Guest post written by Sara Andrews

“Some journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny.” – CS Lewis

There are many words that have been used to describe military families. Some descriptions are heavily laden with adoration and pride, while some may be expressed with a note of sadness. The multidimensional feelings towards the lifestyle of military families may differ, but one thing remains true, the real MVPs of the military family unit are the children of our service members.

We are an active-duty family. I write that with pride and genuine astonishment, knowing my husband has served for over 14 years and I have been fortunate to be by his side for 12 of those years. Together we have lived in 11 homes in various parts of the country. These homes have been filled with memories, milestones, hopes and dreams. When we were young and free, our excitement to embark on this journey together was palpable. Our anticipation and curiosity often masked the hidden emotions attached to the other sides of our humanity, the less bright and shiny side. We were doe-eyed, full of wonder, and moved forward with gusto.

Preparing Children for a Move

Fast forward to the moments our family grew, and our two boys joined the herd. The rainbows and butterflies of the adventure military life provides started to be laced with trepidation. Hesitancy became clearer in our actions towards new assignments, new homes, new friends, and new experiences on the horizon. Our homes and communities became places of refuge. The temporary walls around us had always been filled with the echoes of the sounds of a happy home, full of infant cries, belly laughs, first-step cheers, and long-ago dreams turning realized experiences.

Each space we called home held a part of our journey, a critical piece of our story. The experiences in each home still feel so tangible, as if I could reach out and grab those moments and feel them all again in real time. As I wipe a tear away, I realize how grateful I am for the walls that held our hearts, even if only for a short moment of this journey.

With this raw experience of moving with my own children, I am choosing to focus on the top THREE things to pass on to help your child’s mental health during a PCS (Permanent Change of Station).

Photo Credit U.S. Dept. of Defense

Step 1: Adopt the “Honesty is the Best Policy” as your new family motto.

“Yes, of course they will have bananas wherever we move next. Fret not, sweet child.” “Buddy, I am still fairly certain there are no dinosaurs there but let’s search that up.

“Buddy, I am still fairly certain there are no dinosaurs there but let’s search that up.”

  • Trust me, you won’t regret this. If you have even the teensiest idea that you MAY be moving in the future, communicate that with your children. This can look different for every family. Explain that moving will be in their future, even if you do not know where you will be going. Doing this in a way to promote positive emotions could be to fully explain why your family may be moving. Include the children in the conversations and do your best to answer their questions as they come along. Moving is one of the top five stressful events in a person’s life. Now imagine that stress in the eyes of a child. Be honest with them when they come to you with questions or concerns. No question is to be taken too lightly.

Step 2: Help them plan for the move.

  • Start this step early. The moment you know you will be moving, include them in the process. This could possibly look like showing them a map and explaining your options. Google photos of those locations and discuss what is around. Include them in the conversations when formulating a housing plan. Let your children tell you what their new room looks like in their imagination. If possible, let your children and their zest for life influence the steps you take on the trip to your new home. Choose great playgrounds along the way for quick picnics. If there is a random World’s Largest Pistachio (or similar options) on the side of the highway taking you and all the things you hold dear to your new destination, stop there, and take a photo. I promise you won’t regret this, either.

Step 3: Help them maintain meaningful personal relationships, even if time is dwindling and the distance may seem unmanageable.

  • This is possibly the most difficult task for all of us parents. If there was a Mount Everest of emotional fortitude, learning to nourish and sustain relationships over time and space is the peak we all strive to ascend as a frequent flier of Team “Make A Life and Learn to Leave It.” Making friends is in our DNA as humans. We long for common ground between ourselves and those who are near us. In fact, so many incredible things happen in our bodies when we form close relationships and share moments with others. Knowing this, it would be a huge disservice to assume that our “resilient” children do not understand the changes in the relationships around them. As parents, it is our duty to gently guide our children to form positive relationships with those around them. Because children are often a little egocentric by nature, any change in their relationships with others may feel even bigger than we believe simply because they do not have all the tools in their emotional toolbox that we may have as adults. It is our job to model for them, so they learn these major life skills.

    Use the time you have at your new duty station to experience the new relationships, surroundings, and rhythm. A great way to develop a strong sense of community is to go outside and be open to your space. Say hello to a new neighbor or join a local group that fits your personal ideals and values. Allow yourself to bend into the space that will be created for you in total kindness and warmth, even if it may feel uncomfortable at first. Encourage your children to do the same and, with you modeling this behavior of being vulnerable and allowing others into your space, your children will feel more comfortable replicating your actions. They will feel safe because you showed them that they are.

    As your time comes to a close at your current duty station, have discussions with your children about what it looks like to have physical distance in a friendship. The natural progression of a move usually includes pulling away from those we care about as a defense mechanism. However, encourage your children to remain present in their relationships and discuss what distance looks like and how they can bridge those distances. Research safe apps on your phone (I use Marco Polo with several friends from many different duty stations), gather email and physical addresses, plan to have a chat on your telephone often. Giving the children these options allows them a sense of control and helps them manage their emotional response to a huge, life-altering moment. Lastly, help them with this as much as possible. Help them understand how to value and nurture their own important relationships, no matter the circumstances. This will impact them into adulthood. Don’t sleep on helping them learn to love others well.

About the Author

Thanks for letting me gab about moving with children. I’m Sara Andrews, a mental health professional and advocate. I am loved by my husband, our two boys, and a vizsla with seemingly two collective brain cells entirely (but we love her).

This life has never been easy, but we have been lucky enough to love, and be loved on in return. That is like a beam of light that has shown onto our souls. To our military community and those civilian supporters we’ve met along the way, thank you for helping us to become our favorite versions of ourselves yet.

Looking for a military-friendly real estate agent in your area to buy or sell a home? Click here to fill out our Military Real Estate Questionnaire and we will help find you an agent that is a great fit or send a us a message.

Looking for a military-friendly real estate agent in your area to buy or sell a home? Click here to fill out our Military Real Estate Questionnaire and we will help find you an agent that is a great fit or send a us a message.