Lessons in the emotional and physical impacts of moving through the eyes of military families.
May is Military Appreciation Month. Considering fewer than one-half of one percent of the population serves in the U.S. armed forces, it may not be a particularly notable month compared to others. However, those in the military dedicate their lives to our safety and well-being. Behind every soldier is a family member who commits a piece of themselves. Those military spouses and families have homed in on skills all of us can use. One that stands out is the expertise behind years of moving—not just physically but emotionally. How do you build resilience through constant location changes? In this blog, military families share lessons they learned to become more resilient through each move.
A challenge … or an adventure?
Feelings about moving aren’t always black or white. It’s important to find a silver lining. While moving is stressful for anyone, the opportunity to start somewhere new can be exciting.
“I’m from Connecticut,” says Michaela, married to an Air Force officer. “I would never have thought about leaving the east coast, yet I’m in Washington state and about to move to Oklahoma. I can’t say I wanted to move there, but after talking to some friends, looking at Facebook groups, and some online sleuthing I’m finding there are some pretty great things to do and see. I even happen to know someone at the same base.”
Whether you’re looking forward to a move or not, embrace your feelings. “As my family and I prepare to make our 13th move or PCS (permanent change of station) in 23 years, I’m following my normal process,” says Alejandra, an Army wife and mom of two. “Freak out, have a pity party, and then start organizing—not always in that order.”
If you or your family are hesitant to leave, take a new mental approach to the change. Alejandra has a method for most of her moves: “With the kids, we treat moving as an adventure. We get out the map, talk about what we want to see along the way, or plan what to visit once we get there.” Keeping a positive outlook on the experience and taking everything in stride can lessen the stress for all involved.
Finding a new home
Families with a service member on active duty typically change locations about every two to three years with the availability of housing on the military installation. However, not everyone lives on post, and having moving experience doesn’t always equal eagerness to do it frequently.
Civilians face whole-life upheavals, too. It may be for a job, to be closer or farther from family, for a sense of adventure, or for other reasons. Because we usually choose when and where to move, we may overlook the challenges of actually moving and settling down. When Shari and Bill left Tennessee for Bill’s new job in Texas, Shari says, “It took me about eight weeks to accept not seeing the brand of milk I was used to at the store.”
A few things to look for when moving:
- Research neighborhoods. If you have children, find a school district or childcare center that feels right for you. Also, check sites that show crime in the local area. Safety should never be overlooked.
- Find the right home at the right price. There are a few things to look for in the fine print when leasing or buying a home. For example, there may be a monthly charge for having a pet if you are renting a house or apartment. There could be some particularly unusual HOA rules that you might not be accustomed to if buying a house. Do not rush into something because it’s in the “perfect” neighborhood or area.
- Map out the essentials. Where are the closest grocery stores and gas stations? What is the travel time to work or school during high and low traffic times? And don’t forget about the fun things too—a gym, coffee shop, or hobby shop, for example.
What about my job?
If you start looking for a job before moving, you’ll already be a step ahead. The job site Indeed.com has an article on how to find a job before you move. FlexJobs.com also has excellent advice about finding a remote job.
When doing an in-person job search, there can be an ethical conundrum. “You have no control over when you will have to leave any job you get,” Laurie says. “You might feel like you already have one foot out the door, even during the interview process. Do you say something? How do you explain gaps in your resume caused by moving regularly?” Legally, a company cannot ask you in an interview if you are a military spouse or if you are pregnant, but it can still feel awkward.
This is a common challenge for anyone looking to expand a family or needing flexibility as a caregiver for a child or parent with a chronic illness. Only you will know what feels right when it comes to interviewing. Many military spouses stick with work-from-home jobs to avoid the problem altogether.
There is always a sadness in moving due to the increased physical distance between friends. Friendship can be built on being in person and doing similar things, but if you aren’t physically together, how can it continue? Or if you’re moving and creating a new lifestyle, how will your “old” friends be a part of it?
Rebecca, a mom of two, lives in a neighborhood with a mix of civilians and military families. Military families are used to the stigma of moving and know friendships may come to an end or may grow into something different, but civilian families feel the same way too. Both groups can think, “Why bother? They’ll just be moving in a few years anyhow.” What to remember is friendship is not based on time; it’s based on the strength of the relationship.
We’ve written extensively about friendships in our blog post “How Friendship Affects Your Body, Mind, and Spirit.” It expands on all aspects of friendship—choosing friends, evolving relationships, grieving lost friendships, and much more. It is a great resource for how both military families and civilians can forge new bonds and hold on to those who came before.
Community for the win
Military families know the benefits of genuine community. Alejandra says, “I know I could ask any of my fellow military spouses or someone in my husband’s unit for help. They would do almost anything for me without expecting something back.”
Being part of a group means you have friends—new and old—almost everywhere. Alejandra continues, “The Army has nearly one million personnel, but the Army is pretty small.” She began developing her network early in her husband’s career. This can be true for civilians. You never know if a neighbor, co-worker, or member of your church has a connection to where you are moving.
We discussed in general how friendships are impacted when you leave a location, but what about when you arrive in your new location? How can you begin to form friendships—especially as an adult?
If you are passionate about something, there is probably a way to volunteer for that cause. For military spouses, this frequently means volunteering for the unit’s family readiness group that helps families with various needs. You meet new people and help those who might be navigating a hard time. Try volunteering at a food shelter, senior citizen center, animal shelter, or your child’s school.
Group fitness classes and clubs can be found in any town and are relatively easy to find. If you are interested in walking, jogging, or running with others, Road Runners Club of America has a list of clubs you can join across the U.S.
If you are a new mom or have little ones, Strong Like a Mother is located across the country. It’s a great way to make friends with people at the same stage of life as you. This is particularly popular in the military as it’s a fast way to meet people and stay healthy during a time community is incredibly important, especially if away from family.
Don’t forget to join a gym with fitness classes where you’ll regularly see the same people. That could mean continuing your love of boxing or starting to see familiar faces at Zumba class.
Military spouse groups frequently have sub-groups, like book clubs. Find a local bookstore and see if they have a book club you can join or check out the library if you like to read. Your new town or city may have shops like knitting, crochet, needlepoint, and other tactile hobbies that host their own clubs.
You could also use this as an opportunity to try something new. Have you played with the idea of taking a spin class? Riding a horse? Thought about taking up sewing? Use this as an opportunity to give it a go.
Just keep moving
At the end of the day, the physical act of moving is complicated even with the knowledge here. The important thing is to remember to take everything one step at a time and keep the momentum going. Commit to a location. Commit to a home. Commit to making new friends. Do not be surprised if your “old” friends boost you mentally (and maybe even physically!) as you make this new change.