by Karina Gafford
Photo Credit Courtesy of Military Child Education Coalition
The doctor presented my baby with a certificate at his wellness check-up this month. At first I thought it was a certificate of good health, and I wondered why he hadn’t received one in previous appointments. Was he healthier this time than usual?
I half-heartedly wondered as I stuffed the certificate into his diaper bag without more than a glance. I needed to get out of there and beat rush hour traffic in DC! When I emptied the bag later that night, I saw that the certificate actually came from the Military Child Education Coalition to thank him for his service as a military child.
Now, as we pack our child’s belongings up for his first PCS, a move half-way across the country from Virginia to Texas, his daddy’s home state, I finally have the strong sense that his upbringing will be different from that of most civilian children. I understand the statistics on military children. I can rattle off how many schools the average military child attends (an average of 6 to 9) and how many more are homeschooled than civilian children (10 percent versus 3 percent at any given time, though one in four are homeschooled at some point during their academic careers). I know that they face challenges that other children do not, such as not having the opportunity to grow up with childhood friends.
But there’s a huge difference between reading the statistics and experiences of military children and actually experiencing the difference. For example, how many of you military moms and dads have had an experience like the following:
Just this morning a fellow military family inquired as to how we are managing sleeping arrangements for our child during the transitory period while part of our belongings sits in storage. Our move period will end just as theirs begins with their new infant, and so we made arrangements to pass on our son’s co-sleeper and swing to them for their transition period. We thought nothing of then making arrangements to store those same items with a family member in Virginia, as we’ll likely return to that area in the future (and hopefully with another tiny tot in tow who’ll need said items). It’s one thing to share your baby items with friends, but really, who makes crazy plans like that?
We project out our life in ways that elicit shuddered responses from family, friends, and acquaintances. I could never do that! Don’t you just want to settle down? My personal favorite: How do you do it? Um, I don’t know? I just do, I guess. It isn’t as if I’m born with some magical ability to unfeelingly just pack up and go.
Military families are resilient; but military children are even more so. While military spouses (not counting those born as military brats, of course) may learn resilience, military children are born into this lifestyle and know nothing else. They aren’t magical either, though. They need our support.
Fortunately, organizations such as the Military Child Education Coalition
recognize that military children need our support. They recognize that military children sacrifice, too.
- Their home town is the one that they remember best because perhaps they lived there for four yearsinstead of the typical two to three, but it isn’t one where they grew up with their friends in the traditional sense.
- Their new best friend may move to Europe after a year.
- They only see grandparents once or twice a year (if they’re lucky).
- They don’t always have the opportunity to develop one sport or skill because their new locale may not support that particular interest.
- Military children are always the new kid at school, and the novelty gets old after a while. Many times their confidence suffers from the many academic transitions they must make.
Only nomadic cultures are prepared for and prize regular movement such as that of what our military children must experience. So, MCEC knew what it was doing when it gave my little guy their thoughtful certificate of gratitude. They aren’t the only organization that recognizes the service and sacrifice of military children, though. We’ve included a short list of some of the organizations that honor military children, but if you know of more, please send them our way!
- Chameleon Kids
In 2014, Chameleon Kids was formed to help all military children, regardless of branch or status, frame their military experiences in a positive way and help them realize they are a part of a larger community. The founders, Janine Boldrin and Amy Crispino, explained that, "As spouses, we plug into a new network within days of our service members receiving orders. We quickly learn the best school districts, connect with new ‘friends of friends’ and schedule orthodontist consults. Kids don't necessarily have these opportunities. And they don't care who their dentist will be! They just want to know if they will walk or ride the bus to school, and if there's something fun to do at their new duty station. By extension, we created Military Kids' Life magazine to encourage military kids to find their adventure. We give military kids the confidence to embrace their challenges and ignite their curiosity to explore their new surroundings."
Sponsored by a DoD grant that recognizes that military children often require additional assistance with homework as a result of a deployed parent or a school transition, Tutor.com provides military children with online tutoring support at no cost to the military family.
- Student 2 Student
This is an MCEC sponsored student-led and student-centered program that helps military children connect with other military children to help make a successful transition to their new school. The children who help welcome new military children have the opportunity to develop their leadership and interpersonal skills while helping ease the transition of those both entering and leaving their school.
- Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)
Based in Northern Virginia, TAPS focuses on supporting surviving family members of fallen warriors. Understanding that our service members are not independent from their family, they represent and support a portion of our extended military family that often remains unrecognized for their sacrifice. To help the children who have lost a service member parent, TAPS offers Good Grief camps for kids, giving them an opportunity to be with others in the same circumstances, learn new coping skills, and a safe place to express themselves.
- National Military Family Association
Like TAPS, NMFA also offers a camp for children, but with a very different focus. NMFA recognizes the difficulty in transitioning back to family life after a deployment. Operation Purple Camp, their week long summer retreat, allows all military children an outlet for their energy through outdoor activities such as zip lining, hiking, and kayaking. Meanwhile, Operation Purple Camp Family Retreat helps military children reconnect with returned deployed family members. Any military spouse who has welcomed home a service member can understand the importance and challenge of reconnection, making this an invaluable service to military families.
MilitaryByOwner recognizes that your PCS requires far more than simply moving your belongings from one home to another; moving your military child’s life is much more of a challenge. Below you can find some of the more recent resources we’ve shared to help you and your military child make a successful transition in your next military relocation.