How to Raise Champion Military Kids
Molly Blake and her family have moved four times in the last seven years. While there's no doubt that these moves have been difficult for the two young Blake daughters, their mom will tell you that they are some serious champs when it comes to adapting. The Marine wife and web editor of Blue Star Families tells Care.com why she stays calm during moves and how she's figured out a way for her girls to get a kiss from their Daddy every day - even while he's deployed.
Please tell us a little about your military family.
My name is Molly Blake and I am a freelance writer and the web editor for Blue Star Families. My husband is an active duty United States Marine Corps aviator who is currently serving as the Commanding Officer of VMA 311 "The Tomcats" aboard MCAS Yuma. We are nearing the 20-year mark in service to our nation! The day I met my husband is the day I met my first active duty member of the military. And I married him!
How do you feel being a military family has influenced your children's perspectives and experiences, if at all?
My two children are champion military kids. They are very understanding when it comes to their dad's frequent and extended absences and have become extremely independent as such. When it's time to move, as we do, they don't complain or whine about missing their friends as they know that wherever we land, we will be welcomed by fellow military families and since the USMC is so small, they have come to realize that we will also probably know someone at the next duty station.
How have your girls adapted so well to these transitions?
I have tried to instill a lot of independence in my children -- and I have done that through a variety of ways. At home, they have many chores ("way more than my friends, Mom!") including emptying the dishwasher, laundry folding, trash, etc. and they are not given an allowance for these chores - now whether you agree with that decision or not, I feel it has helped them understand the 'family' dynamic a bit more which helps them understand that we move because we are a family. We work together and pitch in because daddy is not home every night at 6 for dinner or to help put out the trash. And they surely cannot verbalize all this but they understand.
Do you believe military kids have differing needs as compared to their civilian peers?
This is a difficult question to answer. Do they have differing needs? It depends on the day, I suppose, as their father is currently deployed, so some days are better than others. But on the days that we talk about my husband and all he is doing for our nation and strangers in far away lands, they are more mindful of each other, I think. So I think they realize the need for each other perhaps more than civilian children.
Since it's just the three of us (my daughters and I) a lot of the time, the time they have alone together is very special and precious. At night, I hear them talking about the day -- school, recess happenings, and where daddy is at the time and it's those conversations where I hear their support for each other.
How do you support your children through moves and what are their reactions?
We have moved four times in the last seven years, and I have to say that moving and how your children react to it is ENTIRELY dependent on how the parents deal with it. If you are stressed and uneasy about a move, then your children will be. If you are negative and complain about moving, then your children will be too. I always treat moving like an adventure and my children react in kind. Parents who dwell on the difficult parts of the move - and believe me it is difficult - will find their children stressed out. It's all about the approach and finding the positive parts about a new home!
Check out the Top 7 Mistakes When Moving in the Military »
How do you and your children navigate deployments or long separations?
My husband is currently serving his fifth deployment - and we have weathered them all differently. My children miss their father but we are lucky that we can "see" him via Facetime. He is also very good about writing letters to them at least once a week. We also keep a daddy journal where they write down their feelings.
Do you have any fun tips for supporting your family through the separation and reunion?
We have a Hersey Kiss jar - it's filled with a chocolate kiss for each child for each day my husband is gone. They get a "kiss" from Daddy every single day! And for things like the 'kiss" jar, they remind each other to dig into the bowl and get excited to see the bottom nearer.
How might your children describe military life? What are some challenges and what makes it so special?
I'm sure my children would lament about not being closer to grandparents and cousins, but they are also young and surely their perspective will change and change again. But because we don't have immediate family nearby - as many military families do not - we tend to rely on our close military friends and treat them as family. As such, we have dear friends whom we support and help out and they, in turn, do the same for us. For example, my garage door was broken and I happened to mention it to a military pal - her husband was at my house that evening and fixed it. And surely the favor will be returned very soon. Another example is moving - when we found out we were moving to Virginia a few years ago, my friend put me in touch with a fellow Marine spouse. I had never met her and yet we began to communicate almost immediately about everything from hairstylists to yard guys and more. To this day, we are dear friends.
What's the "darndest thing" you've ever heard your children say regarding military life?
I refuse to get a dog and so my children love to quote me as saying, "when Daddy is not a Marine, then we get a dog." They assume this is the norm for all families so when they see other kids with dogs, as pets, they immediately point out that they "must not be Marine families."
What pointers would you give/have you offered to other families entering into military life?
There are innumerable and amazing aspects to military life - embrace them all! I would also remind folks to reach out to organizations like Blue Star Families and local base support agencies to maintain a connection with other families experiencing military life.
If you had to write the book on thriving as a military child, what would be the top tips you would include?
Expect the unexpected. Find friends and keep in touch with them. It's a small community. Remember that you are unique and take pride in being a part of the military community as not everyone is lucky enough to say they are a Marine kid!
Check out the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Making the Most of Military Childhood »
Molly Blake is a freelance writer and the web editor for Blue Star Families. Molly holds a Master of Arts degree in English and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. Her published works have appeared in newspapers, blogs, magazines and web sites. Her focus is on military family and spouse issues including moving, deployments, education and spouse employment. Molly also blogs for the popular Yuma, AZ site YumaMom.com. Find more from Molly and Blue Star Families on Twitter and Facebook