Before you say “been there done that” regarding a PCS move, note that all moves are not created equal. Each time you move, your family is a little older, a little more involved in your community and sometimes a little bigger. If you’re moving with teenagers, strap in; it’s a whole new experience!
Moving with small children was a challenge. It was more exhausting than I realized. As our family grew and we added babies and dogs, the logistics of a move became overwhelming at times. Now that my children are all into the preteen, teenager and “they think they are grownups” stages, I look back fondly on those early moves as being a piece of cake. What I didn’t take into account was TEENAGERS and all their emotions, feelings and independent thinking. How dare they start to grow up and become their own person! Throw out everything you think you know about moving when it comes to moving with teens.
I’m not sure when the shift happens, and it’s different with each child. But when it does and they suddenly become aware of what moving means on deeper levels, you have your work cut out for you. When the kids were little, we could say we’re moving, and you get a new house and a new room! We focused on the journey and all the fun things we would do in our new location. It was an exciting adventure for all.
Teenagers will not swallow that spoonful of sugar so easily. They are egocentric to begin with, it’s just the nature of being a teen; add to that a change in their whole world, and you could possibly have a melted pool of emotions at your feet bemoaning their fate. Preparation for a move takes on a whole new meaning.
In their defense, the teen years are fraught with emotions, hormones, weekly self-esteem crises and the ever-evolving social circle. It’s more like a social amoeba oozing through middle and high schools organizing and reorganizing best friends and social groups.
In parents’ defense, we really never know how our teen is going to react, so really I don’t know that there is any true preparation. It’s more like damage control after you announce the impending orders.
I have one son who was ready to move, or so he thought. He was relatively easygoing through the whole process — even helpful! I was shocked. He and I were the last to leave our duty station heading to our new home. Our family is so large we left in three shifts. You could say he and I were the rear detachment — finishing up the last few things like the packers and movers, cleaning the house, turning in the storage keys and being the last to kiss the town goodbye. Fast forward six months, and it dawns on this man child that he desperately needs to go back and live with someone there. I’ll give you 10 days to visit son-shine, but that won’t happen! His adjustment was a bit rocky and hard to watch. No one wants to see their children hurting, sad or feeling friendless. After about 18 months, he began settling in, finding his niche. Yes, I said EIGHTEEN MONTHS. (This is where you should feel sorry for me.)
On another move, one daughter literally melted onto the floor sobbing when her dad came home and announced orders. “I’m going to die!” “I’ll never make new friends!” “How will I go on?!”
Once we got Princess Dramatic up off the floor, the discussions began. They turned into negotiations of potential visits to ease the pain of leaving and then threats of finding a tower to put her in if she didn’t pull herself together. She not only made new friends, rather quickly I might add, but has yet to go back and visit. Life took over and she quickly adjusted. Who knew?
Here is my advice for moving with teenagers:
For us this was a big one. I recommend you find a Military School Liaison Officer. NOW. Even if you are moving from one military community to another, you still need to know who to go to if the need arises. You’d be surprised at the “needs that arise.” If you have high school-age students, the officer can be instrumental in helping you navigate the required graduation credits from one state to another.
All of a sudden these tiny children, who you could tell what to wear and lead by your example on how to feel about all of it, are suddenly independent and HAVE THEIR OWN IDEAS AND FEELINGS about the move. It can be exhausting. However, it’s so important you acknowledge their feelings and validate them. They have a right to feel the way they feel. It is also important you not get sucked into their feelings, but keep an eye on the big picture and help them navigate those emotions. Think of it as a chance to help them develop coping skills that will stay with them long after life with you and the military is behind them.
Making new friends is not easy for everyone. I have some children who dive in and come home with a new best friend within the first week. I have others who have struggled to find their place. I wish I could tell you how to help manage that process, but I can’t. All you can do is be a soft place for them to land as they navigate the waters of teenage society, and guide them along the way.
These wonderful, difficult, fabulous children are blossoming before our very eyes into incredible adults. We are instrumental in that growth and development, and our role does not take a sabbatical during a move. Do your homework, use the resources provided to you through the installations and Military OneSource to be more fully prepared to help them through the adjustments that come with a move.
Most of all, look forward yourself with a glass-half-full attitude. If you do, you’ve already laid the ground work for an incredible new adventure for you and your family.