As parents, we know that our behavior has an impact on our children. As military families, we assume that the “military life” has an even a greater impact on them. With the frequent moves, deployments, new schools, new peers groups and new routines, these factors mold our military children. However, in a study published by the Military Medicine and the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, the most contributing factor to having a well-adjusted military child is the relationship with mom (or dad, depending on who the civilian parent might be.)
The 2003 study states that a good relationship with your children can become a buffer for the stressful factors the military family endures. Factors such as length of time in one location, age of the child, peer groups and social behavior were considered and reviewed in this study. The findings were fascinating to discover; both heartbreaking and reassuring at the same time.
Frequent Moves Affect Military Kids
According to the study, military children who move more frequently experience a greater difficulty making new friends, have more difficulty in school and more emotional and behavior problems. However, researchers believe that the longer children have lived in one residence, the better their peer relationship and less loneliness they (children) reported.
Moving is a fact of life for many of us. Many military career decisions are based on upcoming assignments and relocation. Active duty members worry about the affects of changing schools/location may have on their children. Many chose to leave the service altogether. Others decide to move to the next assignment alone and leave the family behind to ensure stability for their children. Most of our civilians counterparts never have make these difficult decisions for their family.
The military life for a child can be more challenging depending on their age. If they have just entered school for the first time or they are in their adolescent years forming strong peer groups, the study suggests that these groups struggle more with relocation. Researchers believe these groups are vulnerable because of their current development stage. Both groups are struggling to separate from their parents at each of their different stages.
The upside: there are many positive effects of being a military kid. The study states, “…many adolescent children reported leaving friends, changing schools and navigating new surroundings as stressful, but the ability to start over and “recreate themselves” at a new location was perceived as positive. It was found that the more moves military children had experienced, the higher their participation in social activities. Thus, moving may promote the child’s learning to adjust to new situations.” This little fact just confirms what we already know about our kids and ourselves.
The Mom Affect
Whether you are mom or dad, the civilian member of your home offers the greatest gift to a military child. We become the buffer to the stressful factors that most military kids must endure.
According to the study, “…a positive mother-child relationship may reduce children’s experience of loneliness and serve as a buffer against the ill effects of children’s experience in social isolation.”
Researchers found that if a maternal figure in the home had a positive attitude toward military life and a strong marriage, the children were more likely to feel secure and adjust well to new environments. It also found that if the family unit as a whole enjoyed spending time together and invested in the family relationship, the military child was less likely to feel anxiety and depression. The bottom line: the better the relationship you have between yourself and your child, the better chance they will have adjusting to new situations during relocation.
The same can be said for the opposite. The study sited that in almost every mother-child pairing, the mother’s depressive symptoms were directly correlated with the child’s feelings of sadness and anxiety. This fact stood out to me because it demonstrated how we directly impact our children. Whatever the perception mothers have of their military lifestyle will be the way their own children view the world. The greatest takeaway from this study is how we, as military families, can directly affect our children’s perception of their childhood.
We Make A Difference
I came away with a newfound sense of worth after reading this study. I realize that I have far more influence over the happiness and well being of my children than the never-ending uncertainty of life as a military family.
As the PCS season rapidly approaches, I will try to listen to my kids more and lecture less. I will tickle more and chose my words more carefully. I will hug more and spend less time on the computer. I will kiss and hug my husband more in front of my kids so they know we are together as a family, no matter where we live. The truth is that as long as my family is healthy, happy and together, our children will thrive. As their mother, how I view of our family and military life will affect or taint their view of the world. With this knowledge, I can make better decisions for them.
I look to the multiple generations of military children, like my father, uncle and cousins, and realize that military children are resilient. As long as parents give them the love and support they need, military children will rise to any occasion in which they are called upon – just like the United States military. Just like their dad.
Interested in reading the full study?
Military Medicine 168 12-1019, 2003
Michelle L. Kelly PhD
Contributors: Lisa B Finkel PsyD: Michelle L. Kelly PhD: Jayne Ashby, BS
*A previous version of this article appeared in Military Spouse Magazine.