You did it: you moved your family, your furniture, your cars and your pets to a new location. You researched housing and school options around your military base. You unpacked piles of boxes and sorted out places for everything in your new house. So, when will this place start to feel like home?
A PCS move is a familiar challenge for military families, but adjusting after a move is not as simple. Many families say it takes up to a year before they feel comfortable and familiar in their new location. Sometimes that’s just in time to anticipate orders to the next duty station. Then the cycle repeats. After a while, moving can become a physical and emotional drain on the family.
So, what can you do to speed up the process and help your family feel settled more quickly? Even if you just moved to a completely unfamiliar part of the country, there are steps you can take to invest in your location and help your new base feel like home.
- Find the essentials. Explore on your own or ask around to find a good grocery store, hairdresser and coffee shop. Save the GPS location of your favorite chain stores and restaurants. Once you can run errands and pick up food without directions, your new town will feel more familiar. Getting into a routine of visiting your favorite new places will help you appreciate your new town. A great resource for this is MilitaryINSTALLATIONS that has locally updated pages for nearly all of the installations in the world.
- Hang those pictures. When you’re unpacking moving boxes, it may be tempting to leave some of those pictures and decorations in the garage. After all, you’re only going to be here for a few years. Why go through the hassle of decorating if you’ll just have to take it down and fill in holes or re-paint later? The fact is your house won’t feel like home until you treat it like your home. There’s something comforting about unpacking your family treasures and finding a place for them in your new house. If you don’t invest the time and energy into decorating, then you will always have one foot out the door, ready to go to your next place. No one wants to feel like they are camping in their own house. The sooner you get the rooms set up and comfortable, the easier it will be for your family to relax.
- Join a group. If you want to feel like a local, you’ll have to mix with the locals. The best way to feel like you belong is to get out of the house and join a local group. This can be anything that appeals to your interests—a church, a gym, a book club, or a mommy playdate group. Even if you are an introvert, make the effort to talk to some group members. Learn their names; collect their phone numbers. These will become the people you can ask for advice, for help, or even the location of the best fish tacos in town. If you aren’t sure how to get started finding people, consider trying a peer consultation as a place to start.
- Be a tourist. Have you ever heard people say they have lived in the same place for years, but have never made time to visit local attractions? Military families don’t have the luxury of spending much time in one place. Before your family gets too settled and sucked into daily routines, make the most of your new surroundings. Visit the base ITT office to get discounted tickets for local attractions. Plan a daytrip or a family outing to help everyone see the value of your new town. When your family starts cheering for the local sports team or enjoying the local hiking trails, they will be proud to call this new place home.
- Get involved. As you get settled into school and work routines, be sure to make connections and get involved in your communities. Learn the names of your coworkers and try to participate in office events like holiday celebrations, cook-off competitions, or happy hours. If your kids are interested in sports and extracurriculars, chat with other parents at the events and buy the school T-shirts. These actions show your family that you are part of the community and you belong here, even if it is just for a short while.
Moving can be an unsettling process for everyone in the family. But taking these steps and making a little extra effort now can really pay off. Moving isn’t just about unpacking and starting at a new school. It’s about taking a new location and making it feel like you belong there.