The Lifelong Benefits of Military Family Life for Adult Children
At Council for Relationships, our Staff Therapists come from diverse backgrounds that have shaped their clinical practices. Staff Therapist Rita DeMaria, PhD, LMFT, CST spent her young life abroad in Japan, Ethiopia, and Turkey as her family moved around to accommodate her father’s military career. Read in her own words how this experience shaped her professional perspective and clinical persona.
Military family life is diverse and cultivates unique family subcultures that span generations. Within each subculture, each family member will also have idiosyncratic narratives. Within the various branches of the military each has their own distinctive subcultures as well. However, the overarching perspective reveals that military family experiences are more similar than they are different.
I grew up a military brat during the mid-1950s and 1960s living outside of the US. I am grateful that my father found a way to have our family together no matter where his next assignment took us. My mother, who grew up in close knit family, adapted well to the travel demands of being an army wife. The military family provided me and my family with remarkable life experiences, relationship skills, and memorable people and circumstances.
My Return “Home” to the United States
My father was in the Army and was a Sergeant E-8 when he retired. He did not want to re-enlist because he had been through two wars and he knew how difficult the Vietnam tour would be for him as well as for my mother and the rest of the family. Returning to the US was culture shock for me. I was about 11 years old at the time. The sense of community that I had felt living abroad was gone. The culture back in Pennsylvania was foreign to me. Learning to fit in in Pennsylvania where my parents grew up was a new challenge.
Living in Japan, Turkey, and Ethiopia did not prepare me for living in the segregated community that I found back in the US. The civil rights movement had begun to have an impact and I was confused and upset about the attitudes that people had toward others. Through my travels I had learned that we, as people, had much in common despite our superficial differences. I laughed and cried and learned from the local people who I got to know during my early years. I had friends who came and went just like I did as a military brat. Entering high school was a particular challenge because there were very few military children in my cohort. It wasn’t until my children were growing up that I began to realize what a profound impact this had on my views of people, places and circumstances stemming from the people I met in different cultures.
Although we didn’t know the details of my father’s military career, we knew that our parents could be relocated at any time. We knew both of our parents were dedicated and committed to the military lifestyle that rests on preserving freedom and living up to standards of honor. We also knew that they were ordinary people who laughed and loved and cried and fought while doing extraordinary things for our country in large and small ways.
Connecting with Others Through Common Experience
Sharing the varieties of life experiences through the lens of military life is an important way for people to become connected. Today the internet ties us to our military family networks throughout the world. There are numerous websites that connect adult children of military families all over the world. (I’ve included a list of resources at the end of this post). We share an important common denominator – military family life. Engaging with others who are in or who grew up in military families often forms unique bonds that develop among us from the moment we meet.
Relating to other people from various walks of life is the foundation of my work as a couple and family therapist. I’ve made a career of helping people from diverse communities to understand their family heritage and then connect more deeply with people in their lives. As a family therapist, I help others explore their family histories, their intergenerational patterns and the stories of their family history, and understanding the value of our personal family relationships in our own lives.
Upon reflection, growing up in a military family has been a special gift that guides my clinical practice no matter how my clients grew up! For those who struggle with their particular military story regardless of their role in the military, Council for Relationships is here.
Additional Resources for Military Families
- Goodreads List of Books for Military Brats
- Instructions for Finding Lost Military Brats
- Military Brat Registry
- Military OneSource Guide for Military Spouses
Council for Relationships’ Operation Home and Healing program provides counseling and services for active military, Veterans, and their families. Many of our staff have been specially trained in military culture and competency.