“How many kids do you have?” asks the military spouse I have just met for the first time seconds ago.
“None, ‘just’ two cats and a horse,” I reply sheepishly.
“Oh, well, my husband and I couldn’t conceive at first either,” the other spouse replies sympathetically before launching into a historical overview of how their children were conceived.
That’s funny, I don’t remember asking that. I think to myself. I didn’t really want to know that.
Has this ever been you? If so you are probably a child-free military family. We are a rarity it military circles. We are the ones looking bored at the mandatory fun “family” (read child-centered) events, and hanging out with the single service members. We are the ones sidelined from conversation that centers around the latest exploits of everyone’s children, school related gossip, and birth stories. We interject, only to be met with blank stares. After all, if you don’t have kids you know literally nothing about them and your opinions on child-rearing are invalid, until such a time as you have your own children.
Or is that just my limited experience?
There are a lot of blog posts out there telling you what you should do if you are a military family. A military family, that seemingly by definition includes children. Family is a code word for children, be that an official event or an unofficial get together, if it includes the word family, it means kids. Which is fine to a point, but military families are more than that. That’s an outdated view. Having a child is not a requirement for being a military family. A child-free military family is every bit as much a family as those with children. The only difference is that some of us do not want to have children now or ever, or feel we’d be terrible parents, others can’t, and others are still waiting for the right time, or to pay off student loans, or for a stable second job, or just whatever else they are waiting for. None of these things make them “less” of a military family, being a family has nothing to do with the number of or even if you have children.
So what should a child-free military family do?
Take advantage of being child-free. Take advantage of the extra freedom you have. You don’t have to worry about childcare, you don’t have to worry about all the expenses that come along with children, or the life decisions you must make to priorities your children. You can sleep in. You can stay out late. You can travel on the spur of the moment. You can go events which exclude children. You can indulge in your hobbies both with time and money. You have the freedom to do what you want, when you want, for whatever reason you want. You do not have to plan your life around small beings which rely upon you for sustenance (unless you are a pet owner, in which case you do have that responsibility).
Child-free military families have the unique opportunity to fully indulge in life, and do exactly what they want when they want. You can go on that organized group tour in the middle of the week. You can go on that Space A trip without having to worry about school vacations. Child-free military families can enjoy the “family” centered events that the base community offers, but they can also enjoy doing the things they enjoy.
It doesn’t have to involve children.
Why is advice to child-free military families always do stuff that involves kids? Some child-free people dislike kids, some only like them in small, well-behaved doses, and some love them – just for their own reasons don’t want ones of their own. The answer to “what should child-free military families do?” should never be, by default, hang out with those with kids. This is the common consensus (according to those with kids at least).
The answer is simply this: whatever they want. Not everyone wants to be around kids, that is completely fine and a valid choice.
Choosing to not do things that involve children isn’t a slight against parents, anymore than choosing to go see a chick-flick is a slight against an action movie. People have different preferences, and that’s perfectly normal and fine. Which is why it boggles my mind when I see advice for child-free military families that’s summed up by saying “go do things with people with kids”. What kind of advice is that? I mean, yes, you shouldn’t necessarily discount being friends with or hanging out with people just because they have kids. That’s much different from essentially telling someone who their life is really incomplete because they don’t have children in it, which seems to be the hidden agenda of this advice.
Obviously, there’s no way anyone could be happy without children in their lives, right? /sarcasm
Having or not having children shouldn’t divide military families. Yet it so often does intentionally or unintentionally. That doesn’t mean each doesn’t have their own unique challenges that they face. The default option should never be to force one group to do something they don’t want to do. The key is respecting each others beliefs, preferences, and lifestyles. No matter what they are, or how they conflict with our own personal beliefs.