Military Family Life

There are some major differences that you might experience growing up in a military family. These differences are not better or worse than growing up anywhere else, but there are special challenges that you may face.

Here are some things that you might experience growing up in military family, and some ways you can support yourself and suggest to others who want to support you!

Strength and Pride

Growing up in a military family can teach you to be strong in different ways. You understand the responsibility and sacrifice that can come with service. You may also have a sense of the military community that surrounds you.

Things you can do for yourself

  • Share your story of service with trusted adults and friends
  • Educate those around you about the commitment that accompanies this kind of service
  • Create a sense of military pride in your community or form a group to support your loved one- sending letters, care packages

Ways to support someone you know

  • Understand that the family members of a military member serve too
  • Recognize the sacrifice with a simple thank you, or wear a support our troops pin or ribbon
  • Ask how you can support their loved one (through being a pen pal, sending care packages, organizing community events)
Transition

Changing schools and leaving behind friends and activities is never easy. As a youth from a military family, you may be called on to make these changes much more than others. If you are moving often, you may fall into the trap of becoming isolated from others.

Things you can do for yourself

  • Accept that relocation may happen and focus on the time you have, not on the possibility of leaving.
  • Learn more about how to manage loss (there’s a section right here on TeenCentral!)
  • Create a memory book to take along with you- include pictures, write down memories and save contact information for friends.
  • Seek out a military youth program in your area.

Ways to support someone you know

  • Help them to find their way in a new area- respect their situation but don’t don’t treat them differently.
  • Reach out to local military installations and ask about how you can help new families that may come to the area.
  • Suggest some local activities, that they might like, groups they can join, places to shop or eat that could help them feel more at home.
Deployment, temporary duty or training separations

Watching one of your parents or family members leave on training missions or war can be incredibly difficult. Return home can also be challenging. Although you are overjoyed to have them back safely, there is an adjustment period where roles, routines and responsibilities have to be changed or adapted. There is also a chance that your loved one could return with a physical or psychological injury, which can create additional stress for the family.

Things you can do for yourself

  • Maintain connection with your family member as much as possible through all available media, like writing letters, emailing, calling or video-chatting.
  • Talk to staff at your school about accommodating you- by giving you time for phone calls or video-chats during the school day (if time zone differences are not allowing you to speak to your loved one after school).
  • Record special events, or save special items (like souvenirs) for when they return and give them a gift basket of things they missed.
  • Prior to your loved one leaving, create a special activity that you can each do to remind you of the other- an example might be a specific song to sing, or a picture that you both have a copy of.

Ways to support someone you know

  • Be mindful of the fact that someone could be struggling with this transition and give them time, space and patience.
  • Use caution when you speak, do not assume that a person has both parents/caregivers at home.
  • Continue to make life events special for them- ask them what would be helpful to make things easier- sometimes, simple recognition that someone is missing can be enough.
  • Try to include the military personnel in fundraising opportunities or service efforts made by community groups.
Responsibilities

When a family member is deployed, you may take on additional responsibilites in your family. These responsibilities can be physical and emotional. This challenge can build strength and maturity, but it can also become overwhelming at times.

Things you can do to help yourself

  • Remember that you don’t have to be strong at every moment and that you can (and should) speak up if you need help.
  • Get some support of your own- there may be others who can support you while you are supporting your own family, like youth leaders, coaches, teachers and guidance counselors who can help make life easier for you.
  • Reach out to school staff- if you are falling behind with assignments due to your shifting family responsibilities, communicate with them about what’s going on.
  • Creat a time management schedule for yourself to keep things in control.
  • Continue to do the things that you love – things like hanging out with friends, enjoying activities and spending time for yourself, may be more limited, but don’t stop doing them, because they help you cope.

Ways to support someone you know

  • Let them know that you are available to help and that it’s okay to ask for help.
  • See what responsibilities you might be able to share- small things like mowing someone’s lawn or running an errand can help.
  • Get the community involved in the effort to support the family on a larger scale.
The discussion of war

News and media spend a lot of time talking about the U.S. military and wars overseas, and there is also the matter of public opinion that is freely discussed. Exposure to this discussion could affect you personally. It could be stressful to see and hear the news when you have a loved one overseas.

What you can do for yourself

  • Monitor your feelings closely and take breaks when you need them- if the news is on and it’s stressful, turn it off or if people are talking, walk away or ask them to stop.
  • Let the people around you know that someone you love is deployed so that they can support you.
  • Increase your support system to manage your stress level, this could be with family, safe and trusted friends or a group.
  • Channel your anxiety into a positive activity- participate in something that makes you feel good to help you get some of those feelings out. It could be a sport, a hobby or an act of service in your community.

Ways you can support someone you know

  • Listen and be supportive.
  • Be mindful of what you say-you don’t know who is dealing with the challenges of missing a loved one who is in the military or who has returned.
  • Share with others what you know about the challenges of being in a military family and encourage them to be mindful of what they say.

If you are looking for some tools to help you cope- check out the TeenCentral ToolBox to find a schedule for time management and instructions to create a Dreamcatcher Board!

Loss

In some cases, you may have to cope with the death of a family member, or a friend of the family who was on active duty. Even when loved ones return, there can be ambiguous loss, meaning that some loved ones will return injured or different from the way they were when they left, leaving you missing what you had before.

What you can do for yourself

  • Accept the possibility of loss and share your thoughts and feelings with a safe and trusted adult as they come up.
  • Consider journaling your experiences to share with a loved one when they return.
  • Reach out to a military youth support group in your area to talk with people who have similar concerns.

Ways you can support someone you know

  • Be a safe and available person to talk to.
  • Include the person in activities or events to lift their spirits.
  • Share in their memories of the person they are missing, allow them to talk about their memories.