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Don’t Forget the Kids When You PCS

It is 8:43 p.m. on a Monday night at the end of November as I sit here typing out this blog. If I’m being really honest, I’m splitting my attention between fleshing out cohesive thoughts and daydreaming about when we might get some whisper of news about orders — or at the very least, a bulleted list to help me more efficiently aim my PCS stress at probable locations.

It’s not just tonight, and it’s not just this PCS. This always happens. The closer we inch toward the projected PCS date, the more distracted I get and the more I tend to detach and uproot myself from where we are currently. Maybe it’s my Type-A personality showing. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe you’re reading this, and it isn’t even remotely relatable because I lost my marbles a long time ago. Who knows?

But it recently dawned on me that — whatever it is — my process of detachment is personal; it’s selfish. I’m a mom of two military kids, so I can’t think that way. This isn’t my move; it belongs to each member of our family. Gone are the days when my kids were easy to uproot because they were still in diapers and didn’t attack or question the PCS process. Now that they’re in school, we’re talking leaving friends, transferring grades and waving goodbye to the comforts of home that it took roughly three years to establish.

My 6-year-old asked me on the walk to school last week if our family cat, Murphy, (currently residing in Texas while we’re in Japan) could sleep in her room once we move to Virginia. She also asked me what color their treehouse was going to be. Those are some hard-hitting questions for a parent to answer when, A) We don’t have orders to Virginia, B) We don’t know if we will ever have orders to Virginia, C) We can’t possibly predict if our hypothetical tree in our hypothetical yard of our hypothetical house where we could move will, in fact, have a tree house, and D) How am I going to tell this miniature cat lady that Murphy may not even remember her after three years apart?

I began to wonder if I was completely mishandling the PCS situation. Because they have moments of awesome maturity, I sometimes forget that my husband and I might speak about the next move, but our kids don’t hear the maybes or what ifs. Kids like structure, so they seek it out by piecing together things they overhear and things we casually say in conversation. They’ve probably overshared possibilities. We’ve probably gotten their hopes up in one direction or another. And, I can say with some confidence, that I have not been as curious as I should be about their feelings, concerns, fears and questions about this move. Sure, I’m thinking about settling into a good school district and making sure I have shot records in hand when we move, but that’s level-one thinking. There’s a lot more that we can be doing as parents to make sure we don’t forget the kids when we PCS.

  1. The Concept of Time. Kids don’t have it. I’d say it kicks in at some point in adolescence, but how many of us can say we never missed curfew growing up? If we start talking up “when we move next [year, summer, etc.]” we are opening the gate for their minds to go buck wild, totally unbridled. Twelve months or 12 weeks, it doesn’t matter, once a move is mentioned, the wheels are in motion and those little curiosities and fears are wide awake.
  2. The Purging. The Pre-PCS purge is a personal favorite tradition of mine. But, as I’m currently chanting to myself as I see a mess spilling out of the closet, “it can wait.” Starting the purge initiates the move process to little minds. Even if this is exciting, the process of uprooting starts when that first box is donated. There’s really nothing wrong with waiting a little longer and letting their rooms and common spaces stay comfortably cluttered a while longer.
  3. The Crew. Remember back in kindergarten when everyone in class was your kid’s friend? Wasn’t that just sugar-coated preciousness? It seems clear to me as a mom of a first and third grader this year that there is an apparent shift from quantity to quality of friends after kindergarten. It becomes harder to leave when you start making friends based on choice verses convenience. Just like we don’t want to think about leaving our tribe, our kids don’t want to leave theirs. And, worse, without ease of access to social media and phones (demands I will not give into for several more years), it is more terrifying to leave your people. What can we do? Tell your kids you can and will stay in touch! Get their address, phone number, and email address if you don’t already have them. Assure them that even though they don’t have their own phone or email address, they can use yours to stay in touch. Check to see if there are Boys and Girls club activities where you are or where you are going that help military kids stay in touch, or see if the Military Kids Connect message board is something your kids could use.
  4. The Goodbye Tour. As you pinky-swear open communications with their BFF post-move, don’t forget to allow for goodbyes pre-move. This means making the rounds to all your local favorites one more time and seeing your favorite people. I recently approved a joint bowling party for my kids and their friends ahead of our move. I’m somewhere between “what did I just do?” and “wow, that was really cool of me.” [Pats self on back.] But, let’s be real, we’d never leave our own crew without a proper goodbye, so we can’t expect little hearts to do that either. This goodbye could very well be the last hoorah — let your kids have it.
  5. The Bandage Ripping. This one covers school, sports, clubs, church groups, secret societies, magical mythical associations ­— whatever your kid is into. Eventually it will be time for that last day, the last meeting, the last game. We should be tracking those lasts. I personally feel it’s important to make a big deal about them. Bring some cupcakes to Chess Club or baseball, who’s going to stop you? I think it’s equally important to have a game plan for plugging into the equivalent where you’re going. We should do our homework and track down the places that are the best fit for our kids after we move and then get them there.
  6. The Move. Despite the heel dragging and eye rolls, it’s go time. It sounds simple, but just talking about the move itself can ease fears. Structure is comforting, remember? So, knowing the next three steps ahead brings certainty to something that is otherwise uncertain. Let your kids keep a comfort item during the trip. Let them help plan road trip stops or shop for snacks for the Patriot Express flight. Getting them involved, even slightly, can help them feel more in control.
  7. The Settling. Once we get where we’re going, it can be easy to slide into cleaning and unpacking (guilty) — you know, boring grownup stuff. But, even speaking as the person who unpacks everything in the first 72 hours of the household goods delivery, take time to make sure your kids are plugging in to more than the video game console or a streaming binge. Help them meet the neighbor kids. Make time to take them to a new favorite ice cream place just waiting to be discovered. Don’t make excuses about being busy when soccer signups open. Just do it! Drive by the new school, meet the teacher when it’s time and do what you can to help them acclimate.

Here’s the hard part: stay engaged. Even six months after a move when you’re back to getting “OK” and “Fine” as responses to questions over dinner, and they’re annoyed with you for regular life stuff, don’t let up. Even when your kids insist that “You’re so embarrassing, Mom,” keep at it. That just means your love and attention are working. Make sure they know that no matter where the military sends you, they have a constant in you, a safe haven— no matter how many times the address changes, the love never does.

Kristi Stolzenberg
Written By Kristi Stolzenberg
Marine Spouse

Kristi started writing for Blog Brigade as a new Milspouse in 2008, and all of a sudden, she’s a seasoned (but not overly salty) Marine spouse.

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1 Comment

  • Hiya Kristi! Believe it or not, I literally just signed up to receive Military One Source newsletters, blog articles, etc…. it’s only been 16 years since hubby retired from the USAF, but hey what’s a few years! I will say, I only wish there had been articles like this around when we were PCS’ing with our young lads…. then again, I wish there had been the internet! haha. In any event, I absolutely love these short yet meaningful articles; they are so helpful especially for those new to the military moving game. Living in Military City, USA I consider myself a Military and Community Ambassador… always trying to share resources for spouses and service members in transition. So thank you for taking the time to share these words of wisdom and thank you for your service!!

    Chat soon!