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PCSing With Children: The End of the World as They Know It

Must-Have Parent

You broke the news to your children, and they reacted just as you expected.


They asked questions you couldn't answer. ("Why? But what about my friends?")

You made special playdates with all of their friends, even had a sleepover party.

You researched your new duty station so much that you feel qualified to work for the Chamber of Commerce in a city you've never even seen.

You had a yard sale -- and then tried to avoid making eye contact with your neighbors. Not because you didn't want to talk to them, but because you didn't want to talk about how you were moving. It was too hard to talk about moving with them.

These were the people who had shared the wisdom and the bottles of wine that got you through that horrible deployment. They were your tribe.

You couldn't tell them about the pretty back yard at your new house, or how highly the schools there are rated. Talking about it felt like cheating. So you averted your eyes and tried to move quickly in and out of your house.

And then, one day, they were standing there, by the street, to hug you one last time before you drove away. You couldn't remember if you'd ever hugged them before.

Everyone cried. 

And then you left.

Even if you hated your duty station, leaving it still feels weird. Driving off, away from this place that has been your routine for three years.

This is what PCSing is like for the grown-ups.

Maybe you're excited to go somewhere new, to leave behind that hellhole in the desert or that frozen tundra, or that steamy southern swamp.

Maybe you can't wait to see that duty station in your rearview mirror. Maybe you're thrilled to go OCONUS for the first time.

Now imagine that you've only been alive for a few years.

Three years is one-tenth of a 30-year-old's life -- but it's all of a three-year-old's.

This may be the only home your child has ever known, or at least all he or she remembers.

This place is her birthday parties, her room, the street where she rides her bike, her friends.

And that new place?

It's just new.

And that makes it scary.

PCSing is a pain. The checklists are pages long and tedious. The transition weeks loom torturously. As parents, it's very easy for us to get caught up in the stress of the move, the never ending to-do lists, the minutiae. We can get so busy that we don't let ourselves get emotional until it's time to actually get into the car and go.

The impact isn't felt until we have to stand in the front yard and hug our friends goodbye, maybe for the last time.

But our kids don't usually have such long to-do lists. They don't get to get busy. They have hours every day for weeks to think about what is happening. Worse, they aren't yet old enough to know from experience that everything really will be OK.

There are dozens of websites offering PCS tips and dozens of articles that dive deep into the dos and don'ts of moving. Search Pinterest, and you'll find some pretty ingenious PCS suggestions.

Really ingenious. Seriously. Some of y'all are crazy clever.

But -- useful as all of that is -- it's crap when your child, that half-sized vessel that contains every drop of love you've ever had, begs you not to make him move. When your child is crying and you kind of know it's your fault (even if it isn't a fault thing), and there's nothing you can do to fix it, all of those checklists are useless.

You fumble for the right words, but settle for smoothing down the cowlick on the back of his head instead. You want to be reassuring, but you end up feeling helpless. You try out some of the new-home cheerleading, that Chamber of Commerce-y stuff you've been practicing, but you end up annoying even yourself.

PCSing sucks, even when it goes great, and it sucks even more for kids.

So offer an extra measure of patience in those weeks before the move. Try to find time to squeeze in that extra playdate with that favorite friend. Find, pin and use all those great tips to ease the transition for your whole family. Talk to your child about all the fun you're going to have when you get to your new home.

Then smooth down that cowlick and tell your little boy or girl what you already know to be true: It really will be OK.

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Rebekah Sanderlin PCS

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Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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