Is there anything comparable to the stress of watching from the sidelines as your kids face a new school after a move? I’ve never seen it (and frankly, I don’t want to because anything worse than that sounds truly awful). Our recent PCS separated our kids across two campuses, plopped one in middle school and one in fifth grade, which is essentially just pre-middle school. New schools, new routines, new kids, new teachers, new trends, budding insecurities — I’m preaching to the choir, you get it.
All we can do is hype them up, give them some social advice we hope is still relevant, and hold our breath when they come home at the end of the day.
After several consecutive days of zero friend prospects at the beginning of the school year, I was so pleasantly surprised to finally hear my daughter excitedly report — you know, the way tween girls recite a full rundown in one long sentence without a breath or punctuation — that she was pulled out of class that day to do an activity with other military kids in her grade. As she spoke “at” me, I sensed a hint of confidence that I hadn’t heard in a while, and — man — I was glad to see that girl.
I eventually pieced together that her school counselor had officially begun her routine military kid meetups during school. I opted into the program at the beginning of the year and was excited it existed. The prior three years, our kids were in the minority in a small private school where no such program was in place. I would equate it to finding a ten-dollar bill in the pocket of your jeans — it’ll turn your whole day around.
Our daughter has now done several of these pullouts at this point in the school year. She always looks forward to them, and she always has a play-by-play to relay. Yes, she’s also made non-military friends in her class and through activities, but these military kids share a bond that few understand, and I’m beyond grateful she has this bonus tribe at school.
This program got me thinking just how much support our kids have around them as they grow up in the military.
- Professional Guidance — Like the counselor program at our kids’ schools, similar programs exist across the nation. Whether it is a DOD-connected counselor or an “ordinary” (housed in quotation marks because I believe all school counselors to be extraordinary) counselor, the goals are the same: Provide tools to cope with the turbulent times military kids face and help them build a tribe of peer support in place where they spend a substantial amount of time. These programs are usually structured, but without knowing the full ins and outs, I would venture to guess that a military kiddo could see them outside of the group setting for extra one-on-one support.
- Peer Support — Whether established in a formal setting (like the school military kid sessions) or just by finding friends organically on base, in their neighborhood or through extracurricular activities, peer support is powerful stuff. There is infinite comfort — especially in those awkward tween and teen years — in knowing you aren’t the only one feeling a certain way. Military kids may find it easier to open up to someone walking the path right alongside them because some parents (hi, it’s me, some parents) can slide easily from engaged listening to a life lecture.
Peer support can be hard to lose, and saying goodbye to friends is an unfortunate cost of being a military kid. Just keep in mind that you may need to add up other support systems when friends move away. Admittedly, it’s a lot easier to say goodbye to friends with all the technology at our fingertips. Despite the rough goodbyes our kids faced when leaving Virginia, those friends are still a part of their lives. Secure chat options and online gaming have both eased the latest transition.
- Older Military Kids — Was there anything cooler than a high schooler when we were little? No — they were the coolest. An older military kid taking a younger military kid under their wing is special stuff, and it provides many of the same rewards as peer support. Though an older military kid might not be going through fifth grade in a new school now, they probably did once, and they are way more qualified to teach from their experience than I am — the girl who never moved schools.
- Military-Connected Adults — This one is a personal favorite, and our kids are lucky to have a big extended military family of honorary aunts and uncles. This is more than a person who just drives the carpool to soccer practice (though that can be a component of it). This is a person who shows up for your kid alongside you or when you can’t be there. Our “framily” (friend family) has helped mold our kids. They pick up on little things like a sense of humor, morals, what aspects of military life to brush off, and what to plant your foot firmly on. While in Japan, this “framily” made sure our kids always had a cheering section at recitals or games — which was so special since their grandparents and extended family were all stateside.
These friends of ours have grown into mentors for our kids. It’s not unusual for our kids to text a “framily” member when they’re bored or ask when they’ll get to see them again. The best I can tell, this is hard to come by outside of military life, so embrace the moments your kids can lean on and learn from another trusted military-connected adult.
These are by no means the only potential mentors for military kids. Sometimes a kiddo will just click with someone — they don’t even have to be a part of the military community — coaches, teachers and neighbors all have the potential to positively impact your kiddo and help through a challenging time. I was once someone who was 100% in the camp of “I can handle it myself.” I’m now more of an “all hands on deck” as we enter the teen zone. I don’t think my kids can have enough allies and safe spaces as we head into uncharted territory.