When I was in my twenties and preparing to walk down the aisle to marry my marine 23 years ago, someone asked me if I thought I could handle being a military wife.
I wondered if other brides got asked that same question. I’d never been married, after all. And I certainly didn’t know what military life would be like.
Turns out, ten moves and ten deployments later, I clearly have what it takes. Raising kids in a military family, however, comes with many unique challenges.
When my kids were younger, there was a set of issues, many of which had to do with parenting alone while my husband, deployed or working long hours preparing for the next mission, was absent.
Fatigue and exhaustion seemed to be a full-time status. But, we would quickly get into a groove, ask for help, and build a support network.
Now that my kids have entered into the tween and teen years, the issues have different challenges.
4 Challenges that Teens in Military Families Face:
In the military, this is part of the program. Frequent moves to far off locations, often away from family, are a regular occurrence for us.For a teenager, this means frequently having to start over again. And again. They must find new sports teams, friend groups, and learn the lay of the land without having anyone else to rely on for help with introductions.
At an age where social pressures start to surface, this can be a difficult transition. Finding a niche is key—whether it be a youth group or a special club or team, creating ways to connect is critical.
As the kids get older, the effects of deployments change. When they were younger, they adapted quickly to having only one parent at home. As tweens and teens, the adaptation can be harder, like for my son, who has shifted from looking to me as his go-to person to putting Dad in the number one position.
I’ve learned there’s no way to be both mother and father. I can only create opportunities for other positive male influences, such as coaches, teachers, and extended family. This means sometimes asking those key people to step in and play a more significant role when my husband is deployed.
Another challenge is that the kids have an understanding of the inherent danger in what their father does. You can’t sugarcoat it. They are smart and deserve respect, and this includes acknowledging the risks are scary. Often just opening up the dialogue and allowing them to share their fears is all it takes to put them more at ease.
Because of the frequency of moving, military kids say goodbye to friends often. It is heartbreaking when your child has finally found “their person” and then has to move. Setting up ways to keep in touch, like online chatting, can help them stay connected. Also, arranging visits when possible also helps.
I try to frame it as a blessing to have friendships with people across the world. As a military child myself, I have stayed in touch with many of the friends our family was stationed with along the way.
4. New schools
Being the new kid is rarely fun. Being the new kid as a tween or teen can really stink. For us, finding the right school is mission-critical. For some kids that may be a larger school, for others, a smaller school might be the better fit.
As a military mom, I put in a lot of research to find the right schools. Once enrolled, it’s critical to locate those small groups that allow our children to make connections. Working with a strong team of school counselors and administrators also aids in a smoother transition.
Also, it’s essential to allow your child to take time to find their way. For example, my son is more of an introvert; he prefers one-on-one interaction. My daughter, however, can walk into a room full of people and flutter freely around from group to group. Understanding your child is essential for successfully navigating the move to a new school. After several relocations, I believe it takes at least six months to start to feel at home.
Ultimately raising a tween and teen in a military family is about instilling a sense of service. Teaching them the importance of giving back to something bigger than themselves is important. They witness this first-hand by the very nature of having a dad in the Marines.
Teaching them the significance of what it means to serve is the greatest gift we can give them. They did not choose to be military kids, but rather than focus on the sacrifices, we show them the opportunities they have that many other children do not. The perks of traveling around the globe, having friends in every corner of the world, and being an American is not lost on them.
Being a member of a military family—especially as tweens and teens—can be challenging. But, it also gives them a sense of grit and resiliency that is unique and will hopefully carry them through into becoming strong, purpose-driven adults.