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Perspectives: A Closer Look At Family Life in the Military

For many parents, balancing career and family life—especially with teenagers in the house—is plenty challenging. So, we wondered what’s it like to add military service to the mix? Luckily for us, the Stricklin family—which has been a military family for more than two decades—stepped in to help us understand in this series of essays, “Life in the Military.”

 PARENT 1 | Terri Stricklin

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.25.58 PMMommy guilt—that feeling of never doing quite enough for your children. Most moms know that feeling, but it reaches an entirely new level for moms of military families.

Adapting to Constant Changes

Some moms worry about getting their kids into the “right” classes at school; I worry about my kids getting into the actual right class in the right school in the right town. And once I figure that out, we’ll be on the move again—to a new state with different graduation requirements. We won’t be there until graduation, but it’s no matter—they’ll schedule us into their plan, regardless. On the plus side, our children have experienced many teaching styles and school districts. When our oldest began college, we saw first-hand his amazing ability to adapt to new environments and challenges.

Some moms worry about their kids making the sports team; I worry if there will even be a sports team at our new school. Will the new school offer the sport they played at their last school? But, while this messes with continuity, our transient lifestyle gives them the chance to try many new sports that their previous school didn’t offer.

Some moms worry if their kids will have the “right” friends; I worry if our kids will have any friends at all in the new town. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked my children at the dinner table, “Did you make any new friends today? Who did you sit with at lunch?” Although this can be stressful, the flip side is that our children do have friends all over the world. And thanks to social media, they can maintain these friendships long after our moving truck drives away.

It’s a life unlike any other. This month, we’re moving our family 6,000 miles around the world and touring colleges for our daughter to attend. When I step beyond the mommy-guilt, I realize that she will do fine. College is just another move for her. She can make friends and embrace the new environment. Who knows? When she walks into freshman orientation, she might even meet one of the friends she’s made along the way.

I’m not sure if moms ever stop worrying about our children, but I do know that my military kids can adapt quickly and face challenges head-on. Our military life is sometimes tough and challenging, but it’s helped us raise independent, resilient young adults.

Terri is a military spouse celebrating 20 years of marriage and a proud mom to four amazing kids.

PARENT 2 | Chris R. Stricklin

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.25.48 PMFollowing my return from a year in Afghanistan, I’ve often pondered the effects of military life on my kids. I had an “aha” moment at a recent welcome home party when I looked across the room and saw our four children sitting at a table —talking, laughing, and enjoying each other.

Parenting teens is tough for everyone, but raising teens in a military family presents unique challenges. When our oldest began to apply to colleges, we realized that not only had we moved him for his senior year of high school, but we’d also sent him to nine schools in 12 years.

Family is the Bedrock

It’s not easy, but my kids are strong and resilient, as individuals and as members of our family. Although the military offers amazing networks and assistance to aid our transient lifestyle, our family is our bedrock. We play, laugh, and cry together—which is good because each person shoulders a lot of responsibilities. When I was deployed for a year, my wife functioned as a single mom, and our children took on extra chores and responsibilities in my absence.

My kids have also had to mature outside the home. The military way of life routinely moves teenagers from state to state and country to country. My kids are forever “the new kid,” which requires them to play catch-up, academically and socially. Not all grade levels are created equal, and it’s likely that what they learned the previous year in their old school is different than the prerequisites for the new school. And, not only are our kids regularly leaving behind close friends; they’re regularly making new friends, learning what is cool at the new school and what is not.

As a result, our children have learned to embrace the positive change of moves and use the experiences to discover new cultures and communities. Now, don’t misinterpret; they have not always done this willingly. We have had our “Dad, why can’t you have a normal job” moments. But these moments pass quickly, and our teens embrace the move at hand.

Right now, we’re preparing to move 5,292 miles to our next adventure in Turkey. My kids could easily have kicked and screamed about the 12-hour flight and their next class size of 12, only half of which is American. But, they didn’t. Instead, they looked up our new city to find places and cultural aspects they want to see and experience. That night I saw them at the welcome home party. They were plotting all of this out.

My wife and I have often pondered the implications of the military life on our children, but we saw the results when our oldest went to college. He quickly and effectively adapted to the independent college lifestyle with a determined focus on the future. Our three younger kids are following in the same path of development and maturation. Parenting, like life, is what you make of it. Like any parent, we’ve focused on the positives and strived to learn every day.

Chris is a US Air Force Colonel entering his 20th year of active duty. He’s been married to his high school sweetheart for 20 years and is the proud father of Zach, Bethy, Aubree Lu, and Andy.

 TEEN 1 | Bethany Stricklin

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.26.07 PMGrowing up in a military family is all I’ve ever known, but is it normal? Nine schools in 10 years, 10 houses in 16 years, and next month, we will fly 6,000 miles away to our next home. Definitely not normal.

Not every teen has to make new friends every year and adapt to a new school for each grade, all the while studying the local customs of the culture they will move to next year.

On the outside, it’s an amazing lifestyle that’s helped me adapt to new environments while maintaining and cultivating relationships from the past. But on the inside, it can feel traumatic to constantly change my life, school, friends, hobbies, and surroundings.

When I was younger, I blamed my parents for dragging us from location to location. I vowed never to have a job that required my family to regularly move locations. However, as I have grown older, I realize the benefits, and my views have changed for the better.

Learning to Adjust and Establish Myself

During a recent move from Pennsylvania to Alabama, I was once again dreading the beginning of a new school. But after a few months in my new school, I met someone who quickly became the best friend I have ever had. We were inseparable and did everything together. That’s the positive— meeting new friends. But, then another move was looming. Saying goodbye was a real tearjerker. That’s the part I hate— leaving friends who have finally become close friends.

For good or bad, moving with my dad’s job has shaped me. I’ve become an outgoing person who can make friends quickly. I can easily adjust to new and different environments and establish myself in a new group. And the constant change has helped me develop as a leader, striving for excellence in everything I do, whether social, academics, or sports. When I’m presented with perceived setbacks, I have learned to react by searching for the positive in every situation and trying to adapt and grow from the experience.

Sure, I’ve felt both the advantages and drawbacks of growing up in a military family, but the overall result on my siblings and me has been positive. Our family’s network reaches around the world, and my bond with other military brats will last a lifetime. My unique childhood has helped me to develop into the adult I will become. I think this lifestyle has prepared me well for my life ahead.

Bethany, a Junior, is moving to George C. Marshall High School in Ankara, Turkey, for her next adventure.

 Teen 2 | Zach Stricklin

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.26.13 PMHow do I feel about being a part of a military family? Well, it has its good days and its bad days. And though it’s been the deciding factor in how I’ve lived the past 19 years of my life and the person I am today, that in no way means that I want this lifestyle for my children.

The largest advantage to being a military brat is the freedom I had to find out who I was without lasting social repercussions. I moved too often to worry about what people would think. So, I tested out all of the high school stereotypes before deciding who I wanted to be.

Take 8th grade, when I moved from being home schooled to a public school, and I decided that I wanted to be a jock. Unfortunately, my years of playing video games didn’t quite set me up for middle school sports teams, but my struggle that year motivated me to work all summer to better myself at every sport possible. The result— I played (and started) on my schools’ baseball, basketball, football, and track programs in the following years.

No Place to Call Home

A new school every year meant starting with a clean slate and a new start. However, every advantage comes with a disadvantage. I don’t have a town to call home. This didn’t really strike me as a problem in high school, but as I’ve finished my freshman year of college, it’s formidable. My friends all talk about how they can’t wait to go home and see all of their high school friends.

In contrast, my family moved around the time I left for college. I have no one to share my excitement with about being done with school, no one to play ball with, or do any other typical summer activities because I don’t know anyone where my family currently lives. Identifying your hometown is an icebreaker at college, but I’m from 13 different places (and consider Columbus, Mississippi my hometown only because I spent the largest portion of my high school career there) and that can be a hassle to explain when you’re trying to meet 3,282 of your fellow classmates.

It’s hard to pinpoint my true feelings about being in a military family; it’s hard to explain them. I know I would not be who I am today if I’d lived in one place my entire childhood. My friends aren’t in one hometown; they’re around the country and the world. The stationary life is as unfamiliar to me as the military one is to those on the outside. While I am thankful that my family put me through the trials of this military way of life, I don’t know whether I’d want my children to grow up the same way.

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