We spent our entire childhoods in the service of our country, and no one even knew we were there.-Pat Conroy
A particular child of mine was having a difficult time of adjusting to our latest move and let me know it in no uncertain terms. I heard things like the following regularly,
Why did I have to move?
I wish I could have stayed with my friends!
I felt so helpless as a parent, watching her struggle and feeling like there was little I could do to practically help her get through the process. And yet her feelings mirrored my own in so many ways. In the midst of a hot sticky summer in temporary lodging, none of us really wanted to be at this newest base. We all grieved the loss of a wonderful church family and dear friends and even the previous house and location.
Each of our four children has struggled with at least one move, and it can be hard to know what to do for the ones you love the most. Kids are so different, and what shakes one’s entire world is merely a blip for another. So there’s no blanket advice I can give to help your particular child deal with the challenges of this latest relocation you’re going through.
What? Isn’t this supposed to be a helpful post about helping my military kid through a PCS move?
Yes. And I’ll get to that part in a moment.
But you can do all the research (Military OneSource is a great resource for PCS’ing families by the way), host a goodbye party, walk through all the healthy ways to say your farewells, explore the new location, do your best to maintain a positive attitude about the new place, enroll your kid in the Youth Sponsorship program so they’ll make new connections…and still have a child who struggles mightily.
When Your Military Child Doesn’t Want to Move
But there are two simple ingredients I think you need to help your military kid through a difficult move, and there’s nothing magical or secret about it, but it does require a bit of blind faith in trusting that things will get better at some point, as well as understanding when to seek outside help if it’s needed. Here’s my take, after raising four military kids.
Time and patience.
Things are NOT going to get better instantly; they’re just not. Yes, our military kids are SO adaptable and resilient. But they’re still kids. Pretending that a move across the country or world isn’t greatly affecting them is just dishonest and not helpful for anyone.
So give it time.
Let your child set the pace for what he or she wants to do, what new experiences they’re willing to embrace (with a little healthy prodding from you at times to get out there even when they don’t want to)–but do them the favor of letting them control something during this upheaval, even if it’s small like choosing how to arrange their new room.
Your child may not work through the transition on your timetable, and there’s a point where we as parents need to accept that. Extend patience and love. Your child’s whole world just changed, all of it, and it can be overwhelming.
It could be the only home your child remembers or the place where they made their very best friends. Your child simply doesn’t have enough life experience to keep it all in perspective just yet.
You can remind them that you’re there and that you know this is hard, be the voice that reminds them that everything really will be all right again someday, but for now…maybe it’s time to be quiet and really listen. To just be there for them, provide a sounding board for their struggles, and offer help when it’s warranted. Sometimes we parents have a habit of forcing onto our kids what we think they should feel, rather than really listening to their concerns, fears, or even grief. Lean into the discomfort of letting them express what they need from you, even if it makes you uncomfortable because you can’t ‘fix’ it.
While I wish there was a magical formula to ‘make it all better’ at once, I haven’t found it yet. I hope that will comfort you in some small way! Knowing that other families are going through similar feelings and situations during a PCS move can be a great help. We’re in this together.
Here are a few recommended resources for military families with kids:
Chameleon Kids: How I wish this had been around when my children were younger! There’s even a magazine just for military kids, Military Kids’ Life.
Military Kids Connect: Kids can connect with other military kids, find resources, and talk to other children going through similar circumstances unique to military life such as deployments and moves.
Milspouse Matters podcast episodes having to do with military kids and moving:
If you have a child who continues struggling with the transition over an extended period of time, please make use of Military OneSource, the confidential MFLC (Military and Family Life Counselors) located on your installation, or your chaplains. There’s help available for military families during these transitions.