I was a military child for my entire childhood. We moved to one base and stayed there. I’d never moved state to state or out of country like many of my friends had experienced. I definitely knew the securities of living on base, how you could walk absolutely anywhere without being afraid of kidnappings, etc. It wasn’t until high school that we would learn what living off-base was like (minus the few times we’d visit our biological mother or relatives) I was the oldest child, I never experienced what it was like to have a sibling move away. I would have no clue of this until many, many years later.
I married a Marine, which meant I finally moved away, but I was the oldest and our ties were severed before leaving home. So there was no writing letters home, etc. I wouldn’t even talk with my family for over 2 years. Fast forward to 19 years later and we have five children. Our oldest already graduated high school, he has a job and was going to college…when he wasn’t at work/college he was home playing video games. Extremely close to all his siblings. After school his younger brother would immediately tell him about his day and any girls he thought was pretty or share a secret of something funny that happened that day. His younger sister would tell him all about something she learned from STEM or Science class. Nicoli would keep him busy any time at home, whether it was chatting up a story, reading a book or helping him play video games.
One day he informed me he was thinking about joining the military. I must admit pride came inside me, I came from a long line of men/women in the military. To me this was nothing unusual, the only difference was the tight-knit family and how I would make everyone feel okay with him moving away. I knew all along he’d move away, whether he joined the military, went off to college (not in town), moved out on his own or got married. Below is a few tips on how to cope when a sibling moves away and joins the military.
When your son goes off to boot camp and you check the mail every day for his letters. 16 days… I loved these two envelopes. . . . I'll be writing all through story hour. Mail is going right back to him today. Won't be a day I don't send something. Post office start stacking up on stamps. . . . #lettershome #bootcamp #missmyboy #momtofive #momtoboys #ilovemyson #proudmom #armymom
So how do siblings keep close? That’s both easy and hard.
1. Write letters: This is one way the younger siblings can tell their secrets to someone and get some writing under way. Plus, the one joining the military will be getting a ton of mail during boot camp/basic training. For those that do not know they do get mail after 2-3 weeks of being there. As for my son’s unit they were only getting mail one day a week at first, then it got to be a ton of mail so they have allowed them to get it twice a week.
-Things you will need for this will include paper/stationary set, pens/pencils, stamps, crayons.
2. Draw pictures: Not all siblings can write a ton of words. Have them draw pictures to their sibling to show their day. Ask them what the picture is and you can write briefly on the paper/back of paper what they drew. Or just let them figure it out themselves. Nicoli writes a few words but he loves drawing pictures, he’s at that point where he is drawing potato people. My oldest (military one) tends to draw pictures back to him with a few words so he can learn. At Christmas he drew a Christmas tree, the word tree off to the side pointing at the Christmas tree, plate of cookies with the word Cookie written off to the side, etc.
3. Send them stuff from home: Okay with that being stated there are no food/drinks allowed to be sent. No books are allowed UNLESS they are religious. Try making a small photo album like you’d get when you develop pictures at the store. Small booklets for about $2. Believe it or not they will treasure that little album.
I know this doesn’t feel like much, especially when big brother/sister are far away. But for now that is how the siblings can stay connected. Their big siblings is working hard and training a lot, but during their down time, when things get quiet and just before bed they love to sneak a peek at a letter or write them. This will have to do for now, unless they are lucky and get to make a call home, but normally this does NOT happen.
As for how you can make your younger ones happy.
Daddy Dolls are great for military children….why not get one for the younger sibling being left behind. If you purchase the voice chip before they leave they can leave a message in it. Or have them read a book and record it. When you order the doll include the chip. Of course there is also Build-a-Bear and you can pick any stuffed animal and include the chip. I like the military bear so it reminds them of him/her.
Get an 8×10 of their siblings and hang it on their wall. This way they can see them any time they want to and know they are nearby.
Finally, get a photo album for them and a throw away camera. Have them fill out the album with pictures they take of things they do when their sibling is away. When they see him/her again they can share. Don’t forget to make an album of them together for your little ones so they can see their sibling all the time too. Keep in mind there sibling has always been there since day one and now they are leaving. Little ones don’t always understand this. Try to think on their level and how they may feel like they are nearby or not gone forever.
What did you do to help your younger children deal with big brother/sister joining the military?
P. S. I do plan on updating this with a newer post once they get to their first duty station. So for any parents that have already been down this road I would love a comment on how you handled the transition not only for yourself but the younger siblings.