New Film Focuses on Military Brats
Documentary on Brats
posted: 12/21/2007 by: Jenny Sokol
Warning: Your children are not normal.
I’m not referring to Bobby’s tendency to jam marbles up his nose or Sarah’s penchant for dressing the guinea pig in doll clothes.
Your children are not normal because they’re military brats.
Though their experiences are shared with an estimated 1.2 million,
their status as military brats sets them apart from their civilian peers.
Donna Musil’s childhood was completely shaped by the military.
By age 8, her family had moved six times. She lived overseas and attended three different high schools.
She learned to adapt within her tight-knit, culturally diverse, patriarchal world.
She cultivated values of integrity and a willingness to sacrifice for a cause greater than herself.
By sheer necessity, Musil learned to be independent, flexible and outgoing.
As an adult, Musil felt largely disconnected from her past.
With the help of the Internet, she reconnected with classmates from the high school she attended on a base in Korea.
“For the first time,” she says, “I felt like I really fit in and belonged somewhere.
We were all different colors, races and religions, but we were all the same.”
Musil soon founded the nonprofit agency Brats Without Borders
and set out to write the first film documenting the lives of military brats.
Musil researched the subject for six years, collecting surveys from adult military brats,
interviewing mental health professionals and authors, and speaking with high-profile military brats.
Musil unearthed a wealth of information, including the fact that many adult brats feel compelled to relocate every few years,
resist forging lasting relationships and shy away from long-term commitments.
Conversely, others plant themselves in one spot, vowing never again to uproot.
The documentary “Brats: Our Journey Home,” narrated by fellow brat Kris Kristofferson,
brings to light many of the benefits and challenges faced by military children.
Young children may not yet identify themselves as military brats.
On a military base, they’re surrounded by others just like them,
thus shielding the fact that their lifestyles aren’t exactly typical.
Musil suggests encouraging the brat identity.
“Your children are different than civilian kids, and that’s OK,” Musil says.
“They think differently and deal with life differently.”
As parents, we can maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of military life for our children.
Don’t overburden your child
“Children often feel like they’re held responsible for their parent’s career,” Musil says.
Families might feel they’re living in a fishbowl and must maintain an illusion of perfection.
In particular, a child may feel that if they get in trouble, the military member’s career may be jeopardized.
During Musil’s interviews, she discovered that children had been told that if they got in trouble while living overseas,
the entire family would be sent back to the States.
While this may be true in some cases, it’s too large a burden for a child to bear.
Musil also found adults who hadn’t told their parents about abuse or rape.
They feared both the perceived lack of medical confidentiality in the community as well as ramifications in the military community.
Don’t Sugarcoat Moves
“Let the kids grieve, really grieve,” Musil says. “It’s a myth that kids are really resilient, they are survivors.”
Encourage your children to talk about their feelings.
“Remind them that everything that happens to them is lodged in their hearts and stays with them,” he says.
If possible, minimize moves during the high school years.
Realize Your Differences
Unless you also were a military brat, realize that your childhood was completely different from your child’s.
As a result, they don’t have the same strengths and weaknesses as you.
Help them discover their true selves. Allow them to follow their hearts and choose what sports to play or interests to cultivate.
Teach them that, though they must go with the flow regarding schools and moves, they are free to make plenty of their own choices.
Military brats may eventually stop forging friendships simply to avoid difficult and inevitable goodbyes.
“It becomes so painful that you stop connecting to people. You know you can’t give 100 percent,” Musil says.
If your child feels this way, acknowledge those feelings, but continue to promote relationships.
Though the brat lifestyle holds it fair share of challenges, it certainly comes with a full set of perks.
Ultimately, even Musil says of her military upbringing: “I would not have traded for anything.”
“Brats: Our Journey Home” is available online at www.bratsfilm.com.