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Moving Military Kids: It's All About the Parents

Moving military kids is really dependent on the mom and the dad, the service member and the spouse.  That's what the research on military families says.

Adults who can keep a reasonably positive attitude while moving military kids have been shown to improve the outcome for the whole family. So hold the thought and pass the Pinot!

The reporter interviewing me about moving military kids wasn’t interested in that. Instead she wanted me to recite stories of my children as outcasts and loners.

The Outcast and Loner Stage

Believe me, at some point during their 12 moves, my children have, in fact, been outcasts and loners. As any parent of military kids can tell you, the outcast and loner thing is a distinct stage of moving military kids. It is especially hard for introverts and kids in middle school.  And some military kids do the outcast and loner thing all the time.

Let me tell you about the pack of boys in the neighborhood that would disappear into someone’s house the minute my son came outside. Let me tell you about my girlfriend’s high school senior who ate his lunch by himself behind the school every day because he couldn’t face the cafeteria. Let me tell you about all the teenage girls I know who spent part of every day hiding in the bathroom.  And that's the G rated stuff.

The outcast and loner stage that is part of moving military kids that hurts. It hurts the kids going through it. It hurts the mom or dad at home who absorb all that anger, pain, defeat, despair, rejection, depression. It hurts (and irritates the hell out of) the service member.

Which is a golden moment.

I really wanted that reporter to know that. I wanted her to help parents identify that outcast and loner stage as the time we military parents need to hold on tight to our crumbling positivity. Right there is where we make the difference.

Problems with moving military kids are often temporary.

Because the research shows that problems with the move are usually temporary. (Not always.  Usually.  Military kids are not invulnerable to the problems that come along with a move.)

We forget that part about things getting better with time when we are in the middle of it.  We  forget that this is our chance to teach our kids that some things just have to be endured while we all keep trying.

When my sixth grader was being excluded from the neighborhood group, we had a rule that he could go hang out with them until something negative happened, then he should come back home.

At first, he came back home in a few minutes. Over the next few months, he would stay out longer and longer. By the beginning of the summer, he was a full-fledged member of the group.

Since our last move, three of those boys have come to visit us in Washington, DC. Kids from his sixth grade class are still friends on Facebook. One of the guys on his lacrosse team turned up in the Army with him.

“Most kids aren’t that persistent,” the reporter told me.

Darn right. Some military kids are outcasts and loners the whole time they live in a place.  My kids each have at least one school where that was true.  But it is also true that when you move every other year like military kids do, you have to be persistent. Not because it comes naturally, but because persistence is all there is.

That goes for parents, too. You persist in the thing you are doing.  And when those things don't work you persist in getting help until it does.

I admire my military friends and colleagues so much when their families are going through a deployment. That’s a challenge.

But I love them most when they are going through a move. When they are setting up cribs and comforting babies. When they are listening to their teenagers kvetch without arguing with them. When they are making bright suggestions to their middle schoolers, and packing lunches they know will be eaten in the bathroom.

They persist.  And that makes all the difference. Eventually.

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