As most military personnel know, PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station, but for families with children, it can quickly transform into a Painfully Complicated Situation. Having to pack up all your belongings, say goodbye to friends, family, and familiar places is never easy. At TroopSwap, our sales teams are composed of military spouses and veterans sourcing military discounts around the country. We’ve polled these PCS-experts, and they offered up 10 tips to make the transition as smooth as possible:
1) Stay Positive. Kids will feed off of their parents attitude; moving is a pain, whether it’s around the corner or across country, but if you try to stay positive, the kids will have the same outlook. Even if you’re not psyched about your new digs, vent to a sympathetic girlfriend, but don’t let it show in front of the little ones.
2) Get Moving Day Help. Arrange play dates or babysitting on pack-out days so children can avoid the stress. When you’ve got to organize an entire house-worth of boxes, it’s better to let someone else worry about finding the juice boxes.
3) Build the Anticipation. Make moving an adventure. Research the area with your kids to discover all the cool things they’ll get to do at their new home—and then follow up with definite plans. Michelle Trent, a proud Navy spouse, suggests making a “Bucket List” of all the touristy activities the area has to offer. If you know you’ll only be there for a set time, plan out your Bucket List items on a calendar so that there is always something to look forward to.
4) Make Goodbyes Matter. A photo album is a great way for kids to commemorate special friendships and memories. Monika Monize, a proud Army spouse, put together an album of her children’s friends with phone numbers and emails right next to each photo. “It was like a Yearbook of sorts to assure my kids that these friends were not lost, and that they were still going to be able to talk to them and see their faces. Sometimes the fear of loss is the hardest part, not the moving, but the loss of friends and familiar places, so keeping these memories close at hand is a good thing.”
Michelle says, “We made small photo albums for our girls – the first half included pictures of where we currently lived, things they did, and some friends; and the second half were pictures of the new house where we would be moving, the area, people we knew in the Navy who were already there.”
5) Take Advantage of Connections. Chances are, you know other people where you are moving, or you have friends that do. Michelle advises contacting these connections in advance to find out the best pediatrician, dentist, daycare, play group, private school, public school, soccer programs, dance programs, or other activity your kids are interested in. “If you can, sign them up before you get there. That way they will have something familiar to look forward to, and might even have friends-of-friends doing the same activities.”If you don’t know anyone at your new station, make contact with groups like the Scouts, sports teams, or youth church groups prior to moving. The family center at your new station is a great resource and can introduce you to families that also have children. Military kids are very inclusive and will show your kids the ropes.
6 ) Provide Creature Comforts. Jenn Macris, a proud Navy spouse, advises, “Remember to keep loveys, blankies, pacifiers, or special toys separate when packing things up, so that children can access them during the move and have them close at hand when they first arrive at their new home. Keep out ‘big kid’ comfort items too, such as favorite stuffed animals, photos of friends, or a special t-shirt. Even if older kids don’t really use these things any more, having them accessible gives a sense of familiarity and a visual reminder that even in the midst of change, there are things that remain the same.” For teenagers, make sure they’re supplied with their favorite snacks, magazines or books, and gadgets like cell phones or video games to ease the trip and make them feel cared for. It’s easy for parents to assume teenagers can “handle it” because they are older, but moving is hard at any age, and these small gestures remind teens that their feelings aren’t overlooked
7) Keep Memories Alive. Moving on doesn’t mean wiping out the past. Monika uses a special display box for kids to store their “treasures” from each place they’ve lived: “We have a door knob from one house, a special pine cone from one family favorite picnic spot, a collection of special sea shells, and we will keep adding to it with each new home.” Monika stresses, “It’s important to remember, not just move on to new things, but to fondly embrace where you have come from and keep those memories alive. Kids lose enough in the military and are ever fearful of what else they may lose along the way, so the more you can give them to hold onto the better.”
8) Maintain Traditions. Another great way to preserve memories and create a sense of stability is through traditions. Monika says, “We use the first weekend of every month to celebrate the places we have lived. Each month we do a special theme to keep those traditions close: ‘Cowboy Weekend’ for Arizona; ‘Aloha Day’ with Kalua Pig with spam and rice, and a trip into the water, no matter if it is a lake, river, sea, or pool- we get in and listen to the Hawaiian drums on our CD’s. The next month we’ll do a German theme and listen to folk music, eat traditional foods, and say as many German words throughout the day as we can remember.”
9) Embrace Moving Positives. A new locale offers new experiences and chances to grow. Michelle said, “Our girls were sad about leaving DC and heading to California for one of our moves and talked about not being able to do the things their current friends would be doing next year in DC. We talked about all of the things they would be able to do in California that most of their friends would never get to do. It definitely made them feel special!” Moving gives children a much broader perspective. “I remember in school one of our girls had to do a project where they listed all of the states they had been to,” recalls Michelle, “and at age 10 she’d already visited 25 states, whereas some of her school friends had only been to 3! Now that our girls are older teenagers, I can really see the benefits of moving: my girls have a bigger view of the world, adapt more easily to change, and aren’t shy about meeting new people.”
10) Offer Extra Support. Remind parents of other children, teachers, and all caregivers to be extra gentle and kind with the kids who are PCS-ing. Jenn says, “Even if a child may appear not to be affected, that doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t struggling on the inside with the adjustments.”
Have you experienced a PCS with your family? Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then? Share your biggest tip for a smooth transition!
Jenn Macris is a proud Navy spouse of over 18 years and mom to 5 children ages 6-14. Jenn enjoys working from Annapolis, MD where she puts her business acumen and int’l MBA to use as a Partner Development Executive for TroopSwap’s Washington, DC and Northern Virginia markets.
Monika Monize is a proud Army spouse and mother of 5 children. She has kept the home fires burning through three 12-month deployments, as well as 4 mini-deployments ranging from 2-8 weeks. Monika serves as Director of Community Outreach for TroopSwap’s Washington, DC and Northern Virginia markets.
Michelle Trent is a proud Navy spouse and mother of 2 daughters. Michelle’s PCS motto is “Home is where the Navy sends us,” and so far that’s been to California, Washington, DC, and Virginia. Michelle has seen her family through 9 deployments and 8 moves. Michelle serves as Director of Community Outreach for TroopSwap’s Hampton Road’s market.