This week I will talk about the first contradiction: dependent yet independent. In following weeks I will explain the other two: loyal yet unattached and courageous yet worrisome, so stay posted!
As a brat, you are literally called a DEPENDENT on your ID card. The biggest dependency you will experience is on the government. They ultimately decide where you will live, what rights your family has, what pay grade your family will be in, etc. Your parents have some say; they might have a choice of a couple different bases or whether to retire or stay longer. But ultimately, the decisions are not your family’s. So you go where you are told and when you are told to be there. That is just a part of it.
There are a lot of things that can change at the blink of an eye in this kind of life. One minute you could be stationed to a base for three years, then the next thing you know, your parent gets reassigned and you have six months to pack up and get across country. I’m very lucky this never happened to me while I was living at home, but I knew a lot of children who did go through that. My parents went through it just last year. In fact, they packed, moved and were gone within two weeks.
Vacation time doesn’t even provide some independence. I remember one vacation in particular when my parents and I went to Yellowstone National Park. My dad had to have his cell phone on him in case anything happened back at the base. Of course, as soon as we left, something big happens. The entire trip to Yellowstone was spent driving a couple miles, and then pulling over for up to an hour while my dad dealt with phone calls. We did this for three days of the trip, until finally things were sorted out. Not a relaxing trip by any means. But that oath that soldiers make, to put “service before self” really means just that.... and that means 24/7 duty. It is one of the most commendable things about our military officers. But man, it’s not easy!
So then, how, with so much dependency, can military brats be independent? Well I have to say, the people I have met that grew up military, are some of the most independent people I know. For me, independence means that I am OK with being by myself. I like who I am, and I will do what I need to do, without worrying about the barriers.
Most of my summers were spent in a new place. I hadn’t started school yet to find new friends. So unless I had neighbors the same age as me, I didn’t know anyone. After my sister left for college, I really had to find ways to keep myself entertained. These are the times when I learned the most about my interests, goals, likes and dislikes. I found out early-on what I wanted to be for the rest of my life and I focused on that, because it gave me stability. I love making videos and capturing moments, stories and emotions. So where ever we ended up, I could take these things with me and use them to fill my time until school started. Yes, it was lonely at many points. But it gave me a stronger identity, which, in turn, helped me when it came to making friends or making other life choices like college, internships, studying abroad, etc.
I would also use this time to plan my future. In my journal from 4th grade I have a year-by-year plan of my life going all the way to 2041 when my second child is supposed to graduate college....
Now maybe that’s extreme, but at least I knew what I wanted! As of now though, I am not going to be married by 2016, and I won’t have a job as a meteorologist by 2015, I think I have failed my fourth grade self ... But I’ll get over it :)
This is just my example though. This is what I think of as “Independent”, there are a lot of definitions and varying levels of it; but being able to know yourself, your goals, and what you will do to get there, is “independence” put simply. Military brats see a lot of things in their childhood. They explore many places and meet many people, but they also experience a lot of loneliness and sudden change, so building a strong sense of self becomes imperative because it keeps you focused and strong through anything.