Adapting to Change in the Military
Army wife Kowanda McBride shares how she helps her son embrace the adventure of military family life as part of the Care.com Interview Series
For the McBride family, moving once every two years is standard. And in these troubled times, McBride and her son couldn't be more proud of their soldier, who is preparing for deployment. While getting used to moves and saying goodbye to friends has been a regular part of life, the 2012 Army Wife Network "Household 6", or Family Manager, contest winner tells Care.com how she plans to take on her husband's first deployment with their son with adventure scrapbooks, lots of communication and of course, a countdown calendar.
Please tell us a little about your military family.
We are an Army family. My husband has been in [the service] for 15 years. Both my husband and I are "brats." We also have sisters, brothers, cousins and uncles that have served or are currently serving.
How do you feel being a military family has influenced your children's perspectives and experiences, if at all?
The impact of the military lifestyle influences our children's perspective as well as our own by expanding our world views, because we get to move all over the United States and to other countries. Being able to experience different cultures and traditions, whether it is a region in the United States, OCONUS [Outside the Continental United States] or the military community itself, can open up our minds to new ideas.
Do you believe military kids have differing needs as compared to their civilian peers?
Yes. Military kids have to learn to adapt to deployments, frequent moves, new schools and new friends. All these carry the unknown factor. The unknown is scary for adults, too. Being able to adapt is a good thing. But it can be tiring. Sometimes you just want things to stay the same.
How frequently does your family experience moving? How do you support your children through moves and what are their reactions?
We average about one move every two years. I treat each move as an adventure. I sit with my son and "research" our new destination. We look at the garrison [Army post] webpage, housing, schools and tourism sites. I also find out if anyone we know is at the next duty station or if anyone we know is getting ready to move there too. I talk about all the fun and neat things we will get to do. I also acknowledge that it stinks to have to leave our friends. I admit that I'll be sad to say goodbye. I find some good things to talk about in relation to the upcoming move and focus on that. If there are people we know there or are going to be there, I make sure I mention them, look at photos of those friends from a previous duty station and check out the Facebook pages. I think it is really important for parents to keep a positive attitude and to acknowledge children's feelings.
If your family has experienced any deployments or long separations, how do you and your children navigate the separations?
We are getting ready to go through our first deployment with our son. We've talked about Daddy having to go away for a year and how that makes us feel. I let my son know that I'll miss Daddy, too. My husband has let our son know that he will miss us. We've talked about how we can write letters, postcards, phone calls and skype to keep in touch. My son and I have researched together some things we are going to do while Daddy is away. This deployment will be hard on him but I will make sure I do everything I can to help him get through it.
Do you have any meaningful, creative or fun tips and strategies for supporting your family through the separation and reunion?
We are going to scrapbook our adventures while Daddy is deployed. This way our son can share what he has done while his Dad was away. We just started taking Karate classes as a family. This is to keep us active and doing something together. We'll probably do a countdown calendar with extra days (just in case).
How might your child describe life in a military family? What's special about it? What do they love? What's challenging?
I do know that he finds moving challenging. He doesn't like to leave his friends. Who does? He loves everything military, from the equipment to the uniform. He wants everything in his size so he can go to work like his dad. [He said] the best part of being a military family is that his dad can save and protect people if he has to.
What pointers would you give/have you offered to other families entering into military life?
My advice to other families entering the military life is to treat this life as an adventure, make the most of every duty station and to take the classes offered by ACS (Army Family Team Building, parenting, finance, leadership, etc.).
What would you say/do your children say is the overall greatest challenge they faced as being part of a military family? How did you support each other through the challenges?
I think the greatest overall challenge we face as military families is our family dynamic. The family dynamic changes when our Soldier deploys. We have to adjust to our Soldier being away for a year. We then have to adjust to our Soldier being home. During that separation, life continues on and we change. It's easier to adjust to change and growth when the family shares experiences together. When a family is separated, we miss out, and it takes time to "catch up."
How do you believe being a military child has shaped you as an adult?
I didn't know it then, but the greatest benefit for me when I was a military child was gaining a larger and more open world view. Because of the mobility in the military lifestyle, I got to live in various parts of the United States and one overseas location. I experienced different cultures and ways of life. You know, the military is its own melting pot with people from all kinds of different backgrounds and social economic statuses. As a young child, I didn't recognize or put value on those differences. Instead I recognized that there are differences but still felt that we were all the same.
The greatest challenge for me was the moving. I was in the third grade when I realized that if we weren't moving soon than my friends probably were. For awhile after that realization, I made less of an effort to make close friends. I think the challenge of moving and leaving friends behind made me see the importance of making friends and keeping in touch with them. You never know who will impact your life. Social networking has really made keeping in touch with friends so much easier.
If you had to write the book on raising a thriving military child, what would be the top tips you would include?
Focus on the good stuff, acknowledge your child's feelings (and your own!), establish routines, celebrate and hold onto family traditions, and connect with the community by volunteering and joining organizations.
Check out the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Making the Most of Military Childhood »
Kowanda McBride "grew up" in the military. She has been married to her husband Ryan McBride for 11 years. They have one energetic and inquisitive son who is 6 years old. Kowanda is a SAHM and considers herself a professional volunteer. She enjoys volunteering in various capacities wherever they are stationed- she is particularly fond of AFTB and AFAP. Kowanda is the 2012 winner of the HH6 for Army Wife Network. She feels that a quote from Martha Summerhayes just about sums it up for her : "I had cast my lot with a Soldier and where he was, was home to me". You can find more from Kowanda and the Army Wife Network on Twitter and Facebook.
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