice to go to work that day, kissed their families goodbye, and stopped for that morning latte. Or perchance, they missed that brief newscast of the explosion in Kandahar as they listened intently to the traffic report on the radio.
A decade of war has left us immune to the reports of war, explosions, fighting, and bombings. Hearing that people have died in this war is a common occurrence. For most of us, this constant news reporting has become somewhat of a nuisance, a trivial piece of information that has lost a significant amount of meaning.
The majority of the people that the military child comes in contact with, on a daily basis, may have no understanding of what it is like to see one of these news stories the morning of a test, to hear a peer speak of how pointless they think this war is while walking to school, or to stay up half the night waiting for the scheduled phone call that never comes, and then be nearly paralyzed with worry.
However, the military child does not need pity. The military way of life is their normal; it is just different from 99 percent of the nation. What they do need, however, is support, understanding, and a lot of compassion.
It’s important to start offering this support, no matter how small. Perhaps that first week while dad is away, they need a little more space or some extra time to complete their homework. When mom misses their birthday, they might just need to feel extra special that day or a little more attention than usual.
Military kids are resilient! They rise to the challenge, but their challenges are not the same as most children their age. They do their part to protect the nation and secure our way of life. They deserve our compassion and encouragement for they carry a heavy burden of a, hopefully, grateful nation.
How do you support the military families in your community?
What can you do to spread awareness and build a stronger support system for our military youth?
Dawn McDaniel is founder and CEO of Bravo Delta Coaching and empowers military families to redefine their lives and celebrate change through personal and professional coaching. She specializes in military transitions of all varieties and has a passion for raising awareness surrounding the sacrifices made by the military family. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.