Even though I married a Marine, I wasn’t really supposed to be a military wife. We weren’t supposed to have a military kid.
By the time we were married, my husband had already completed seven years of an eight year enlistment. He was supposed to finish that last year with me, then get out of the military. We would live on my salary while he went to the Police Academy and completed his college degree. That was the plan. So we had a baby (the only one we were supposed to have in a military hospital) and we counted down the days until he would be free. Our lucky kid would have no memory of Dad’s military life.
That was in 2008. Then the Great Recession hit. There were no jobs. The Police Academies announced a hiring freeze that would last at least a year. If I kept my job in Washington DC, we couldn’t afford to live in the area on one salary. He was stuck in the military. We thought and prayed, I made my lists of pros and cons… and we decided that re-enlisting was the best choice.
That was the day we chose his career over mine.
That was the day I became a true military spouse.
That’s the day our baby became a military kid.
She was only a few months old, and we knew that re-enlisting would mean a military career, which would condemn our infant to being a military kid for the next 12 years. Did I feel guilt? Absolutely.
I struggled with a huge decision that would affect the rest of her life. I knew that someday she would question our decision, cry, slams some doors, and yell that we ruined her life. So, to make things a little easier for all of us, I wrote her a letter. Sitting at the computer in the fancy office where I worked, I typed out a letter to my two-month-old baby. Twelve years later, she still has it.
A letter to my military kid upon reenlistment
“Daddy and I are about to make a very important decision. Daddy is a Marine, and he made a promise to work for the Marines until next year. He could be done then and go on to live wherever he wanted and work for someone else.
But instead we have decided to stay in the Marine Corps for at least four more years, probably 12. This is a really big deal! We have been thinking about it for years.
At first we always said that we didn’t want to stay with the military for that long. You see, Daddy’s job is very honorable and he works very hard, but the military asks a lot from him. He has to leave for long periods of time and go to dangerous places. They also get to decide where our family will live, and they usually make families move every three years.
We have been talking a lot about what will be best for you, and even though it will be hard sometimes, we think that staying in the Marine Corps will work out great for all of us. If we stay with the Marine Corps, Mommy can quit working and stay home with you every day, which will be awesome! We can play games and draw pictures and bake things and go for walks to the playground and have lots of fun together! We don’t have to buy a house then because the Marines will provide one for us, so we can save up all our money for you to go to school. Then, when you are 13, we will be done and we can live near our families.
There is one big bad part: We will have to live further away from all your grandparents and aunts and uncles. This has been the hardest thing to accept, because we know they will want to see you, and mommy and daddy will miss being able to visit them all the time. We aren’t sure yet where we will live, but there isn’t anywhere very close by.
Looking back, we can see that the Marine Corps has been a good choice for us, even though it has sometimes been hard. It is made both Mommy and Daddy better people. The more I thought about leaving the Marine Corps, the more we both felt stressed and unhappy. When I think about staying, I am excited and relieved. So we’re going to do it!
I know you won’t understand it now, but I hope you will appreciate it when you are older. We love you so much, and this is how we can take care of you right now. Someday, you may be frustrated and you might miss Daddy when he is gone, or be upset that we have to move away from your friends. I want you to know that we have thought and prayed about all these things, and we think the benefits outweigh the sacrifices we will have to make.
I love you sooooo much! Kisses, Mommy”
12 years later, we don’t regret military life
Even now, reading those words makes me sentimental. I didn’t know that we would be sent to North Carolina, then overseas to Spain, then to California. I didn’t know we would have four more babies. We haven’t lived near family for any of my childrens’ lives. But we have made it work. Family has visited us, and we have Skyped them. Their Dad has done four seven-month deployments during their lives, and will soon prepare for another. But they have also had the opportunity to grow up in a foreign country and make friends around the world. They have grown strong and empathetic from all the moves.
And I was able to stay home with them. For twelve years, I have been with my children every day. Yes, we have “played games, drawn pictures, and baked things.” We have taken so many walks to the playground. More importantly, I have been their rock and their shelter when Dad is gone. There is so much love in our family, and that makes all the sacrifices worth it. Even though we never planned to have this life, my military kids are doing great.
Every April we celebrate the Month of the Military Child. This is a time to research and appreciate all the challenges that military kids face.
You can find support and encouragement for raising your own military kids with my book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses. There are letters to help you talk to military kids about moving and deployment. And you’ll also discover encouragement for those tough parenting moments when the kids are acting out, or having trouble at a new school. You can buy Open When on Amazon, purchase it directly from the publisher, or order an autographed copy here.