By Jaimi Erickson
During April, we celebrate the Month of the Military Child and everything that military kids do to exemplify perseverance and flexibility. My four children have experienced multiple PCS moves. My oldest son, who is currently 15, has moved homes seven times in his life. We never asked him if he wanted to live this military lifestyle, and he never complains about it.
I have heard military kids described as “third culture” kids. They tend not to grow up in the culture of their parents’ family norms. They are frequently or drastically moved into a different environment where they learn to adapt.
As Merriam-Webster defines it, military kids — similar to children of immigrants, expats, or refugees — are exposed to a wider cultural spectrum because they physically are in a new environment. The community, locality, region, state and country shape the child. They do not fit, but they do not resist the experience.
“As a third culture kid, you’ve experienced cross-cultural transitions that have molded you into an adaptable individual. Regardless of the challenges that you may have faced as a third culture kid, you’ve been shaped into a multicultural individual.” — Rudo Ellen Kazembe, Teen Vogue, July 12, 2016
We have many wonderful advantages today in terms of resources to help our military kids endure and navigate PCS moves. When I moved during junior high due to my dad’s business transfer, I could only write letters to friends who were back in my home state. My children have so many options for maintaining the great friendships they make at each duty station.
Helping Kids Navigate PCS Moves
Saying Goodbye to Friends
The military family, as a whole, is a team. We all say goodbye to friends with each PCS move. I can help my children focus on creating special memories of our time at a duty station by celebrating the community. We have held many big and small events to bring the community together and remember the special people we have met. There are 7 ideas for celebrating your community before you PCS in this article.
Simple ways you can make a special event out of saying goodbye to friends are:
- Have a BBQ/potluck with outdoor games.
- Plan special days with friends like getting together for lunch or a water play day. Even activities that the kids do all the time can become special just by saying that it is special. It implants the day in their memories.
- Give a gift to their friend like a special toy or stuffed animal. We love reading the book Moving Again Mom when the kids are preschool and school age. They learn that all military kids have to PCS now and then.
Focusing on the Good Parts of the Move
Focusing on gratitude for what was special about our current duty station helps us look forward to creating new memories in a new place. We start by creating a bucket list for the new duty station. A quick internet search helps us plan some activities so when we arrive in a new area, we can start exploring. Check out these bucket lists of activities for Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, Twentynine Palms, and Northern Virginia.
Signing kids up for camps before you even move is a way to get them excited about meeting new friends. It can provide some grounding for the kids in their new place to feel like they belong there.
Settling in and Making New Friends
One of the fun parts of a PCS move is getting to decorate a new home. Ask the kids to share their input on room décor so they can embrace their new space. This helps them develop some ownership over the space.
Kids Messenger has been one way that my children keep in contact with friends from previous duty stations. A parent account is needed. It helps you monitor the chats.
Another option is to set up Facetime phone dates. My daughters love their interactions on Facetime with friends that have moved. Those face-to-face calls help them stay connected.
Teach your children how to write letters. After our most recent move, the kids were penpals with their best friends who had moved to Europe. Letter writing is so good for brain development, and receiving letters in the mail feels like a little gift.
Visit their old friends or make time to see them if they end up being in town. Rekindling those treasured friendships that we make in this military life is so special. This reassures your children that some friendships do last over the years and miles.
A PCS Is a Team Sport
We experience PCS as a family. I think of our family as our home team in military life. My children meet new friends at each new duty station. I meet new friends, too. We understand the process of saying goodbye to friends, the effort it takes to stay in touch, and the necessary steps to build new relationships.
We travel with our first — and most important — village, as military families. Whether we go through seasons of loneliness at one duty station, or have great experiences at another duty station, we have each other. And no matter what else comes along, we also have all the friendships that last across the miles.