The Challenges of Raising Military Kids

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A soldier bids his wife and child goodbye before heading for Afghanistan.

This one-time military mom enjoyed last week’s Battleland Q&A with the authors of a new series of books on educating troops’ children.

Military children have always had to deal with the stressors of being the new kid on the block. It’s refreshing to see recognition for the affect that has had on their lives.

Changing schools multiple times over, and navigating gains and losses that are inherent of military life, requires exceptional sacrifice. For more than a decade, military children have also resiliently steered their way through war’s fallout.

Whether we’re talking about back-to-back deployments and reintegration, learning to cope with an injured parent or losing a parent in combat—the impact on them has sometimes been forgotten. Our nation’s military children don’t stand out the way their parent does in uniform.

Yet they are serving, too.

As I read this article, I celebrated the fact that creative, practical tools and ideas are now being put into place for “building better schools for our troops’ kids.”

At the same time, I was saddened to think that it has taken an 11-year war to spotlight the seriousness of the gap between society and our military — perhaps even longer if we reflect honestly on other wartimes.

I also found myself recollecting the day that my daughter climbed her favorite tree and refused to come down. She adamantly opposed us making her leave the place she called home, at just eight years of age. That day marked our children’s third military move.

Some years later, when my husband retired after 28 years of service, our kids had weathered six military moves prior to age eighteen, and attended eight different schools.

To some, it might seem like military children should be adept at moving and handling deployments. The more they do it, the better they get at it, right?

The familiarity of moving does provide strength and resilience. Yet, each move presents its own set of challenges, depending on a child’s age, emotional maturity and abilities.

I’ve had perplexed mothers approach me and say, “I just don’t understand why she’s having so much trouble; her dad has deployed [six] times.”

To understand, you have to meet the child where she or he is at—even if it means climbing up a tree! Every deployment and move is different, no matter how much “practice” a child has had.

I appreciate the cooperation and understanding emerging from “Operation Educate the Educators.” The experts had to go out on a limb to develop such helpful tools; bridging the gap required learning what they didn’t know about military families.

I also like the forward thinking and preventive measures shown in these resources. Providing schools and communities with tools that help now, means there’s less potential for problems later.

No one can erase the fallout of 11 years of war, but we all can take steps to lessen it. Partnerships and resources like these are an overdue and welcome sight. I believe that our nation still has a lot to learn about the impact of this war, especially in regards to military children.

 Maryann Makekau is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force (1980-84), whose husband, Charles, retired from the Air Force after 28 years of service. She’s the mother of a son and daughter: Derek, 28, and Loren, 26, who moved six times during their father’s military career. She is also the author of When Your Dad Goes to War.