Military families relocate 10 times more often than civilian families — on average, every 2 or 3 years. More than 900,000 children have experienced the deployment of one or both parents multiple times. The statistics are clear: military kids go through repeated cycles of loss. Military children have always had to deal with the stressors of being the new kid on the block. The more they do it, the better they get at it, right?
As I shared previously in TIME magazine’s Battleland, the familiarity of moving provides strength and resilience. Yet, each move presents its own set of challenges, depending on a child’s age, emotional maturity and abilities. Over the years, more attention is (thankfully) being paid to war’s impact on military kids, as well as the sacrifices inherent in having a parent whose job demands continual moving and changing.
Lest we forget, military kids are serving, too.
Statistics are useful but limited. The numbers speak of challenges, losses and group data. But what about the fact that loss serves a greater purpose. “Loss is not the enemy; living in constant fear of it is.” Bob Deits has that right, and it’s especially relevant in the lives of military kids. April is nationally recognized as the Month of the Military Child. What better time to reflect on how a military lifestyle helps children? Let’s look at 3 ways military kids can actually benefit from life after loss. Bob Deits provides a practical guide for the experience – it is “a go-to resource for anyone who has suffered a major loss.”
- Loss is a practiced skill. Losing a pet, moving, death … they top the list of major losses. Many people are uncomfortable with loss and some do all they can to avoid it. Still, we cannot go around loss when it occurs. If “we store [losses] up over time [eventually] something happens to trigger the outpouring of all our pent-up feelings,” Deits says. The Talk, Listen, Connect program provides the youngest members of military families an outlet for their feelings.
Through videos, storybooks, and workbooks, Sesame Street characters help children navigate their circumstances. The sooner grief is processed, the better. Loss then becomes a practiced and familiar skill to equip children (and adults) for the next loss – which life will inevitably deliver.
- Loss provides limits. When things happen beyond our control and anxiety rises, our urge is to fix it, quick! However, some things are just not fixable. I was utterly helpless to “fix” our daughter’s distress on the day of her 3rd (of six) military moves; she adamantly opposed us making her leave the place she called home. She was just eight years of age. She climbed her favorite tree and refused to come down. So her dad climbed the tree too. There they sat – on the branches – for what seemed forever. He couldn’t fix her broken heart either; but he met her right where she was at in the process.
Move after move, the losses inherent in military life limited our abilities. Short of calling it quits, we couldn’t take away the heartache moving caused. In retrospect, it provided limits that mirror daily life. No matter how careful or calculated we are, things will happen out of our control. Like spilled milk, some things can’t be recaptured. Loss provides limits – limits that teach us about our own resourcefulness; just because we can’t fix it, that doesn’t mean we can’t get through it. And, come away more resilient than ever before!
Loss makes life better. It’s often been said, “You don’t know what you have until you lose it.” And, the sharp reminder that “things don’t matter people do.” Talk to any military kid about what it’s like to watch your prized possessions get loaded onto a moving truck and have them disappear for weeks or months. The minimalist (documentary) appears like a new and hip lifestyle, yet it has been a military brats’ way of life for decades upon decades. If it doesn’t fit in a suitcase and a backpack, it doesn’t go with you! To this day, when our kids come “home” to visit, they arrive with a backpack of essentials – not even a suitcase. They have learned through loss that “stuff” doesn’t make life better. Things don’t matter, people do.
The recent loss of my mother brought those lessons full circle. We knew what we had in her – mom, grandma, wife, aunt, sister – all the roles she played suddenly extinguished, yet never to be forgotten. “The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little,” John Kabat-Zinn put the punctuation mark on exactly why loss makes life better! Celebrate the military children in your community, this month and beyond. Their lifestyle serves to teach us a great deal about life after loss.