How Does a Military Brat Raise a Civilian Family?
The military family dynamic is not so totally different from a civilian one. Sure, there are some odd little quirks. For one thing, how many kids spent evenings mesmerized by their dad brushing and polishing his boots?
As a former military brat raising a family civilian, the dynamic of internal trust and strength is definitely something to pass along. The stability of rules and boundaries is vital, as well as learning the value of communicating with loved ones you don't see that often. A lot of the values I grew up with as a military brat are things I want to carry on while I parent my civilian family... just maybe with less moving.
What Habits Do You Want to Carry Over from Your Military Parents?
My mom saw the importance of routine and order, so I was taught to wake up, make my bed, and get cleaned up and dressed every day.
If my bed wasn’t made just so, she’d let me know I needed to do a better job. When I made cookies, she let me know I needed to clean the kitchen when I was done. Her parenting was about letting me figure things out and experiment, but then guiding me to restore order when I was done.
And Then There Was Dad’s Brand of Parenting
My dad taught me not to be wasteful, to fix things that were broken, and to value the time I have with family.
We had just moved into a new house, and I was putting away his remote control model of the Mars Rover. I tripped over the cord and detached the remote from the model.
Instead of getting mad at me, he handed me a screwdriver and told me to fix it. I fiddled with that control panel for months using nothing but a screwdriver before admitting defeat. That’s when he told me he just appreciated that I tried. That’s what mattered.
And years later, he told me he knew I couldn’t fix it without a soldering iron, but it seemed like a good punishment at the time. He didn’t realize I’d work myself up over it for months.
Applying Military Parenting in My Own Life
For me, my upbringing involved learning to be especially self-sufficient, organized, prepared, and respectful of others. These are traits I hope to pass along to my daughter. At two years old, she’s already showing a penchant for putting things back where they belong.
I can trust her to put all the shoes in the mudroom into the cubbies. If she spills, she gets a towel and cleans it up. She’s also my big helper when it comes to laundry, bringing her own basket to the washer, and putting everything in. She even puts her basket away all by herself.
I’m excited to see that my daughter has these traits for kindness and respect developing so strongly. It sure makes things easier, especially when she practices those nice things with me! But it's also nice because I know she'll have an easy time making good, strong friendships.
What Do You Want to Do Better for Your Kids?
The things I was not great at growing up were making friends, keeping in touch with people, and asking for help. So, while I think she's naturally inclined to be better at these things, I still want to help if I can.
Helping Your Kids Make Friends
It’s a little bit harder right now to help kids make friends and be neighborly, but we’ve found some good ways to help our daughter practice friendship.
Take walks and wave at the neighbors. We call this "Hi Friends," and we do it every day even if not one else is outside. It encourages her to try and keep in touch even if it's not reciprocated.
Play along with pretending the toys are real. Use this time to practice nice touches and saying kind words to friends.
Teach your kids to give. For example, we've got a ton of extra cucumbers, so as a family, we take them to the neighbors and just say hi. She's learning the importance of reaching out, sharing, and giving gifts as a love language.
Visit one or two friends every now and then, and allow them to work out their own issues when they disagree. Step in only if it escalates (I have a biter, so when the mouth opens, that's my cue).
Teaching Your Kids to Communicate
Something I'm just not good at is keeping in touch and communicating. I know a lot of former Brats are better at this, but maybe you're like me. We want to stay in touch, but we don't always know how.
There's a video from Joyful Mud Puddles, where she speaks about how it's not all that helpful to say, “Use your words” because we don't always have the right words. This has been stuck in my head for a while now.
As a kid, I wrote letters to friends in Alaska and Alabama. Eventually, that turned into emailing and then texting. I got really good at having written relationships with people because I could backspace and think through exactly what I wanted to say.
So, if it turns out our kids are better at communicating through writing, drawing, interpretive dance, or whatever, try and listen. This is another thing that my parents were pretty good at. They could always tell when I needed something even when I couldn't talk about it.
Helping Your Kids Ask for Help
One thing I am really bad at is asking for help. I wrote a whole post about that last week. So, one of the biggest things I want for her is to know when and how to ask for assistance. This, obviously, starts by establishing a foundation of trust.
But, as we military brats know, trust isn’t the only part of the equation. I trust my parents with every fiber of my being. I know I can ask them for help, but that doesn’t mean I know when I need to. So, how do you teach your child to come to you for a hand?
Growing up, my independence stemmed from my parents explaining how important their trust in me was. Their trust was founded in needing me to function without them sometimes.
I've been trying just to sit next to her while she works through things “alone.” When she gets frustrated, I tell her she’s doing a good job and ask again if she wants help. It’s starting to work. Now, she lets me know when she is all done and wants me to try.
Raising a Civilian Family as a Brat Isn’t So Different
Just like any other parent, it’s important to look at your childhood and embrace the things you loved your parents for doing and try some new things, too. I’m lucky to have had loving, patient parents who set boundaries and worked to establish trust with us. That’s something I hope to do as well.
If your childhood came with larger burdens that you are afraid of passing along to your children, this is where I recommend therapy. It’s crucial for you to work through your trauma so that you can do better for your kids.
It turns out that, a lot of the ways the military affected my family were a gift. My family, though by no means perfect, was and is my safe place. No matter what we had to go through, at least we had each other.