I wasn’t raised as a military kid and, unlike my kids, I lived in the same town until I graduated from college. Since I never had to uproot repeatedly while growing up, there are many things that my kids deal with that I can’t relate to. On more than one occasion, I’ve admitted that I’m jealous of the childhood my kids have — the places they’ve been and the experiences they’re having. Last month I was sitting on the sidelines of my six-year-old daughter’s cheerleading practice. While they held the butterfly stretch, the coach asked the little butterflies where they’d like to fly to today. Hands shot into the air, and when called on, they gave answers like Singapore, Thailand, Australia and Hawaii. Another parent and I chuckled at this, both aware that this is not a list a typical room full of five- and six-year-olds would come up with.
I say often that my kids have lived their best lives in our three years OCONUS, and I believe that to be true. We’ve embraced every opportunity for travel, they ride their bikes all over the base and play outside as often as possible.
There is No Resilience Without Struggle
Despite the many benefits, I would be lying if I said the last three years were easy. For every perk and exotic location on the list above, there was a challenge to face. The green kids that packed up for Iwakuni, Japan, three years ago have some scars now — some we predicted and some that we never saw coming. In the last three years, they had to be my only help unpacking when we moved in, and they picked up the slack during our first holiday season when I was hobbling around on a broken foot.
They repeatedly accept disappointment when they learn Daddy can’t come with them to X, Y or Z because he will be on a trip for the weekend. They have learned to go without their favorite cereal, their favorite fruit, or even milk when the commissary is out. They’ve learned to wait 10 days for a package to arrive and that we can only video chat family and friends during certain timeframes because of the different time zones.
My kids are tougher at 6 and 9 than I consider myself to be now. They are incredible and they are part of a rare breed of kids who do more with less, who persevere, and who do the thing (whatever the thing is) even though it scares them. This resilience is not something that just happens. It is something kids learn and build through tough experiences – and because it is National Child Abuse Prevention Month this month, I want to talk about how important it is to have loving, safe and trustworthy adults outside our family who help shape my kids’ characters.
The Relationships that Build Resilient Military Kids
Here in Iwakuni, like most military communities CONUS or OCONUS, we don’t have a traditional extended family nearby. My kids don’t have aunts and uncles hanging around, but they have something else extraordinary. They have a Miss Mandy, Miss Steph, Miss Holly and Miss Caitlyn. This crew showed up for them during some of the hardest days I hope they’ll ever have. They trust them fully and they love them hard. And they keep them safe.
They have a group of honorary uncles attached to those ladies who made them laugh hysterically when it would’ve been much easier to cry. They have a Miss Erica who gave them a fun summer vacation with their friends and let them fill her house with shouting and laughter for 10 days. They have special people everywhere we’ve gone — friends we still visit every time we’re in town, friends that still check on them and send gifts every Christmas.
They have coaches and teachers that push them to succeed and encourage them in ways that would just get an eye roll if mom or dad said the exact same thing. They’ve had teachers at previous duty stations who you just know will always be in touch, cheering them on all throughout their academic achievements.
While it would be easy to spin a sob story about how deprived my kids are to miss out on years of spending time with extended family, I think the alternative ‒ family we’ve created with the people where the military sent us ‒ has shaped them in spectacular ways. It’s through that family, with the challenges and emotions we experience together, that our kids have truly found their resiliency. They’ve grown in confidence and developed pretty amazing senses of humor. They’ve found trustworthy adults to look up to and open up to beyond mom and dad. They’ve found a support system that encourages them and cheers them on from the sidelines of soccer games and hula recitals, and loves them unconditionally, like our traditional families back in the states.
I will never be able to say thank you enough to the individuals along the way who became part of our family, not through DNA but through proximity, shared experience, and, most importantly, by choice. The only way to ever truly show gratitude for something so extraordinary is to return the love. Be that family for them and their kids and be that family for the people we haven’t even met yet, and together, we will raise resilient military kids.
Show you are committed to being part of the military family that makes our kids stronger: Stand Up for MilKids today.