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On Being a Military “Brat”

Challenges Military Children Faces, and the Effects on Their Well-Being

There are numerous studies that have been published in journals and other accredited sources on the impact of constantly moving that affects the family dynamics, especially in regards to children and their well-being.

Most child psychologist and family counselors will state all the negative impact of not establishing “roots” by periodically moving to a new area, specifically with school-age children. Statistics have shown that in a lot of custody disputes, family court judges are more likely to side with a parent who is able to show such “roots” in the forms of extended family support, established medical and dental care, a permanent residence, and especially in school enrollment. Most active-duty military parents have a hard time winning a custody dispute because of this very lack of permanency.

Since the post-9/11 era, with the outpouring of support to our troops, there has been some laws created by the government to try to protect military members in an uneven playing field when it comes to things like this; but the fact remains, that in most situations, the judge will most likely decide that the parent with a permanent residence “is in the best interest of the child”.

I’ve had to personally deal with such a proceeding before, so I’m familiar with the situation; and it’s a bitter reality to swallow, but a great parent is one that does what is best for the child, not what the parent wants instead. It’s hard to argue against the other parent when both of you are good parents, but one of the parents will be constantly relocating every few years; and in those situations the judge usually decides in favor of the parent who isn’t globe-trotting.

Being a military family is especially hard on the children; and in the studies that I’ve read, none of them seem to deal with the culture of constantly moving for military children. The studies were conducted on children of different ages, gender, socio-economic backgrounds, education levels, etc.; but they focused on children moving for general reasons like finances, divorces and separations — there are no mentions of military children in any of the accredited studies and reliable sources that were available online.

In my latest relocation (the third one so far), I’ve had to deal with hardships like enrolling my daughter into a new school district. When I felt that the district was violating IDEA and ADA laws, I ended up filing a complaint with the US Department of Education against the district, and enrolling my daughter into the next county’s school district instead. (I have to say, I was a strong opponent of Betsy DeVos, but I’ve come to appreciate her statement of every parent having the right to choose the best choice of school for their child.)

Young children are like sponges, they soak up everything they see or hear. We as parents often forget that our children understand so much more than we realize. The difficulties of a military child even being enrolled into a new school system is often overlooked, because when rare studies are done on military children, they are usually done on children who live and attend school on the military base. What is often not taken into consideration are military children that attend school in civilian school districts, and the difficult barriers that they often face.

Whether this is the reasoning behind the lack of better transitioning remains to be determined. It would be great if every military child can attend a DoD school on a military installation where transitioning is a lot smoother, but the fact remains that there is not even adequate housing to accommodate all service personnel, which requires a lot of military families to live off-post. Other reasons like a boost in pay also prompts some servicemen to live off base, and for others it’s a matter of personal preference, but school systems are often not thought of. Once a family is off-post, the military also has a lot less responsibility towards the family. Services are not as readily available as they otherwise would be, such as family counseling.

When people hear the term “military brat”, they think of some great adventure of traveling around the world, and all the great exposures to different cultures, societies, and experiences — not enough is talked about the hardships these so-called “brats” are faced with when dealing with a lack of consistency and permanence, especially during the school-aged years when most long term relationships are beginning to form or are developed.

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