By The Duchess, 11th November 2020

Brat Attack!

5 Life Lessons Being A Military Brat Taught Me

5 Life Lessons Being A Military Brat Taught Me

As a child I had a privileged upbringing. Not in the sense that I grew up with money, in fact for the most part it was the opposite. Also not in the sense that I was spoilt or given an easy life in anyway, in fact, again, much the opposite. I was brought up as a child in the military. I am, what most people will refer to as, a RAF BRAT. My father was in the Royal Air Force.

As I was growing up, the most difficult question I was asked over and over again was “where are you from?” Over the years I went from standing stock still trying to figure out how to answer, to answering quickly “Everywhere! Nowhere!”

If people were really interested and asked what I meant, I would explain that I had lived all over the place, and wherever I hung my coat was home.

There are major advantages to being a military kid. I had traveled the world before I reached double digits. I learnt languages before I could speak proper English, tasted foods from all over the globe and explored some of the coolest castles in Germany.

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Military Brats also learn skills that would make you a contender for Oscar winning actress, after all, in my short lifetime I have had a strong Queen’s English accent, a Scottish accent and a strong southern accent… imitating accents is a skill that comes as easily to me as breathing.

As with everything however, there are just as many disadvantages to living a life under military rule.

Firstly, EVERYONE knows your dad. And if you step a foot out of line, it’s not a naughty step you are put on – being told off by a military man is ten times more terrifying!

Irish Defence Forces
Irish Defence Forces

Friends may be ten a penny, but you are likely to have a hundred best friends before you reach puberty. After all, you make friends and a few weeks later they move away. Worst of all, cleaning a house on a military base really is treated like a military operation. To say that this rubs off as OCD tendencies as you grow up would be an understatement.

But growing up in the military taught me many life lessons, some of which I am grateful to have learnt. Welcome to the Brat Attack… Here are just a few that I hope to pass down to my children, despite their non-military upbringing.

1: Respect is one of the most important pillars of life.
Respect is a massive deal in the military. You do not speak unless spoken to, you wait your turn, you respect the opinions of others, and most importantly you speak to others in the manner you wish to be spoken to. One of the things that shocked me the most when we moved back into ‘civi life’ was that is seemed children are not taught the importance of respect, or the fact there should be consequences for being rude to adults. If I had spoken to a teacher the way some children these days do, my father would have been given such a bollocking from his superior. (In the forces, everything you do as a child reflects on your father, so in effect, if you are in trouble, your DAD is in trouble, therefore the punishment is gonna be ten times worse when your dad gets home.) I was stunned when I walked into a civi school and saw how they thought it was appropriate to talk to their peers.

2: It doesn’t matter where you live, you can always make a house a home.
Moving all over the world has taught me that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, with the right attitude you can make it home. Making friends isn’t easy, but it is a skill worth learning. The world is too small a place now to let the fear of the unknown stop you from experiencing all the world has to offer.

3: You truly can bloom anywhere, if you make the effort.
In the military, we are taught that the symbol for a military kid is the Dandelion. There are a few reasons for this. You are taught that no matter where you were born, or the circumstances you were born into, you need to adapt to that life the best way you can. You are here NOW and need to make the most of it. Conditions may not always be right, but if you put down roots and soak up all the sun and nutrients that are around you, you will bloom no matter where you are planted. Just like the Dandelion. It can grow in the middle of a concrete path, it chooses to make the best of each and every situation, and just like a dandelion clock, its seed will fly wherever the wind may take them. It surrenders to nature and enjoys the ride before settling down wherever it lands to make a new life.

Thangaraj Kumaravel
Thangaraj Kumaravel

4: Goodbyes are hard, but necessary, and you will always recover.
Saying goodbye to family, friends, places, homes, memories… uprooting all you know and all you care about each and every 6 months to start again… it is not easy. But you can do it and you can survive and you can start again. Goodbyes in life are hard no matter how much practice you have had, but each goodbye is followed by a hello, and the promise of new adventures and stories.

5: Everyone has had a different upbringing, so embrace each other’s differences.
The biggest life lesson I have learnt is that everyone is different. Despite the fact that while living on the bases all the kids wore the same clothes from the same shops, ate the same food on the same day and routines were so strictly adhered to… moving into civi life showed me that everyone in life is governed by the lessons they learn as a child, and everyone’s childhood is different. We cannot expect everyone to act the same as adults, have the same moral compasses or the same values in life, because let’s face it, we were all brought up differently. Be it on an island in the middle of nowhere learning how to survive through brute force and necessity, or growing up in a city where everything is on your doorstep. Growing up in a military life where everything is rule heavy and strict, or a hippie commune where there are no rules and the best way to live is to live free. I have learnt that each and every person on the planet is different and we need to embrace the differences rather than restrict the personalities.

As my children grow, and I fight with myself to relinquish control and stop being so militarily strict with them, I realise that I have to allow a compromise between the way I was brought up and the experiences that made me the way I am today, as well as those of my husband and the way he was brought up. I think that the tolerance and respect I learnt in the military is what has helped guide me and allow me to bring my children up in a more rounded way.

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