Children who have a military parent are often wise beyond their years. Many learn from a young age to be independent and resourceful because of their experiences moving around the world and living in different cultures, combined with the increased responsibilities they must assume when their parent is deployed.
Kylie McGuire, the 2019 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, is a good example of how belonging to a military family has shaped her into a resilient, determined person who strives to succeed and to serve others. Here are a few life lessons she has learned in her 17 years:
1. Cherish family time when you can. “Being a military brat has taught me the true meaning and importance of family time,” Kylie said. “Other kids might take family dinners or spending your birthday with your parents for granted. I was taught to appreciate every second I got with my entire family together.”
“My happiest moments were every single time my dad came home after a long time away,” Kylie added about her father, retired Coast Guard Lt Cmdr. Austin McGuire. “Even if it was not the longest time he had ever been away, it always felt like he had been away for years, and I was so happy to hear his dumb dad jokes come in the door again.”
2. In tough times, lean on your family, friends, dog and school community or whomever you are fortunate to have in your life for support. “I think of my friends, they make me laugh until I cry and my abs hurt,” she said. “I do not know how I could make it through without their positivity and radiance. I think of my dog and how she will love me through any times. I think of my school, my second home, the place where I feel safe and embraced to be myself.”
3. Appreciate that your parents try hard to do what’s best for you. “My parents are my rocks and even though sometimes they get on my nerves, I know they will always have my back,” she said.
4. If a rule seems unfair, try challenging it. You may not succeed, but if you don’t try, you will definitely fail. Besides, it’s good practice for next time. For example, Kylie wanted to apply for a scholarship offered by her elementary school, but applicants are required to have attended for at least three years. “I appealed to the school on the grounds that as a military child, we moved so often, we could never be at the same school for three years, but my appeal was denied,” Kylie said. “I think schools could be a little more understanding.”
That incident speaks to the lack of awareness about the sacrifices military families make, she said. “Most Americans do not know that military kids struggle every day. It is hard to go through your day happy every second … knowing your parent will not be home tonight for dinner, probably will not make it to your birthday party, and will not be able to get leave to come home for a daddy-daughter dance.”
5. Embrace the upsides of military life. Think of relocations “as an adventure and write a journal,” Kylie advised military children. “You will be living in places you never would have if your parent wasn’t in the military. You should explore your “home” town and you will see each place will expand your horizons and understanding of how truly large the world can be. You will meet many interesting people, and you will become more worldly, and in turn, you will be a better, more inclusive, more accepting person.”
Another benefit is the values and qualities you gain, she said. “I fight through every obstacle and challenge to show how strong I am, physically and mentally. I know this is what makes me who I am, and I thank my military lifestyle for instilling that in me.”
6. Do your part to help your family, especially during a parent’s absence, and your community because it is the best way to show respect for all service members’ bravery and willingness to put their lives on the line to protect our rights. “When my dad left, my mom was suddenly a single mom with three active boys and one sassy little girl,” said Kylie, who has one older and two younger brothers. Her father told her and her older brother before leaving that he knew they were capable of helping their mother while he was gone. That “motivated me to be my very best for me, my brothers, and my mom,” Kylie said. “They needed me more than ever. After my dad left, it was a rough transition for my family, but my mom especially had a hard time jumping into the single-parent lifestyle. I do not take any credit for what my amazing mother was able to withstand in those six years without my dad, but I did my very best to help around the house. I helped my younger brothers with homework. I cleaned the house for my mom while she was driving my brothers to practices. I kept challenging my older brother to push both of us to be our best, and I kept my family’s faith that my dad would be home soon enough.”