Childhood: What is it like to grow up as a military brat?

Updated Jun 30

A few big issues come to mind, and they also have a sort of sub-issue.

  1. Concepts of adulthood. I knew that, the day you turn 18, you are old enough to be sent to the other side of the planet to kill people. You’re old enough to come back horribly disfigured and disabled. You’re old enough to come back inside a metal box. So it seemed perfectly reasonable that, at 18, I would get my own apartment, and be fully independent of my parents. That’s a whole lot less stressful than someone going to war at that age.
  2. Geographic mobility. The service member goes where the military sends them. Moving long distances, repeatedly, is a normal part of life. I knew that some people stay in one town for their entire lives, and I was really glad that I wasn’t one of them. One place isn’t interchangeable with a different place, and you only understand a place when you have somewhere else to compare. It certainly affects one’s socialisation process, but then again, I don’t like the idea of being mentally handcuffed to anyone or anything. I have relocated long distances, repeatedly, as an adult.

The sub-issue is social. As a child, I naively assumed that these things were common knowledge in the civilian populace. Or that, if someone didn’t know these simple facts, they could easily learn and accept them.

In reality, a significant number of people don’t grasp the concept of an 18-year-old being an adult, on any level. They cannot imagine someone that age even moving out of their parents’ house. I’ve been treated like I did something wrong.

The people who have never left their hometown tend to think that everyone has that same situation. They don’t even grasp that moving to a new city is within human capability.

I get treated like, geographic mobility is an immature, irresponsible, dangerous, “unstable” aberration, or even just a fantasy that I personally invented. I have been condescendingly told that I “have to” go back to where I “really” live, which is assumed to be some town where I lived as a child. They think I have “really”lived in one town for my entire life, and going anywhere else has been some kind of temporary vacation.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, both of these are female-biased things. I have had allegedly adult women insist that everyone “has to” live in the same town as their mother. And that I somehow don’t have the right or even the ability to live any significant distance away. They don’t care if you are middle-aged, as they pester you, or even get angry at you over this issue.

They apparently think that a service member can whine to the military, “Boo, hoo, hoo, you have to station me at a base that is within ten kilometres of my mommy’s house, so I can keep the umbilical cord attached”.

Or perhaps whine to the military, “Boo, hoo, hoo, you can’t reassign me to a new base, because then my child will grow up and offend all those legitimate people who are entitled to have everyone’s world be as small and fixed as theirs”.

There is also the general assumption that, an adult moving alone to a new area is too frightening and disorienting for anyone (including me) to handle. They don’t care if you were in some isolated, low-income, low-opportunity small town. They will tell you that the “right” thing to do was to stay there, and that you should immediately go back and “settle down”.

As a child and teenager, I really failed to anticipate how utterly terrified most people are of any kind of change, and any kind of ambiguity. And the sort of “guilt by association” that would be directed at me. I also failed to anticipate how needy some people are about “friends”, and how they can be so uncomfortable with my low-attachment, introverted style.

A more minor point is that I liked the organisation, standardisation, uniforms, and sense of discipline.

Also, repeated moves helped inspire my inclination towards a minimalist lifestyle, in terms of material possessions.

Another issue was taking an early interest in current events and politics. Including government sabre-rattling and nuclear paranoia, but also just keeping up with the news in general. Many people are very poorly informed, and I failed to anticipate that.

Lastly, being around the military makes it more real and more human. It isn’t about feeling big and tough, or Rambo fantasies, or drooling patriotism. It isn’t some stupid movie or macho video game for pimply boys. The guns are real, and some of the planes have bombs onboard. The base has another country’s nuclear missiles aimed directly at it, possibly with high priority.

It is an economically motivated tool of menacing threats and mass violence, in which real people would suffer.

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