By Teresa Warner
Being a military family is not an easy job. What most civilians don’t realize is that when you are part of a military family, your husband’s job directly affects the lives of everyone in your family. Generally speaking, soldiers don’t go into the office and punch a clock and work an 8 to 5 job everyday. Military families essentially live the soldiers job 24/7. If you have a family bowling night planned and the commander calls, your soldier goes and family bowling night gets put on the back burner. Soldiers are required to miss birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays, and school events because training and the needs of the military take precedence. Lots of times there are no sick days, and if you don’t have leave time accrued, there are no family vacations.
One of the hardest parts about being a military family is having to move roughly every three years. As an adult I’ve always approached this aspect of military life with an adventurous attitude. Every new assignment brought a new location and a new adventure; a new place to be explored, new opportunities to be pursued, new neighbors to meet, a new environment, and a fresh start. What I didn’t realize was the huge impact that moving all the time had on our children.
Military moves don’t come with a whole a lot of options. Usually, soldiers may be given a choice of two, maybe three different locations… but the option of whether to move or not is never on the table. Kids don’t get a choice . They don’t have a say . We require them to dig deep and go with the flow, to take one for the team and to be a good sport about it. As difficult as it may be for us to leave friends and family behind, it’s even more difficult for teenagers who are trying to establish friendships, trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. And just about the time they think they have it all figured out, those PCS orders come down the line and it’s time to start all over again. What a frustrating system this is for military teenagers. Teen years are hard enough without having to pick up and start over as the new guy every three years, leaving behind everything that has become familiar and comfortable and having to start over at ground zero.
I never used to think that my kids had a problem with us moving frequently. They always seemed to love the adventure of a new location just as much as I did. They always seem to make friends pretty easily and adjust well to their new surroundings. Very few times did I ever hear them complain, because they always understood that Dad’s job was the one to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. In a sense, they were expected to be grateful for a move not be upset by it . A move meant a new job, a job meant income, income meant food, housing, clothing etc. There essentially was no room and no time for a pity party. They are expected to suck it up and drive on like a good soldier does.
The thing is, our children aren’t soldiers.
Recently one of my daughters expressed to me how hard it has been for her all these years to pick up and have to start over every time we moved. She told me of how difficult it was for her to ever feel like she fit in even though the areas we move to were heavily military areas where other kids were also military kids and faced the same challenges that she faced. My heart broke as she expressed her feelings to me, because I knew that she had held it all in because she didn’t want to complain. She wanted to be a good team member, She wanted to be supportive of our family. She wanted her dad to know how much she respected him and appreciated what he did for our family, but inside she was just really struggling.
It’s important for people who don’t live the military lifestyle to understand that the soldiers aren’t the only ones who serve. Our entire families serve our country in our own way. We serve in support of our soldiers. We make sacrifices that are required of our chosen lifestyle. Our children are required to be stronger, more mature, and better behaved because they are children of military soldiers . It’s a lot to ask of anyone, but we do it for our country we do it in support of our soldiers. It’s our way of giving back to this great nation for all it has given to us.
Military parents, if you have teens please check on them. Ask them how they feel about moving and what you can do to help make the transition easier. I know my daughter put on a brave face and tried her best to be strong, but inside she was really struggling. Keep the lines of communication open. Let your kids know that it’s okay be upset about having to move. It may not change things (because we all know home is where the military sends you) but allowing teens to voice their feelings will help us as parents better understand where they are coming from. It’s a lot easier to help teens adjust to new surroundings when you know they actually need help in the first place. Getting that information out of them is the first step!
I would absolutely LOVE your input on this one. It’s a toughy, and I know lots of us have gone through it. Please feel free to share your strategies on helping your teens adjust after a move. You never know when something you have to say just might help someone else.
Teresa Warner is a seasoned Army wife and a mother of 7 beautiful children. My hobbies include reading, writing, cooking and spending time with my family. I love learning new things…languages, music, computer applications…whatever it is I am up for the challenge.
I graduated from The University of Toledo with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. I work from home as a social media marker and content creation specialist and enjoy the freedom that running my own virtual assisting business allows. I believe in taking each moment of every day to be fully present and aware of the blessings and gifts in my life. Laughter is a necessity not an option!
My daughter is about to be 12. Our last duty station we lived on post, but she was also younger. This time, we live about 20 miles from post in a town that is generational, I bet 75% of the kids in her school have parents who grew up with 20 miles of here (at the most). The kids are friends with people they knew since before they were old enough to go to school. It’s such a tough age as it is anyway, trying to decide who is your friend and isn’t, and that always depends on the day, add in the extra insecurity of being the new kid. To add to all of this, as tough as their long hours can be on the family, there is always the hope of seeing them and the stolen days when the Army doesn’t claim them, we are now looking at 10 months of him being elsewhere for school. Just lump some more on the insecurity and uncertainty with that one. And then with the age, when you try to correct in any sort of way, they view it as an attack on their character and lose it! Going through a rough patch needless to say, and it’s looking like it will be a big one. After the 10 months are up, we will PCS to meet up. Even now trying to decide what is better, living close to post to give them friends in similar situations or moving further away, seems like it’s not gonna be easy regardless of which way we go. Who am I kidding, it’s not easy on my half the time. And it’s hard to tell them that this kind of life opens them to so many opportunities that their “spent my entire life here” friends will never experience. It will broaden their minds and help them to see the opportunities in life that are further than a stones throw away, and not allow that fact to keep them from trying it out. I have no answers, just know that today has been a rough day.
Thanks for sharing your story. Here is a guest post I wrote on this same topic for another blog: http://countdownsandcupcakes.com/2016/01/making-sense-of-deployment-for-kids/
I can understand your concerns and… I can tell you from the perspective of a child who grew up in a military family that moved every 2 to 3 years… it was fun for me! I know that may not be everyone’s perspective… but, especially in the teen years, knowing I could go through an awkward stage and then “never see those people again” (people = friends) was an emotional relief for me!
And, in general, I looked forward to moving on, because not only did it mean I wouldn’t be surrounded by people who knew me “when”, it also meant that the new people I would eventually meet would see me in a completely new way — not just because *I* had changed, but because people who live in areas around the country were different; were acclimated to their own part of the country. They had their own ways of thinking, speaking and doing things. I learned a lot from them because of that… and possibly taught them a thing or two, too, before I moved away again.
Another note: Fitting into a new school was always a challenge — even in places where kids had a similar military background. So, where we lived (on base/post or not) made no difference at all. Think of it this way: Even if you can relate to someone superficially (“we’re both part of a military family”), it doesn’t guarantee that you can relate to each other emotionally or mentally (“but we don’t like the same music; wear the same clothes; have similar hobbies/talents/interests”). It doesn’t mean you “fit together” as friends. And… frankly, we — as kids — never talked about military family life with our friends. We talked about the things kids talk about: Girl Scouts/sports or riding our bikes or the latest music or clothes or school… or whatever else kids talk about.
Being part of a military family only explained why we moved there and why we would be moving away from there one day. (Most of the kids in the school/neighborhood didn’t even know we were a military family anyway!) The military wasn’t who we are… so, on that point, I would say: Find a nice home in a nice neighborhood where there are fun things for your kids to enjoy. They don’t (probably) relate to the base/post the same way you do. I looked at the military only as my “dad’s job”. It was cool to bring him to school on Career Day, but… otherwise, my life was not all that different from the kids around me. Most of them did not see me/refer to me (and my sisters) as “the military kid”; they just wanted to know where we’d been and where we were going. In that way, we were the coolest kids in school… because we were experiencing life outside their town. Of course, we were always “outsiders” at first, regardless of age or personality or time spent in a certain location. And all friendships we entered into (back in those days) were anticipated to be short-lived. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I, for one, made friends with kids knowing that we would either become penpals after I moved… or just drift apart. I was thankful for all of the kids who were interested and compatible enough to befriend me… even if they weren’t exactly the kind of kids I would prefer to hang out with. They were “good enough” for the time being. I don’t mean that to sound cold. It wasn’t… it’s just that I was very practical and realistic and grateful, sometimes, to know I would be moving on one day. And I never missed any of my friends when we moved away because I kept in touch with the ones that really mattered to me… and vice versa.
So… my point is: Yes, moving itself and changing locations can be stressful… but it was also very FUN for me, through all stages of my growing-up years. I always looked forward to the next place/home/school/kids/clothes/weather/etc. I didn’t look backward very much. And I miss making those moves now.
This is just my own personal take on living the military family life… but I hope my perspective helps a little… 😉
Thanks for sharing. I will be sure to share that perspective with my daughter and maybe it will give her a new outlook on it all. Most days she is pretty positive, but it hurts as a momma the days she is struggling through it all.
As a momma myself, I know that pain. 😉 Ugh. And I also know each individual’s experience is different, so you have to navigate the situation in your own ways. I always looked toward it positively because… what else can you do? The benefit of going to 9 different schools by the time I graduated from high school was: A worldly point of view that most of my college friends did not have (yet). I was miles ahead of them in that regard, as many had never even left the town they’d grown up in. Taking that thought a step further: When/if you do go off to college… you can do so with open eyes, knowing what various parts of the country are like and ruling out choices based on first-hand knowledge. And, of course, later in life… you are comfortable not only with travel and moves, but various parts of the country/world. You learn how to acclimate by moving. You can reinvent yourself by moving. You can broaden your horizons by moving. And though the act of *moving* to a place you’ve never been can be something that invokes fear… once you’ve overcome that fear by having the move thrust upon you (i.e., you can’t choose NOT to go)… then you get to conquer that fear. And, after that, you know the drill and it gets easier each time. There are more pluses than minuses, as long as you’re looking for them. With social apps that enable everyone to stay within fingertip reach these days… military families may actually have it “easier” these days than when I was growing up. I would also say that if your daughter is a dancer, or music-minded, or has some other talent like that… get her involved in that in your new location as quickly as possible so she’ll have something to focus on that she knows she’s good at. 😉 Good luck!