Are Civilian-Military Family Friendships Worth It?

By guest contributor, Brenda Donlin

chairs-58475_640Recently, I took one of our sons to his first meeting with a new cub scout pack. Although cub scouts is generally my husband’s domain, we are currently in the middle of yet another deployment, and that means I get to be the cub scout parent (along with everything else).

 So here I was, once again, sitting among strangers, introducing myself and trying to get acquainted with this unfamiliar territory.

Most of the other parents dropped off their cubs and left, but there were two dads who stayed for the meeting along with me. The first dad was a quiet man, who seemed politely friendly, yet not interested in a real conversation. The other dad was much more talkative. He shared some of his knowledge and experiences with the pack and the den, and gave us some tips on how to be successful in scouting. Although I enjoyed listening to his stories and tidbits, I realized I could add little to the conversation.

Then another new parent showed up, another dad, and something he said struck a nerve with me.

He introduced himself to everyone, and sat down next to me. In making conversation, I asked if they were new to the area or just new to the pack. He said they just moved to the school district, from the other side of the city. The more outspoken dad made some joke about having moved out of the hood. New dad was quick to defend.  They lived in really nice area, and had some great friends and neighbors, but as they had been living in a good school district that was relatively close to a military installation, many of the people they knew were military, and they were trying to get away from that. (You see, we live in a large city with four separate military installations, but our particular school district has fewer than ten percent active duty military.)

 He followed this up by adding, 

“There is nothing wrong with the military. I mean they are great people, but you get to know them, and then they leave. We are just tired of being friends with them.”

 Wait a minute, though. Didn’t you just move away from your friends and family? Albeit only about 15 miles away, but you voluntarily changed your neighborhood, your kids’ schools, and your community connections, just to get away from people who move away from you? Seems a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face, but who am I to judge?

Because we are that military family. We have moved away from friends and family, and have known countless others who have moved away from us. But we aren’t the only people in the community that move on a regular basis. We live in a mobile society, where it is rare for any family to live in one town, one house, and raise a family, surrounded by the same circle of family of friends for their entire lives.

 I waited for the other two dads to finish agreeing that military families do present a challenge when it comes to friendships, and that they didn’t understand our unusual lifestyle, before quietly adding to the conversation.

 “I suppose I shouldn’t admit, then, that we are a military family, because I apparently run the risk that none of you will want to befriend us.”

 I got no response. But before the topic of conversation was changed to something more comfortable for the rest of them, I was sure to defend myself-

 “I realize that we move frequently, and we move far away, but we have some great characteristics to offer. We tend to be loyal to those left behind, and we are great at keeping up long distance friendships.”

 I still received no response.  The subject changed.

Outspoken dad dominated the conversation with a total recount of his numerous cub scout dad certifications, awards, and accomplishments. Quiet dad listened politely, but offered little. The new dad seemed mildly uncomfortable with me right next to him, but there was no other seat for him to relocate to.

 As the meeting ended, I was sure to shake hands with the new dad, and tell him that it was a pleasure to meet him, and welcomed him to the school and community. And as I walked away, I thought to myself, how ironic it was that they went to all the trouble to move a mere 15 miles to escape a neighborhood overrun with military families, and he ended up sitting down right next to one.

 I wonder if he or his wife will bother getting to know us. If they will discourage our kids from becoming friends, under the pretense that we will simply move away, leave them behind, abandon them without looking back. Nevermind that we can still give them two or three years of friendship, that we are generous and caring, that we love to cook for and entertain our friends and neighbors. Our children have just as much to offer, as they have traveled all over this country, are confident and resilient, and can share experiences that many of their civilian friends will never know.

 It matters not how long you know someone, but what they are willing to bring to the table while you sit and feast together. Don’t be afraid to share your life with a military family. We often leave a lasting impression.

226522_1046253722520_1410985554_30125710_6097_nBrenda is a grown up Navy brat and a proud graduate of the University of Georgia. She has been married to her Soldier for twelve years and is mom to four. She is a part-time writer and aspiring gym junkie. A minimalist at heart, when she isn’t taking kids to school, sports, or scout meetings, she can be found in the garage building some new piece of furniture, in the hopes that one day they will break 15,000 pounds on their PCS weight.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Jamie Urbanawiz

    We’ve been lucky in that we’ve avoided this sort of situation, so far. However, my eldest is only 3, so I do expect it in future interactions. It does suck leaving, but like you, we stay in contact with many that we’ve left. I feel that we’ve actually become stronger friends with a few people because of this. Because we aren’t local to them anymore, more care is taken in our conversations, when we have them.

  2. Great article! I wish they would have said something to you before they left. At least to make some kind of amend. But they didn’t. Shows who the bigger person in this situation was.

  3. Bravo for speaking up and saying something. I don’t know that I would have had the guts to say something, but really, what do we have to be ashamed of. You are so right when you said that we are loyal and keep in touch. After all, who has more practice is keeping friendships than those of us who move a lot!

    I also agree whole-heartedly with what you said about our society being mobile. My mom is one of 7 siblings, and only two of her sibs still live in their home state, none in their old neighborhood. But I still feel close to my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I feel the same way about the close friends I had in college. It is easy to make good friends a priority no matter how close or far they live. I just think it’s silly to move across town to avoid military families because they move a lot!

  4. I recently encountered something similar. I asked a woman at a karate place if her husband was military also and she replied that thank goodness he was not. I was so shocked. I had never, ever encountered that in almost 19 years of service. I was horrified, quite frankly, and didn’t know how to respond which is very unusual. I am hardly ever at a loss for words.

  5. […] John was deployed, my support system consisted of a bunch of people who knew nothing (or very little) about the military and deployment. And that’s OK.You don’t need to surround yourself with people from the military […]

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