Raising a family in the military is different, to say the least. As the wife of an active-duty service member and mother of two, I've seen how different our life is compared to my own non-military childhood.
Day-to-day military family life can seem strange to some. Whether it’s how everyone freezes in place when “To the Colors” plays across the radio towers, or how we drive past pistol and rifle-toting guards just to get home, our version of normal isn’t exactly run-of-the-mill. While many civilian families know about things like deployments to war, they may not know some of the more usual aspects of our lifestyle.
Here are 10 ways our normal is so not normal for those outside of the military community.
1. Your child’s doctor wears fatigues.
Military service members and their families who receive medical care on base are often seen by military medical practitioners who are also active-duty service members. Camouflage and a stethoscope make perfect sense to military families.
2. Your child calls the grocery store "the commissary."
While most military kids know stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Ikea from a young age, ask them where their food comes from and they’ll almost always say the commissary — the military version of a supermarket.
3. By the time your child reaches sixth grade, he or she has probably changed schools at least three times, or more.
Orders to new duty stations are a part of the military life, and that means registering your kids for new schools each and every time. If your kid has an IEP it can be an even bigger headache trying to transfer into a new school district.
4. Each of your kids has a birth certificate from a different state, and maybe even from a different country.
Due to changes in duty stations, it’s typical for military kids to be born all over the world. One of my friends, a former military brat, says that due to her birth out of the country, she still has issues as an adult trying to renew her U.S. passport with her foreign birth certificate.
5. Hearing your kids say, “Remember so-and-so from our last duty station? His family is stationed here now, too,” is extremely common.
There’s a saying that goes “It’s a small military after all,” and it’s true. Oftentimes when we move to new locations we find old friends, which can make the stress of adapting to our new homes a little less difficult.
6. You probably gave birth to at least one child during your military spouse’s deployment.
Almost all of my friends have at least one “deployment baby.” Even I do. Some of the most beautiful deployment homecomings are when a service member gets to meet his new son or daughter for the very first time.
7. Your 10-year-old has an official ID.
If you want to buy groceries, shop for clothes, get gas or even go to the doctor on base, you have to have a valid military ID. Once your child reaches 10 years of age, they are required to carry their military ID at all times, even to pick up prescription medication at the base pharmacy.
8. You and your children know your active-duty spouse’s social security number before your own.
Certain benefits, including healthcare, are tied to the military member’s social security number. You will end up using that number all the time. When your kid hears the words “last four?” they automatically know someone is asking for the last four numbers of their military parent’s social security number, and by the time they are five they can probably recite it, too.
9. Warnings to your children usually include: “If you get caught misbehaving by the military police, your dad’s command will get notified” and “If you do something bad, it will get printed in the blotter.”
Imagine living in a world where every bad deed is reported to your boss. This is the way military bases work — and it can be a pain in the butt. If your child gets into a fight with another child, it gets reported to your military member’s chain of command. If you are pulled over for driving five miles over the speed limit, it gets reported. If you’re having a party and a neighbor calls the military police, that too gets reported. Worst of all, these offenses get printed the next day in the military blotter, a sort of tattle-tale newspaper that lets military members know who’s misbehaved on base.
10. You freak out about black-light inspections when your kid vomits on the carpet.
Living on base has its perks, but base housing can often times be problematic. Homes on base are black-light inspected before you are allowed to move out. When you’re raising a family, it’s next to impossible to keep your carpets looking new. If the inspection shows stains, you have to pay for them, and it isn’t cheap. It’s not uncommon to see military wives on Facebook asking about tricks to clean carpet stains in order to pass those black-light inspections. (P.S. I heard baking soda works great!)
So many people outside our community think of our lives as picket-fenced and polished, with moms and dads in uniform who look smokin' hot and act heroic on the daily. While I can neither confirm nor deny the truth to that (I lied, it's true, my husband is a hottie in his fatigues) there is a lot more underneath the surface of military families.
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