By Eric Pilgrim
Special to GUIDON
My son’s frustration grew with each move, but I chose to ignore it.
I had a new job with unique stressors to focus on, so I didn’t feel I had the luxury of devoting time to my son’s feelings; he would get through it. By the time we reached Fort Knox in September 2017, his frustration had reached a tipping point.
“Dad,” he said shortly after we arrived, “please don’t move again.”
He was not being disrespectful. He was simply voicing exhaustion with having to pack up his life again, say goodbye to close friends — again, endure the stress of a trek across country sitting next to his annoying baby sister and trapped in exhausting hotel rooms.
He had put up with four major moves in seven years.
I appreciated my son’s candor and courage at that moment. As a former Soldier and a father of four children who have endured a combined seven moves and two deployments, I have personally witnessed what military children go through.
Last week, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin visited Scott Middle School to deliver a signed declaration naming April as Month of the Military Child in the state.
Bevin acknowledged military children experience an average of six to 12 moves during their school years. He and others also used many words to describe the children as a result: brave, resilient, strong; adaptable. A different word, however, came to my mind: happy.
Do military children have bad days? Of course. But one of the great things about what military children generally go through is that they go through it, and grow through it, together.
Still, we as parents have a responsibility to acknowledge our children hurt from the difficulty of a move or deployment. We owe it to them to listen actively, without distractions.
In a Military.com article, titled, “10 Things Military and Veteran Parents Should Know” by Dr. Carolyn Greene, she recognizes being a military parent can be tough, and suggests to parents “invite your children’s questions,” “be prepared for tough questions,” and “use a positive approach.”
In a Sept. 19, 2013 Army.mil article by Andrea Stone, titled, “Military Families: children grow through challenges,” Dr. Jacqueline Delano, clinical director, school behavioral health, at the Child and Family Assistance Center in Evans Army Community Hospital, reminds us that children do in fact suffer during and after moves.
“We see a lot of adjustment disorders. [That’s] more of a short-term condition that’s caused from a stressor,” Delano said. “Some kids might not have a behavioral disorder, but their behavioral problems are a result of these difficulties adjusting.”
My son is amazingly resilient. Besides the moves, he has gone through the loss of growing up away from close relatives, adjusting to his now 5-year old sister entering his life, the sudden death of a close cousin, and most recently, the unexpected death of his brother in January 2018.
All of this pain has affected our entire family in various ways, but our shared grief can easily dismiss the quiet, unassuming pain of a 14-year old. So when he broke through the silence with his simple request, I listened.
I recognized I had wrongfully assumed my son should just get through it.
These days, I am learning to slow down a bit, put work-related stressors on the back burner a little longer, and engage in my son’s world more often. And as many children of Soldiers and veterans do, my son smiles more. That big belly laugh I so fondly remember from his childhood is beginning to return.
Will we move again? I can’t make that promise to him, and he knows it. Will I ignore him if we do? No. That, I can promise, and he knows it.
One word comes to mind when I’m with him: happy.
(Editor’s note: Pilgrim writes from Fort Knox, Kentucky.)