The article, “What Military Children Won’t Tell You About Being Asked, ‘Where Are You From?’” quotes military children who responded to the question, “How do you feel about being asked, ‘Where are you from?’” The overwhelming majority don’t like the question. Their responses created concern for some parents who are not themselves military children. The most concise example of this concern was written by Army wife “KMC.” On her blog, Today I Wanted, she writes, “I wasn’t expecting this article to […] make me feel sad for our children. […] I am saddened, because our children won’t be able to experience the life that we did.”
The intention of the “Where Are You From?” article was to give military kids a voice for one aspect of their lives. It was not to cause concern. As its author and mother of three grown Marine Corps kids, I’d like to put some parental minds at ease by addressing the “from” question, the impact of military life on childhood, how much power you really do have as a parent, and just how much knowledge is at your fingertips. i hope this will set some parental minds at ease. To this end, one of the military kids who contributed to the article, Shawn, an Army brat, also lends a voice here.
The kids who contributed to the “from” article are 16 and older. I didn’t ask younger kids because they’re rarely asked the question and generally don’t understand it. If a younger child is asked this question, the parent should answer for them because that guides the child and helps them mold an answer of their own.
Shawn: “As a kid I often said, ‘My family is from Kansas.’ Or some variant. This probably was based off of Dad’s claim to being a Kansas farm boy. In some ways the answer was a cop out, but it was an anchor of sorts, too.”
Comedienne Paula Poundstone once said adults ask kids what they want to be when they grow up – because they’re looking for ideas! Many military parents don’t answer for their youngster when someone asks the child, “Where are you from?” and instead wait to hear what their child will say – because they’re looking for ideas!
Shawn: “The question rarely comes up among children in a military community. We might ask, ‘Where did you move from?’ as a way of learning about the new kids, and then springboard to all the different places all of us had ever lived. I don’t recall being bothered by it until we first lived in a civilian setting and even then it was part and parcel of a bigger culture shock.”
In light of the concerns younger military parents have expressed, there are three important distinctions to be made between what the kids in the article said and what a lot of parents seem to have heard.
1) Any distaste the military child feels about the question of “from” isn’t because of the question itself. It’s because of the number of times they’ve come across a questioner who wouldn’t accept their answer.
Several commenters on the article (here and on other sites where it was reposted) have said, “What’s the big deal? Just say ‘X’ and be done with it.” This sounds good in theory and in fact sometimes it does work, but as the kids quoted in the article pointed out, their answer is rarely accepted at face value. This is why they don’t like the question: A lot of people won’t take “X” for an answer, especially if “X”=”everywhere.” As the parent of a younger child, you are in the perfect position to teach others that “X,” no matter what it equals, is a valid answer.