My kids have probably said goodbye to more friends in their young lives than most people make in a lifetime—not because they have poor people skills, but because they have a parent whose job moves us all over the world. We have lived in San Antonio for three years this time. This is the longest we have stayed in one place in 16 years. Thanks to the military, we have experienced the joys of moving nine times in the last 19 years. When my hubby and I first tied the knot, I moved to San Antonio, where he was stationed. I like to call San Antonio my fake introduction to the military life because we stayed here for four years.
My kids, on the other hand, did not get a pretend initiation into this vagabond lifestyle. They were thrown straight into the cold, hard life of regular moves. My oldest moved for the first time at 10 months old, and my youngest at just five weeks. Yes, you read that right—five weeks old. By the time he started Kindergarten, he had moved four times. He has moved seven times in his 14 years, while my oldest has moved eight times in 17 years. They can’t complain too much because many military kids have moved more frequently. Obviously, when they were little they did not care much, if at all, but once they started school, every time we got orders all bets were off in the emotions department. They were always equally excited and sad.
Frequently moving and the emotions that come with it are normal things for military kids. However, this last move we consciously decided to give up the vagabond lifestyle until our youngest is out of high school. Thankfully my BFF and significant other retires from the Army soon, and we can make the choice to stay put. The ones most thrilled about this decision are our kids, but not all military kids are so lucky. Some have to move one or more times while in high school. As with all things, there are pros and cons to all of the moves the child of a service member experiences.
On the good side are the friends. A military family meets lots of people and sometimes builds a worldwide network of friends. We have a place to stay almost anywhere we might want to visit in the United States and in some awesome places abroad.
Also amazing, is the fact that we, like many military families, lived overseas for a few or many years. We have been lucky to be stationed in Germany and Korea multiple times. My kids have stood on both Hadrian’s Wall in the UK and the Great Wall of China. They have been to zoos in dozens of different cities and amusements parks of all sorts. They have seen great works of art in museums all over the world. They have tasted all kinds of different foods in countries that made that food famous. They studied Tae Kwon Do with a Korean master in South Korea and went on volksmarches (large, organized long walks, sometimes in nature) in the German countryside with our German neighbors. They visited Angor Wat in Cambodia, where Tomb Raider was filmed. These are all super cool things that the average American child does not get to do.
Other positives? Moving every couple of years has made my kids resilient and adaptable and provided them awesome friend-making skills. Taking international flights by themselves has built their self confidence. They also had the opportunity to see true poverty, the likes of which most American kids never see. I rate this as a pro because it is eye-opening and real. And yes, my youngest has commented on it since moving back to the U.S., realizing how lucky he is.
On the downside, a military kid has to leave his/her best friend and make new friends over and over. They start at a new school every couple of years. Sometimes they are one of many new military kids in a school on a military base; sometimes they are the new kid at a school that sees only a few new kids a year. (High school was school number eight for my oldest and will be number seven for my youngest this fall.) They say goodbye to one neighborhood and hello to a new, unfamiliar one on a regular basis. Many military kids grow up and say they feel strange if they live in one place for too long.
I asked a couple of military kids (mine and a few others) what they thought of their life as a “military brat”: What did they like best? What was worst?
My kids’ favorites were the places we have lived and traveled. The worst, they said, was having to leave your established friends and make new friends all over again, again and again. My friend’s daughter Annalise, who attends college here in San Antonio, moved throughout high school as well. She had this to say:
“Both my sister and I would say one of the pros of moving all of the time was getting a fresh start over and over again. Also, we got to travel all over the world. That was the best part. Especially in high school, living in Asia and Europe, we got to experience so many different cultures. It made me feel lucky to be an American because there are so many people out there who do not have many of the opportunities that we do. Some of the cons would include making awesome friends and leaving them behind. But that is what video chat and social media were made for, right? So keeping touch isn’t too much of a problem. It’s just the physical aspect of spending time face to face that we miss with those friends. Also, we agree that going to a new school in a new environment where we did not really know anyone over and over again can be tough.”
One of the downsides I have realized as a mother is that we do not have that well-rooted, aged social network established in San Antonio that I had growing up. Military kids don’t generally go to school with all of the same kids from Kindergarten through senior year. They don’t always have a fallback network of people to count on, nor do they usually have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins close by. However, we do have what we call “framily”—friends whom you know you can count on like family. We are lucky to have a great group of military friends who have all decided to settle down in San Antonio even if they do not live in our neighborhood. My oldest is lucky to go to high school with one of her best friends from toddlerhood. I met his mother 16 years ago at a playgroup in Korea. We became best friends and our kids did as well. We have been lucky to live relatively close several times over the years. Our families know we can count on each other for anything.
All in all, I think most military kids would list similar pros and cons but say that their experiences were mostly good. Despite the negatives, they have opportunities other kids did not.