I’m about to embark on my 12th move as a military spouse. You would think that this is old hat by now, that I should move through this process blindfolded and come out the other side unscathed. But I would be lying if I told you that’s what’s likely to happen.
My neighbor was just saying how he couldn’t imagine dealing with the bureaucracy that takes place for a single move, much less move after move. I couldn’t agree more. My husband and I made a bargain many years ago. He owns the bureaucratic process. I help with everything else.
Still, that’s easier said than done. Even without the phone calls and paperwork, a move means being organized. It’s funny, because I can be very organized for other people but have a much harder time organizing my own family. Being ready for a move also means being flexible. Schedules change, rental homes can be hard to find, cars can be hard to sell. It’s a process. And when expectations don’t meet reality, that’s when the meltdowns happen. Unfortunately, it’s usually my husband who takes the brunt of my frustration. We’ve gotten better over the years but it never fails that I still get angry and burst into tears at least once during a move. No matter how well prepared I think we are, something always goes wrong.
But this isn’t really about the meltdowns – it’s about how to stay sane. So, here are a few tips.
Keep life normal for as long as possible. Plan for the future but don’t live in it. Keep going to classes, keep the kids in the after school programs, keep meeting friends for book club. Keep it real and limit your future assignment pipe dreams to what you have to do… trust me, everything will fall into place when you get there. It always does.
Take some family time – yes, I just told you to keep life normal but hopefully a normal life includes some time for you and your kids and for you and your spouse. Kids are more likely to let you know how they feel when they are relaxed. Whether it’s board games, a day at the park, a Wii extravaganza, or tea and cookies on a rainy afternoon, do something your kids like to do with you and your partner. And then do the same thing for you and your spouse – have a date night, take time for a coffee together, or simply take a walk around the block. These simple moments can help build up reserves of strength that we all need, kids and parents alike, when the stress of moving takes over.
Escape from it all. It’s okay to veg out in front of a sappy television show (neither my kids nor my husband will watch Call the Midwife with me but I watch it anyway; it’s me time!). I love re-reading books just before we move. I always choose a story I know well, one that I can be comfortable with and not worry about any surprises. There will be enough surprises in the near future and I don’t need anymore, even in a book.
If you have the chance, take vacation in between assignments. A new move is often easier to face with some downtime in between one location and the next. If we’re driving to the new base, we pack our camping gear and take a road trip. If we’re headed overseas, we try to visit our extended family on a leg of the trip. Coming back from Argentina, we did not travel directly to Washington DC but stopped on the West Coast to stay with my sister-in-law and her husband. Heading out this time, we’ll visit both sets of grandparents. It’s a way for my kids to maintain a connection with our families, especially important as we’re headed to a faraway location where they may not visit us. Vacations in between moves are nice because there is nothing to get back to – no lawn to mow, no house to clean, no car to wash – it’s all packed up nice and neat.
Take time to grieve. Moving is hard. It isn’t the packing or the cleaning out or the organizing though heaven knows those things are hard enough. It’s the saying goodbye. Even a location where I’ve lived only a year and I purposefully haven’t tried to put down any roots, I have friends to say goodbye to. I will cry. I will probably cry more than once. Military life means that we lose touch with some of the best friends we have ever made. We hope that we’ll see them again and we love it when we reunite whether it’s in person, via telephone or chat, or just running into each other on Facebook on that same sleepless night… but it is never as intense as when we live in the same place. It just can’t be.
Last but not least, talk about it, write about it, draw it, paint it, photograph it. Sharing the experience helps.