In an exclusive essay for Parents, military mom, educator, and First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, speaks to the unique challenges military families face and the opportunity we all have to support them as they serve our country.
“My military suitcase is filled with sadness because I have to move every three years.…Every time I move, I have to leave more and more friends and leave my family.”
Those are the words of fourth-grader Kylee, the daughter of a marine whose family is stationed in Kadena, Japan. Her poem is part of a collection of the artwork and writings of military-connected kids that we are displaying in the White House this month, and though she articulated one of the hardest parts of her experience, she wrote about the good parts, too: “My military suitcase is also filled with happiness because I get to meet new friends….My favorite part about moving is seeing all the beautiful sites.”
April is National Month of the Military Child, and it’s an opportunity to shine a light on the unique challenges that the children of our service members and veterans face. Through Joining Forces—our White House initiative to support military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors—I’ve met incredible military kids. They have unparalleled resilience and grit. They are proud of their families’ service. Still, at the end of the day, they are kids. They and their parents shouldn’t have to face the challenges of military life alone. It’s up to all of us to keep the promise we make to those who stand between our nation and danger: that we will care for them and their families while they serve and when their service is finished.
Military families often move every few years. Imagine having to start all over again and again. It’s complicated to enroll in a school with different graduation requirements or curriculum, but there are also more subtle challenges, too. Parents have to wonder: Who do you call to babysit? Who do you invite to birthday parties? How do you help your child make friends when everyone else has known each other since kindergarten?
Meanwhile, military kids often find out that their favorite sport isn’t offered at their new school or lose touch with their best friends. These hardships can be heartbreaking but are frequently unseen. Military kids don’t wear a uniform, so most of the time their peers and teachers have no idea what they are going through.
Millions of children in classrooms across the United States have parents who are active-duty military service members, National Guard or Reserve personnel, or veterans. When my son, Beau, deployed to Iraq for a year, I saw how difficult it could be, especially for his children, Natalie and little Hunter. All of us felt torn at times between overwhelming pride for how he was serving our country and a very real fear of the worst.
Additionally, more than 2 million children live with a veteran who has a disability. Because of their families’ service, military kids understand things like war and sacrifice a lot earlier than their peers. They become strong and resilient because they have to be.
I’ve met kids as young as 5 who learned what to do if their mom or dad has flashbacks or becomes disoriented. Kids know to call 911 or administer medication or keep triggers away from their parents. It is a heavy burden.
That’s why Joining Forces launched the Hidden Helpers Coalition alongside the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, and dozens of partners, to create supportive programming for children of wounded, ill, or injured service members or veterans. So far, we’ve had an incredible response from government and corporate partners: In November of 2021, we announced nearly 40 unique commitments for new and expanded resources, programs, and financial pledges. I’m proud of that, and I know this work is going to change children’s lives.
Still, every single one of us has a role to play. Most military families don’t live on bases; they are a part of civilian communities. Find out who in your community is serving or has served in the military, and then go to your strengths. Offer to be a mentor to a child who is dealing with a deployment or activation. If a military family moves to your neighborhood, reach out to them and include them in your community activities, or invite the kids to a playdate.
It might not seem like much, but these small kindnesses can go a long way and make a huge difference to military families. I’ve seen it firsthand. When communities come together, they will get the support they have earned.
To all of our military parents out there: You’re doing an amazing job. Thank you for what you do for our country and for our kids.
When Beau was deployed, we had the chance to meet other military moms or dads, people who had been in the same position. It was like medicine for our hearts. They prayed with us and shared stories with us. They sent notes of hope and encouragement. We saw how much love, generosity, and kindness was in the military community, and we’ve felt grateful to be a part of it every day since. It shouldn’t take knowing this experience firsthand to want to help. This Month of the Military Child—and every month—let’s give our military kids the recognition, support, and opportunities they deserve.
Jill Biden, Ed.D., is the First Lady of the United States, a community college educator, a military mother, a grandmother, and bestselling author. Dr. Biden also served as Second Lady of the United States from 2009–2017.
Read the oped here