Picture it: Jacksonville, NC. 2000. (Hopefully those reading this are old enough to know Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls). I remember the first time I moved to a military duty station. I was 19 and could care less if it was the most exciting place in the world because all my lovestruck-teenage-self wanted was to be near my Marine boyfriend. That first apartment was full of yard sale finds, mismatched furniture, and cuisine based on Ramen noodles and hot dogs (because we were a broke, young enlisted couple). But, even our financially-strapped selves didn’t have a care in the world because it all seemed like an adventure.
Fast forward 20 years. As we embark on our final move, the carefree nature of planning a relocation has turned into sleepless nights and heartache as I attempt to help my pre-teen son not hate us for moving him away from his friends. I feel on the verge of panic attacks when I picture him in a new school cafeteria without a familiar face in sight. So much more goes into transitioning the little humans in our lives who trust us with making the best decision possible. And that’s my real hope, that we aren’t screwing up this whole parenting thing. That we, in fact, are making a good choice. Even though I won’t know for a few months how this storyline turns out, there are a few things that I am proactively doing in hopes of easing whatever burden comes with being the new kid on the block—again.
Find activities they’ll love
For kids, at least my children, it all comes down to the friends. I just need them to find at least one person they connect with and then we are usually in the safe zone. Because we are moving in the summer, I feel like I have a little breathing room to make this happen before the bell rings on that first day of school. I’ve already found a basketball camp and fall soccer sign-ups (activities they loved doing where we were). The goal: they forge a friendship or two with kids that go to the new school.
Whether your child is into sports, art, music, etc., a simple search of the area’s parks and recreation department should produce some options. Social media is another great tool for figuring out where the other kids congregate in your new community. Plus, if you are moving near an installation, you can lean on fellow military families for ideas. Even if your kids seem resistant to participation, it is an important first step in connecting them to the new location.
Research the schools
Whenever we have moved, one of the tools I used for research is GreatSchools.org. It shouldn’t be the only place you look for information, but it is a good starting point. The quality of the education system can help parents shorten the list of neighborhoods to look at. Also, I recommend setting up a time to speak with guidance counselors, teachers, and even members of the PTA. Bring your son or daughter for a tour of the school well before the first day in order to remove the unknowns.
[Tip: During your conversations with school officials, ask about a buddy program for new students to pair up with a more seasoned student. If there isn’t a formal program, they may be willing to match them up anyway.]
Let them be part of the planning
When we went house hunting, we approached it sort of like a real-life version of HGTV. We took the kids out of school that day, drove two states up, and included them in the realtor meetings. Each of us weighed in on what was important to us in a home. For example, all the boys cared about was finding a home with a fenced in yard for the imaginary new puppy we do not yet have. Out of the three homes we looked at, guess what? We picked the house with the fenced in yard for the imaginary puppy. If a new pet is going to ease their moving concerns, I am all in.
Craft a bucket list
Last week, as I was hosting the biggest self-pity party ever about the concept of moving—again—I read an article titled “11 Steps to a More Positive PCS.” In it, author Krista Wells lists out ways to create excitement about going to a new place. My favorite suggestion was to craft a bucket list of things you want to do once you are settled in. This accomplishes two things: your family has something to look forward to and the research teaches you about what exists in the community.
And, in some ways this is a great learning exercise to incorporate summer learning. Whether it is looking up participants from the free Blue Star Museums program or exploring national parks, the kids will be reading and writing to devise that list.
It is no secret that moving can be hard, but it can also be one of the most exciting life events your family will face together–if approached with the right attitude. I’ll admit, over the two decades my husband has been in the military, I have not always been the beacon of positivity when relocation. For example, those three years in the desert of Yuma, AZ were not my finest moment. Still, looking back, I now know there were things I should have looked at with a wider lens.
I truly believe kids adopt cues from their parents, which means setting the tone relies solely on me. Challenge accepted. When your family receives PCS orders, what are some of the ways you approach moving your military kids?Read comments