Here are some of the secrets we don’t tell our military kids


(Photo: US Marines, Pfc. Abrey Liggins)

By Lizann Lightfoot

There are numerous articles which praise the strength and resilience of military kids. For the most part, I agree with them. I have four children who don’t know anything besides military life, and so far they are all doing well. Even though we move every few years, experience multiple deployments, have never lived near family members, and spent part of their childhood overseas, our military brats have adapted well. They have handled the challenges of military life with a strength and toughness I didn’t have at their ages.

Nevertheless, it’s not all dandelions and roses for military kids. Military life is hard. When kids are young, they don’t understand the reasons for deployments and all the PCS moves. Sometimes I try my best to assure them it will be easier someday. Other times, when it seems they are doing well, I just let them continue on their merry way. Aren’t they better off not knowing that they are missing out on “norma”‘ civilian lives?

This means I keep lots of secrets from my military kids. There are days full of worry and stress that I work hard to shield them from. Some secrets are for their own good: Dad is in combat and I am very scared for him right now. Others are little white lies about military life: Sure, Bobby can still be your best friend, even though he is moving 3,000 miles away next month.

Don’t all military families keep some secrets from their kids?

Whether I am putting on a brave face and encouraging them to get used to a new duty station or reassuring them that all kids struggle with missing parents, I don’t always get to be completely honest with my children. So let’s take a moment to be honest with ourselves. Most military spouses keep some of these secrets from their military kids.

Here are the secrets we don’t tell our military kids

  1. No, that toy isn’t lost. I threw it out during the last PCS because I was so sick of hearing it.
  2. When we move, I miss my friends, too.
  3. Not everyone appreciates what the military does.
  4. Sometimes I wonder if re-enlisting was the right choice for us.
  5. If it wasn’t for cheap programs on base, you would never get to play sports.
  6. Sorry, honey, I have no idea where we will live next year.
  7. I wish I could have had four stamps in my passport before Kindergarten!
  8. Before deployment, I am scared and angry, too.
  9. During deployment, I let you stay up later snuggling because I really miss Dad.
  10. I’m sorry if I don’t give you enough attention. Sometimes I am just so tired.
  11. When you cry at bedtime, I leave the room and go cry, too.
  12. I got half of your toys for free from neighbors who were moving.
  13. Sometimes I feel homesick for our last duty station.
  14. I only signed up for this unit event because it had free childcare. You will go and you will like it, because Mommy needs a break.
  15. When your class says the Pledge of Allegiance, I have tears in my eyes every time.
  16. I don’t really care if you draw on that table. We’re getting rid of it when we move anyway.
  17. I’m glad you are too young to remember the times we waited in line for free groceries.
  18. I have no idea what country your deployed parent is in right now.
  19. I cringed when I heard about the daddy/daughter dance on base, because I know your dad won’t be able to take you.
  20. I wish you actually knew your aunts and uncles.
  21. I’m not interested in setting up play dates right now. We’re moving in a month!
  22. I liked your last school a lot better than this one.
  23. I know this life isn’t fair for you, and you have no idea how much that hurts me.
  24. I went to the same grade school and had the same friends for eight years. . . and I totally took it for granted.
  25. I count the days until you will have your own military ID and can pick up things from the commissary for me!
  26. Whenever you have a bad day and say you wish we could go back to the last duty station, it stabs my heart.
  27. I hope you will never, ever know how it feels to be handed a folded flag.
  28. I’m sorry you have never seen snow.
  29. I’m not sure where we will settle someday in a “forever home.”
  30. I will never forget the way your face lights up on homecoming day.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at lizann@militaryoneclick.com.

38 Comments

  1. As a grown military child, I can tell you that you aren’t as good at keeping these secrets as you think! When the kids are really young they don’t understand, but as they get older they still have those memories and then they will understand all your secrets. Life isn’t perfect ; it’s all in what you make of it!

    1. True statement! I too am a grown military kid and active duty spouse, as well as our children. When we come together they remember.

    2. This is 100% true. As I have gotten older in this lifestyle, I have put it all together. Though it is hard, I still wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  2. Great article! We’ve been living this military life for 20 years and our oldest is 16. Some of these I didn’t keep secret because I felt it helped my children know they weren’t alone in what they felt. I told them I missed daddy too when we all would sleep in my bed our have our “slumber parties” in the living room every time dad was gone. I would also let them know I missed my friends and our last home/town. I made sure they knew they could keep in touch with old friends but it will now be way different. However I reminded them God will always provide and He knows who they will met next. It is definitely a different and at times challenging life but I feel many blessings have come from it.

  3. I sit here and sob as I read every one of these . It’s so true ! Thank God they don’t know. It doesnt get any easier after retirement. I miss the security of the service. Job certainty! And some how as retirees your kids don’t qualify any more when they have the month or week of the military child at school .

    1. I can so relate. Our oldest were gone and on their own, but our 2 younger kids 6 and 11 at the time are still struggling to fit in to our new community. After retirement it felt like we were kicked to the curb when it came to the kids activities. It went from everything to nothing. Everytime for year I looked at activities on base and it always said for active duty or deployed families only. Well our kids moved 3 times and 2 new schools in the year after we retired and settled. They needed that community and it wasnt there after 24 yrs of service. I guess somewhere they think that all retired kids have it together or are in college.

  4. This is heart felt. 25 plus year and 17 PCS I understand everything said. My 2 kids thst are adults now are military brats ( nick name) Things have changed alot during our time in the military. Most Respect for our military families and all military because not everyone can be military or wife/ husband,child of the military.

  5. Thank you! Thank you for the sacrifices: time lost with your family and friends, time lost and worry spent go your service member, the blood, sweat, and fear your service member endures, and so much more!

  6. My wife’s best friend killed a spider that was “threatening” her when they were 6. They were seperated by many PCS changes but reconnected several times over the years. We now live near her best friend and 45 years later they do girls night out almost every month or occasionally double date.

  7. I grew up in a military family and those secrets aren’t as well-kept as you think! Even younger children understand the tension of not knowing where the absent spouse is or whether he or she is okay. My kids grew up in one place and I discovered how much my growing up all over the world made a difference in my perception of other people and cultures. I know the downside; I lived it. The upside is your kids will have had opportunities and experiences they would never have had in civilian life.

  8. Yes they make all these sacrifices,move all these places,spend time away from them families and I was SHOCKED to learn what some of their pay is a year. It’s a shame that the men and women that fight for our country do not make anymore than they do.

  9. My dad was Air Force for 26 1/2 years. I’m the oldest of seven children. Dad did two tours in Vietnam, one in Turkey, 18 months in Taiwan, and while we were in Germany he went to “Site Alpha”. I’m sure Mom worried much more than she ever showed. So many of your secrets are right on! For us kids moving was “normal”. I didn’t and still don’t make close friends easily, you’ll never see them again.

  10. For this brat it was alot like The Great Santini- tough dad, scared kids – except, it wasn’t over in two hours 😢.

    1. Brought tears to my eyes. Because I Was a military child I learned to adapt, my daughter says I’ve never met a stranger, and I still have some of those childhood friends. I joined the Air Force and raised 3 military children. Mine kind of lucked out tho. Our last duty station was when they were 11, 8, and 5 years old. So they did mostly grow up in one city with the same friends although all the extended family is still 1000 miles away.

  11. When you see your child cry when going to a new school because he doesnt know anyone. Its awful and i tried to brave for him but it breaks my heart and i end up crying too.

  12. Though being a military family can be very hard at times it is also extremely rewarding. We raised 3 children during my husband’s 23 yr career in the Marine Corps. Yes, we all sacrificed for the Corps, but it made us a stronger family. We appreciated our precious limited time together. Our children are adults now. They are still friends with other military kids. As a matter of fact our sons are both married to girls that they met in Junior High while we were stationed at Camp Lejeune. Yes, we shed many tears during that 23 yrs, had many “see you later” and glorious welcome homes, these were all things that made us who we are today. A strong, loving, supportive family. Yes, there were times I would have given anything for my kids to have their Dad home every night, we all knew he was doing an important job.

  13. Growing as a military brat, I learned to just go with the flow. As a military spouse, raising 5 children, it was my turn to teach my children how to cope with the changes. I took every PCS move, field duties, TDY’s, and deployments, and tried to install as many good memories as I could. As my kids got older and could understand the reality of it all, they helped to give the same to the younger ones. I am proud to say that I have been lucky. My husband always came home. Our children have grown into well adjusted adults and are now raising their children to become as well adjusted. U am the proud wife of a retired Army sergeant, the mother of a veteran son and two son in laws. My daughters have carried on the tradition of a military spouse and mother with grace. I also have a daughter in law who is a veteran. We are a proud military family and I am honored to be a part of our nations elite…..The military family.

  14. I never kept any of these from my kids. I let them be kids but in this life I don’t believe it is a good idea to hide this from them. To be a strong family in the military is more important because you don’t have long term relationships. You really are all each other has and it is important to let them know what is going on so they learn to not be selfish and to be caring and understanding to their siblings, parents, neighbor, etc. I don’t believe in hiding reality from children. They don’t need to be involved in adult issues like mom and dads fights but they do need to understand mommy is scared and even daddy is scared too but that is why we have each other. I grew up a military brAt. My dad deployed twice and hated how everyone around me acted like I didn’t know what was going so I was left alone and confused. Kids know so be honest.

  15. There is nothing true about this article. whoever family this is are dirt bags there should be no reason to hide anything from kids or go visit family the only person that has to be there when you really think about is that service memeber. The spouse and kids can go on vacation visit family enjoy that station until orders hit and restart the process. Now if you are family that can’t balance money or got married to young I can understand this article. But if now than you are selling yourself short and you have nobody to blame but yourself. Both my parent was active army and now am active marine corps.

    1. As an army brat growing up and a retiree now after 20 year, I do disagree with you on no secrets. My father was a veitnam vet that never talked about it. That is till I had been in combat. My grandfather was the same till my dad came back. There are things that my wife and kids don’t need to know and will never find out from me. I have told my wife some things now that it is over and it upsets her to know. Life is hard for everyone in the military. As a marine your should know that somethings are better left unsaid. Be safe out there.

  16. Just a few to add to your great list: 1. Once daddy/mommy deploys, you will only get to see them for 15 days out of the next year. 2. Prior to daddy/mommy deployment (Army), they have to go to NTC and prior to that they have many field times that they have to do in order to deploy. 3. If you see two military people in full dress uniform in your neighborhood, they are there to tell someone that their loved one has died. Thank you for the great article.

  17. Its definitely a struggle, no matter how tough you think you are or how long you have been doing it, things never get easier. I am an Active Duty Member in the United States Marines and I will say through all the work ups before deployments and then the actual deployments and just time spent away I always find myself heartbroken for my kids and my wife. A lot of people don’t give enough credit to the spouses though too. When I leave all of the responsibilities that I once had are now dumped into my wife lap. She doesn’t get a break when I am gone, when she is sick she has to “suck it up” and keep strong for the kids. When she is tired she has to deal with that as well. when she doesn’t want anything but a break she still has to put one foot in front of the other. I find myself asking is this worth it? should I just get out and make things easier on my family? However even when I ask my wife these questions she kind of agrees and then says but you know, the experiences that we get from this life is just unimaginable, and not to mention you get to retire soon and start a new chapter. So I will leave it at this, its not about the time spent away (even though it is rough) its about the time you spend with your family when you have it and how you do it. Trust me I have missed a lot of firsts and holidays and birthday and anniversaries but I try to make it up even if its not on the actual day. This has been a very good article and I appreciate the time spent to share this. Civilians will never know the struggle. Semper Fi

  18. As a military brat (Army 22 years 2 months 7 days) I can tell you that we know much more than you think we do. I moved more often than the modern military does, my Dad retired in 1980. I attended 17 different schools before I graduated from high school. I have lived all over the world, have friends all over the world and would not have changed my life for anything except for a few years from 12 to 15; when I wanted to be “home”. Tough years for any teenaged girl. Your kids will come out on the other side strong, and adaptable. Keep on serving proudly all of you, those of us who have been there before are proud of you, pulling for you, and praying for you and your service members

  19. I am ashamed to admit that, as a military brat, I was in 9th grade before I finally recognized how heartbreaking it was for my mom when Daddy was leaving for deployment. She was always so strong and I was always too devastated to even think that she might be suffering terribly. Standing in the airport that day, the realization suddenly crashed through my consciousness. She wasn’t any different that day than any other time, but I think I grew up that day. It also increased my admiration for my mom.

  20. Maybe you should focus on all the good things being in the service provides you and your kids- that civilians don’t always have-like living in different parts of the world-or govt housing and insurance for when your kids are sick-not all civilians have housing given to them or even health insurance for when they are sick! Yes a lot of sacrifices-but also ALOT OF BENEFITS!

    1. Seriously, you don’t think we don’t?! We do and there are tons of articles about all the good things, but we still have enough to be real on the negatives, too. It’s ridiculous, that people can’t handle that there are negatives, too. There’s nothing worse than watching your babies cry for their daddy, who have nightmares that daddy isn’t coming back, which is often your dear, but you don’t vocalize it, especially to your children, because you want to be strong (you can tell them that you worry about him too, but know God is watching over him).
      Sounds like you have not lived this life as a spouse with kids. Talk to us when you ha e done multiple deployments with your kids, holding them while they cry themselves to sleep, as you cry, because you can’t fix their hurt.

  21. Housing has issues like any home yes we have health care too but its not like doctors in outside world. Sometimes you arent seen for a while and takes a while to find doctor that hrlps issues. Some homes have mold. Some new housing places do not fix homes…currently a lot of leaky roofs here with tarps on them…some civilians have state funding programs for housing and medicaide. Not saying I would have it another way because this pays bills better than what my husband did before but i cant stand ppl ssying oh you have free health care when it is a benefit…its one we have to know how to work with. Referral here, tell dr. YOUR EXPERIENCES SOMETIMES you find a great docyor who does help other times it was a waste of time to go

  22. We kept a lot of secrets, in fact my kids were blissfully ignorant their entire lives. My son caught on to some of it but he was preoccupied doing his thing a lot. Because we always lived on post and they went to post schools my kids truly thought everyone lived like them. My daughter thought everyone off post was homeless. I protected them maybe too much but they’ve turned out great so it was worth it. We loved being in the army through it all, it was the outsiders that didn’t understand our lives.

  23. A bit sexist as it does not acknowledge Dads as military spouses or women serving in the military, only Moms as spouses and Dads as deploying. Otherwise its a good article.

  24. THANK YOU!!! My kids’ dad was in the military for 18 years before we separated. I protected them from as much as I could until it became too obvious to ahield them from it all. I became a single parent/soldier within 6 months of our separation. The kids (now adults) experienced much more than I wish they had…but they are better individuals because of it. Single parent (specifically mom) military household with teenagers was a challenge, but they survived. Im still serving, they have come to see a totally different side of mom…especially after dad became MIA from their lives. I no longer have the need to hide everything they realized on their own.

  25. Yes mommies get deployed as well but that’s hardly mentioned.
    My Jamaica was just six months old when I received orders for desert storm.
    It’s hard being a military spouse but it’s even harder being a military wife and a soldier.
    For those of you who never served nor was never married to a soldier, you have no clue!! But if some of you were to step in our shoes for a bit, you would have more respect for those who served as well as their families and appreciate life more rather than always complaining about petty and irritating issues.

  26. How about I wish your dad didn’t cheat on me while he was deployed. Or he stays angry because when he comes home from deployment we have tried to keep a balanced life and he has to know its a family thing and he longer gets to playcards with his buddies. Because bed time is still 8:30pm for his babies. How about unfortunately divorce is real and sometimes being away from your wife and kids you get to be single and family is not your first or second priority. God knows sometimes we were glad he was deployed too. How about we have to ignore others indecent behavior while her husband was gone. We love the military too but we have always put God first. Im just saying military life was awesome but we all tell big lies sometimes.

  27. He wasn’t high profile, he was a liar and most likely married and wanted you on the side, and unfortunately you believed him. Oh and he was most likely a PFC and not a captain.

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