*Brotherhood of the traveling parents, too. I’m not trying to leave out the dads, just referring to sisterhood from personal experience.
Shrink your world and expand your village. That’s the Alice-from-Wonderland effect that military life can have on your childhood concepts of an enormous world and small network of friends. I grew up in the civilian world where my family stayed in the same house and went to the same schools. I always had family and friends around me for support and never considered that life would be any different than that. And then it was. I’ve got five tips to share that helped me find and form a sisterhood among the other PCSing parents and thrive in military life no matter where we lived.
Tip #1: Participate in events.
When we PCS’d to Sicily, Italy (leaving all the family and friends I’d known), I was nervous that I’d be completely alone when my husband deployed. That’s when I started to notice the magic of the military community. From the day we landed in Catania and met our Navy sponsor we began to form bonds with people in our new community. This trend continued through the indoctrination course that brought us up to speed on local customs, etiquette, conversational Italian with key phrases and hand gestures, as well as earning an Italian driver’s license.
We made a great connection with a group of people in that class when we went on a “get lost trip” to Syracuse, Sicily. The assignment put our group on an adventure where we had to dive into a culture and language we didn’t know, arrive to the city in one mode of transportation, find assigned items along the way and return home by a different form of transportation. We created great memories as we worked our way to and through Syracuse and back home. We must have been a sight with our halting and butchered Italian, wild gestures, animated facial expressions, but we managed to get directions, buy tickets, and tour the ruins in the city —oh and made good friends in the process.
Tip #2: Drop the labels.
The nature of friendships you make while in the military tend to be a bit different than in the civilian world. You make friends quickly in the military community…it’s almost like speed dating for friendship, because you only have two to three years in that one location. Don’t start out by labeling people and prejudging them. Get to know who they are. Continue to make many acquaintances while you get to know people a bit better. It won’t take long before you develop a close circle of support.
My village began to expand even more as we took advantage of opportunities to meet other people. We attended local festivals, on-base events (airshows, Morale, Welfare and Recreation sponsored family events and holiday celebrations), mom’s groups, and house parties with co-workers and neighbors in order to meet more people. The more people you meet, the more likely you are to find good friends. We all find ourselves labeling people from time to time. But, now’s the time to recognize it and stop labeling people. I would have missed some amazing friends had I put people in a box and moved on before getting to know them.
Tip #3: Nurture your friendships.
In both our duty stations of Sicily and Virginia Beach, the friends I made — a few different groups of moms (and their families) — became my sisters by choice. We stood by one another through pregnancies, adoptions, illnesses, deployments, births and deaths. We helped each other through the day-to-day difficulties of long deployments by helping each other with cleaning chores, yard work and making dinner for one another. Exploring landmarks and community novelties with the kids or planning girls’ night out were some of the ways we got each other out of the house and kept something special on the calendar to look forward to in between deployment mile markers.
These women were wonderful examples to me of the kind of mom I wanted to be and I took lessons from each of them. They also taught me a lot about how to be a good friend. Sometimes, when you’re struggling through a deployment, you don’t know what help you need. But caring friends pay attention to things like that and act when they notice something that needs to be done or when you need to chat.
Tip #4: Respect family time.
Military spouses understand that when the service member comes home from a deployment, the family forms a bit of a cocoon while they reintegrate and get used to being a family again. Always be understanding and respectful of that. Our job as friends is to support one another. Sometimes the best way to be a friend is to step back and give them space.
Not everyone cocoons. Some people prefer to be with friends to welcome home the deployed spouse. Whatever your friends prefer, be ready to support. During deployments I’d be in touch with some friends every day, some every week and others a few times a month. Remember to be flexible. Not everyone needs the same amount of support or attention.
Tip #5: Bloom where transplanted.
Going through large life transitions together (PCSing, learning a new culture and language by immersion, living through deployments, becoming parents, etc.), creates a lifelong bond of friendship. One of the great traits of military friends, and good friends in general, is that even after you move away, and even with years between visits, it’s like no time passed and you pick up your conversation right where it left off.
There’s a respect and an understanding between military friends where you know you both must bloom where you are transplanted. This means that with each move the initial focus has to be on expanding your village of support at the new location. You both do this while enjoying the friendships you’ve made over the years.