When you visit a military family, you’re giving the greatest gift

It has been more than three years since I’ve become a mother, during which we’ve lived in both Maryland and Texas. Before that, Hawaii. Before that, Ohio, Florida. We both have roots in New York, but neither of us have a “home base.” Our loved ones are scattered between New York, Ohio, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee – not to mention the hand-picked family spanning past and present duty stations, which goes beyond the country and overseas.

Our heart is truly everywhere, and it will only continue to spread as the military continues to move us. I knew that raising our babies away from loved ones would be hard, but I didn’t foresee how hard it would be when “home” is not in any one central place. This means that in any given year, we are asked to travel 8+ times to different locations. “When are you coming back to Hawaii?” “Can you drive up next month?” “Are you able to fly up for a reunion?” “You guys should come for a visit.” It breaks my heart when we have to say no, and we have to say no a lot.

We’ve certainly made room for yes when our budget, sanity, dog-sitting, and the Navy allowed. In the past three years, we’ve made the trek to New York multiple times. We flew out for a special Christmas visit to Texas. We drove to Ohio. We attended three weddings. We zigzagged both of our cross-country moves form Hawaii to Maryland and Maryland to Texas in a way where we could check off family time.

Overall, it’s nothing short of a blessing to have a village that spans the whole country, but truthfully the bandwidth and expense of recurring long-distance travel with a toddler, preschooler, two dogs, a single income, and active duty military constraints, means this distance is an impossible gap to fully tackle. I’ve recently had to come to terms with the fact that we are not in a season of life where we can travel like we used to. But, it has given me a whole new appreciation for those who have and who do take the time to come to us when their respective season of life has allowed. I don’t think most people realize how special of a gift this is to families with young children and those in the military. It’s incredibly special. I know because I recently felt the support of this after hosting seven visits in the last nine months since we moved again.

When you visit a military family rather than ask a military family to travel to you, you alleviate:

  • The uncertainty in planning. A service member requesting leave is not a guarantee. It’s impossible for us to know in advance when a good time is to travel. The needs of the Navy rule. Being able to host where we are stationed means that even if my husband does get called to leave last minute, I can much more easily host without him than travel without him.
  • The stress of traveling as a solo parent. Yes, I could just plan to travel without him, but that’s a lot to ask when I already struggle with my two very young, routine-dependent children with minimal support day to day. Traveling with a toddler, preschooler is not a break even if that is the intent of it. Not to mention logistically, there’s no amount of wine you could offer me to ease the nuances of installing two car seats on a plane without losing the two humans that fit in them. It won’t always be this hard.
  • The missed opportunity to see our life in the military. I think there’s an assumption that military families want to repeatedly travel home, but a lot of us no longer find home in what used to be. Instead, we pour our hearts intensely into the places we get stationed. We want you to come and see our life in action. We don’t want to just tell you over the phone about our children, we want you to be able to see our children in their daily element. While there’s a special love reserved for visiting our past, as a new family in building mode, what we really long for is having you see what we are working to build. 
  • The ability for the service member to be home. My husband travels a lot. A lot. We are lucky that it is in short increments lately as opposed to the longer deployments, but if leave is approved, being able to stay home is often more meaningful than getting on another flight.
  • The potential for us to plan our own family trip. We’ve never taken our own trip yet as a family of four. Visiting us means we can save more of his leave, which makes it more likely for us to carve out our own time together too. In a career where he selflessly sacrifices time away from his children and wife, being able to pencil in our own family time is something I realize we deserve to start prioritizing too.

Yes, our home is transient and yours is steady, but you can help us plant our roots. You can help us decorate the bare walls that we never found time to fill. You can help us organize the parts of our lives we still haven’t unpacked. You can help us feel like we belong by giving us a chance to give you a tour of our new town even if we’re still relying on the GPS ourselves. You can help us feel proud to finally host a family dinner when our dinner table is usually empty.

When you come to us at this chaotic stage of our life, you help us feel grounded – which is not easy for a military family to feel. That is a gift that stays in our hearts forever.

And let me be clear, these life choices we’ve made do not mean we feel entitled to visits; each one is truly seen as a gift. All we hope for is grace and understanding in that we can’t yet reciprocate it fully. And that’s hard. It’s hard for our loved ones. It’s hard for us. In the military, we’re not just leaving behind our childhood homes. We’re leaving behind pieces of our lives in all corners of the country, and its a tug and pull that we struggle with every time we’re handed a new set of orders.

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