My son’s frustration grew with each move, but I chose to ignore it.
I had a new job with unique stressors and expectations to focus on, so I didn’t feel I had the luxury of devoting time to my son’s feelings; he would get through it. By the time we reached Fort Knox, Kentucky in September 2017, his frustration had reached a tipping point.
“Dad,” he said shortly after we arrived, “lease don’t move again.”
He was not being disrespectful. He was simply voicing exhaustion with having to pack up his life again, say goodbye to close friends again, endure the stress of a trek across country sitting next to his annoying baby sister, be trapped in exhausting hotel rooms only to again unpack his life in a new place with no friends to hang out with, no fond memories to lean on and no favorite places to look forward to going.
He had put up with four major moves in seven years and multiple minor moves in between.
I appreciated my son’s candor and courage at that moment. As a former Soldier and a father of four children who have endured a combined seven moves and two deployments, I have personally witnessed what military children go through over the course of their parents’ careers.
Do military children have bad days? Of course. Do they have times when they’re sick of moving? I’m sure of it. But one of the great things about what military children generally go through is that they go through it, and grow through it, together.
Still, we as parents have a responsibility to acknowledge our children’s hurts from the difficulty of a move or deployment. We owe it to them to listen — actively, without distractions.
In a Military.com article titled “10 Things Military and Veteran Parents Should Know” by Dr. Carolyn Greene, she recognizes being a military parent can be tough, and suggests that parents “invite your children’s questions, be prepared for tough questions, and use a positive approach.
In a Sept. 19, 2013 Army.mil article by Andrea Stone, titled “Military Families: children grow through challenges,” Dr. Jacqueline Delano, clinical director, school behavioral health, at the Child and Family Assistance Center in Evans Army Community Hospital, Fort Carson, Colorado, reminds us that children do in fact suffer during and after moves.
“We see a lot of adjustment disorders,” Delano said. “(That’s) more of a short-term condition that’s caused from a stressor. Some kids might not have a behavioral disorder, but their behavioral problems are a result of these difficulties adjusting.”
My son is amazingly resilient. Besides the moves, he has gone through the loss of growing up away from close relatives, adjusting to his now 5-year-old sister entering his life, the sudden death of a close cousin and most recently, the unexpected death of his brother in January 2018.
All of this pain and suffering has affected our entire Family in various ways, but our shared grief can easily dismiss the quiet, unassuming pain of a 14-year-old. So when he broke through the silence with his simple request, I listened.
I recognized I had wrongfully assumed my son should just get through it.
These days, I am learning to slow down a bit, put work-related stressors on the back burner a little longer and engage in my son’s world more often.
And as many children of Soldiers and veterans do, my son smiles more. That big belly laugh I so fondly remember from his childhood is beginning to return.
Will we move again? I can’t make that promise to him, and he knows it. Will I ignore him if we do? No. That I can promise, and he knows it.
And one word comes to mind when I’m with him — happy.