In person, particularly for brief encounters, you may not recognize how abnormal they may be. But if you take the time to get to know them, assuming they let you in to do so, you'll find them quite unique. They suffer from what I call The Military Brat Syndrome.
I note that this affliction doesn't just affect children of military personnel. You will find many of the same issues in children of diplomats, and children of parents who frequently moved from place to place.
Imagine if you will a child raised in a non-military family. Over the course of their child-rearing years, the family may change homes few times within a small geographic area. But more likely for the largest part of our country and others, 'normal' kids may grow up in the same house until they leave as adults. In the course of their youth, they develop friends from an early age, many of whom are still friends when they become adults. Their family usually extends to nearby grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, and often their parents' friends become almost like family members.
These children usually have extended support systems - family and friends who encourage them in social activities. They often stay in touch with favorite teachers, and they have a strong sense of community.
We military brats don't have any of that. In my case, I attended fifteen schools before graduating high school. Every time I made friends, it would be time to move. In those days before email, social media, and unlimited calling plans, it was difficult to stay in touch. We tried a few times, but with long waits for responses and the fact that our friends were moving too, it proved impossible for most of us.
Obviously, we didn't develop a sense of community, and moving as much as we did, it was hard to get close to extended family who we usually saw briefly only when relocating - if we happened to be passing through.
On the other hand, most of us learned a lot about other cultures. If we moved internationally, we lived in countries with different languages and customs.
Moving again and again, even within the US, sometimes created culture shock. As one example, I lived in Hawaii where my best friend was black. He and I were both considered Haoles by the locals who seemed to get their kicks out of beating up 'outsiders'. We watched each other's back. But then my family relocated to the deep south where my dancing with a black girl caused major outrage at the teen club. This was a real wake-up call for a young teenager.
At home, discipline and respect for authority was the rule. My father followed orders at work, so I followed orders at home. Not to do so invited painful consequences.
Of course, there are many benefits to being a military brat:
- Acceptance of radical life changes
- Tolerance of different people, cultures and lifestyles
- The ability to get along with most anyone
- The discipline to take on new challenges
- The need for regular radical change: In my case, it was romantic relationships. No matter how perfect my relationship with my partner was, after two to three years, I needed a change. And obviously if things got difficult in any relationship, job, or living situation, why not just move on?
- In spite of a desire to fit in to a community, the inability to do so. You feel like you're always an outsider who doesn't have the long term friendships or relationships that would make you a part of a community.
- Similarly, with an almost overwhelming desire to have a close extended family, the inability to really get close. You were patterned to expect relationships to end. It's hard to believe that they might last.
- A need to escape: it could be unjustified change, drugs or alcohol, or obsession with sports or careers - many of us can't help running away from our friends, family, jobs, and partners.
What was the safe place in Monopoly? Just Visiting!
So what can you do about it? How do you stop suffering from The Military Brat Syndrome?
For military brats, first and foremost, you need to recognize your patterns of behavior and understand their roots. Then you can make a conscious effort to change. I did that with relationships. After recognizing my pattern of ending them for no reason, I decided not to run at the first hiccup.
Counseling might help, but most counselors are not military brats, so it's unlikely they can truly understand just how deep these patterned behaviors go.
For family, friends, and employers, again, recognizing the military brat syndrome is critical. At that point, you can try to be a bit more patient, refuse to let the military brat just run, and encourage them to begin to believe and trust that some things can be permanent.
Because ultimately, that's what it's about: TRUST. When, from the time you were born until you left home, you've been raised to expect radical life changes - loss of friends, loss of community, loss of places you might love, and having to start over every two years, it's hard to trust that anything is permanent.
But it can be done. Unfortunately, because we don't recognize it early on, it often takes decades to overcome The Military Brat Syndrome.