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Can We Go Home Now? Why Military Kids Struggle to Identify Home

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

There is nothing better than that first shower or nap after a long flight “home.". Whatever that word means to you, you’re glad to be back to something that is welcoming, familiar, and comfortable. But where and what is home? Most dictionaries define home as just a place you live, usually described as a permanent place of residence. This is far from a definition that we military kids would procure. Military kids usually make six to nine moves before they turn 18, all during major formative years.

Because the military experience is so unique, there is a term for the children that spend their childhood, parts or in whole, outside their parent’s home country. This term is Third Culture Kids (TCKs). This term TCK was developed by a sociologist and anthropologist named Ruth Hill Useem. A TCK's personal identity and sense of home is in people and places, an idea that is far from what their parents may consider home. The distinction between feeling at home and being home becomes clear for TCKs.

Home can begin to feel like it’s “everywhere and nowhere," as said by Ruth van Reken, who wrote a book on the topic. And home does begin to feel like that. When a sense of place and identity is uprooted every two or three years, military kids can become restless. This is all normal. Home may never be where your parents think it is, and they might never understand your unusual homesick feeling for Germany or Japan. You don’t have to consider home or feel at home in the same places where your parents do, or where they expect you to. These places or people have just become part of who you are and what makes you feel at home. This idea may make a lot of sense to you, but it may take time to process the reality of being a TCK and what it means.

In times of personal and inner restlessness, we can look at all the advantages that being a TCK gives us. It’s not all bad, even though we tend to focus on the negative aspects of being a military kid. Denizen Magazine did a survey in 2011, and found that over 80 percent of TCKs spoke a second language. This is not only great for future employment opportunities but helps us see the world through a second lens, and reach across the language barrier to millions of people. Military kids get to travel the world! Denizen also found that over half of all TCKs fly at least 4 times a year, producing more worldly and cultured citizens. While our non-TCK counterparts may fear the unknown, we thrive off of it.

It can become a dangerous spiral trying to find home. The constant hellos and goodbyes are the cause for high anxiety and depression rates, as well as behavioral issues, among military teens. Between 2001 and 2018 the Pediatric Academic Societies found a four percent increase in mental health issue diagnoses every year among military children. Even through all the turmoil and anxieties of military life, the conclusion is simple. Military kids are resilient, and their flexibility and ease at adapting are strengths that can carry them through their entire lives. This flexibility and resiliency are key elements that play part in feeling at home in places you wouldn’t expect, or that your friends and family in the States don’t seem to understand.

In the end, it’s important to remember that home doesn’t have to be a place; if it is, it doesn’t have to be our parent’s home. Rather than searching for who we are, we can let that sense of identity come to us. We can use our abnormal sense of home to our advantage. Our blended experiences and always-changing cultural surroundings and influence will one day determine where we feel at home. And until then, home is where the military sends us.


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