Military involvement affects many aspects of life for members and their families, including the size of those family units and the timing of group expansion. How many children to have — if any — and when to have them seems to be largely influenced by military involvement.
Results from an online survey of 100 self-identified military spouses suggest that, for military spouses with children, military involvement largely impacts the timing but not the choice to have children. Conversely, for military spouses who choose not to have children, military involvement seems to play a more substantial role in that decision.
This Military Families Magazine survey included respondents from all branches of the military and ranged in age from 18 to 65 years of age. Nearly 80% of respondents identified as currently having children, with the second largest group of 15% currently without children but with future planning for them. The smallest group of 6% said they do not currently have children and do not intend to have them in the future.
Since nearly 40% of the total Department of Defense military force has children under the age of 22, according to a 2017 demographics study, it may be useful to understand exactly how military ties influence family decisions that extend beyond a job or career.
While surveys and statistics illustrate larger trends, investigation on the individual level reveals more about the myriad complex factors that impact if and when military families choose to have children.
For Army wife Tatyana Ray, the question of having children simply never came up. When it eventually did, her answer was clear: “No, thank you; it’s not for me.”
Ray earned her undergraduate degree in Family Community Services with Tracking and Childhood Education, with the goal of serving as a preschool teacher. She has worked as a lead teacher at Childhood Development Centers and as a teacher, trainer and director for Army Child and Youth Services.
She said, “Kids are awesome! I like kids! But there’s a difference between liking kids and wanting to be a parent.”
For Ray and her husband, kids have never been part of their plan. They are entirely comfortable with their decision not to have children but find that other people sometimes struggle with this information.
Some people seem perplexed by the fact that Ray works with kids but doesn’t feel compelled to be a mother. She laughs about this, good-naturedly, and shrugs it off.
“People say, ‘Oh, but you like kids!’ I was like, ‘Yes, but there’s a difference between liking kids and being a parent. I like a lot of things — I like animals but I don’t want to, like, work at a zoo.’”
More seriously, she reflected, “I feel like there’s a lot of ways to make an impact to a child and, you know, influence a child and it’s more than just parenting.”
Ray demonstrates a sense of compassion for others who seem uncomfortable with her choice: “I think on some level, some folks think you’re making a statement or a judgement of their lifestyle. By saying, ‘Oh that’s not for me,’ you’re somehow saying that it’s bad. I was like, ‘It’s not bad. It’s just not for me.’”
Ray’s perspective differs slightly from the survey findings, which indicate that the largest factor influencing 12% of people’s decision not to have children was military involvement, followed by 10% of people stating economic reasons.
Just as the decision not to have children was a no-brainer for Ray, the opposite choice was evident for Navy wife Heather Lantier.
Nuzzling her sleepy four-month old, she said, “I always knew I wanted to be a mom.”
Lantier’s own mother was a fantastic caregiver who made childhood “magical.” She compares her mother to “Martha Stewart before she became Martha Stewart; that kind of cool mom!”
Extensive health issues made Lantier’s path to motherhood wrought with adversity, but the fact of wanting to have children was never in doubt for her.
Approximately 75% of survey respondents with children echoed this sentiment, saying that they had always wanted to and assumed they would have children someday. In addition, 20% said they felt that being a parent was their calling or they felt a sense of duty to have children.
Like Lantier, Air Force wife Jessica Crawford and her husband were also impacted by health concerns, but those struggles might have actually motivated their choice to have children.
At the age of 25, after they had been married for one year, Crawford’s husband was diagnosed with acute leukemia. During a doctor’s appointment, he was told that they could not start trying to have children until five years after the completion of his treatment; furthermore, there was a 20% chance that they would not be able to ever have kids. Period.
Crawford says that, while her husband hadn’t been entirely set on having children prior to his diagnosis, the information came as a sort of shock to him and seemed to impact his desire to have kids.
Perhaps facing one’s own mortality at a young age and in such an unexpected manner leads logically to concerns about one’s own legacy. Regardless of health or illness, 29% of survey respondents said that the desire to continue the family lineage influenced their choice to have children.
For Emily Shipp, Navy wife and mother of a 1 year old, the desire to have a family was not impacted by any particular circumstance, but the timing was.
While stationed in Guam, the Shipps decided to postpone growing their family until they were back in the continental U.S. When they learned that they would be returning to Pensacola, Florida, where they had previously been stationed and a location that would place them closer to relatives, they saw their metaphorical green light.
“We had always wanted to start a family together,” she said.
Shipp was 16 weeks pregnant when they arrived in Florida. She gave birth in a Naval hospital to a baby boy, named Paul.
Shipp’s experience was reflected by 78% of survey respondents who said that the timing of their decision to have children was directly affected by military involvement. About 70% of respondents said that deployment had impacted their family planning and 62% said that relocating, or experiencing a Permanent Change of Station, had been a significant factor.
Given the nuanced nature of family planning and the multitude of factors that couples consider when choosing whether to become parents, it is essential to remember that every situation is unique. Making assumptions about others can cause a great deal of pain, regardless of a person’s best intentions.
Lantier emphasized, “You don’t know what you don’t know … . Fertility and having children is super personal. Just as every military story is different, every military child story is different.”Read comments