A while ago I realized there are many military wives and mothers out there who are living far from family and coping with their own challenges. Lauren and I mutually encouraged one another, and I was so happy she was willing to share her perspective on building community when she’s far from family (and moving frequently). So, here is my first post in a new Military Moms series.
As a Marine wife and mother living in coastal North Carolina, I’m preparing to move to Okinawa, Japan in a few short months. It seems incredibly daunting and scary sometimes thinking about moving halfway around the world and being even further from our family in the Midwest. There are many ways we, as military wives and mothers, can overcome our ever changing home away from home, creating an experience that is both positive and enjoyable.
1. Embrace the new duty station
Duty stations are not always ideal; having a positive outlook can dramatically change our overall experience. Each new duty station provides us with an opportunity to grow and learn. Living in the South definitely taught me how to be more polite. I learned that sometimes being a crass Yankee isn’t all that charming of a character trait. Moving to Japan will force me to learn and know another culture. I know it will be really hard, and maybe even downright horrible sometimes, but the experience will mold me into a better woman. When we are pushed outside of our comfort zone, we become better.
Embracing a new home away from home creates a model for our children’s experience. We must lead by example in challenging situations. By doing this, we demonstrate resiliency to our children. We show them that when life throws you for a loop, not only can we overcome it, we can enjoy, appreciate and embrace it. We can help our children embrace a new duty station using “I wish” statements. For example, if a child is afraid he won’t have any friends when he moves. We could say, “I wish you a thousand friends when we get to our new home.” Wishful statements provide security and help children envision something happy.
2. Understand everyone is in a similar situation
We are all equally eager to build a new relationships; we all need each other for support. This is especially true around times of holidays or special occasions. All of us are far away from our families. Spending Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July and even birthdays with other families in the community is important. This provides ourselves and our children with a consistent big family holiday experience.
It’s also important to remember that when we are struggling, members of our community have likely struggled in the same way. When we share our struggles with each other, it helps us cope with difficult situations.
3. Ask for help
In the military community, we often provide help in ways many wouldn’t dream of in the civilian world. People surprise us with how far they will go for someone they do not know very well. I recently had a military wife that I met only a handful of times ask me to be “on-call” for her in case she went into labor while her husband was away. My immediate answer was yes. Then I turned around and asked a different military wife that I met only a handful of times if she would be “on-call” to watch my son. Her immediate answer was yes, absolutely. Asking for help offers dramatic short-cuts when figuring things out, reducing stress. Asking a friend what they did before researching a specific problem offers wonderful insight. Community members love sharing their problem solving experiences and sometimes even offer direct help without us having to ask.
4. Network efficiently
Host regular events at home. A simple Sunday afternoon outdoor barbeque provides an easy platform to invite a few families to your home. Join a mommy group. My 21-year-old self is glaring at me for even mentioning this, but I joined a mommy group recently, and it’s very rewarding. An organized group allows us to only attend events and playdates that work well with our schedules. Hosting an event offers a guarantee that it will work within our schedules.
Attend organized events offered by the military base and Family Readiness Officer even if they don’t seem fun. Even if we only stay for a short time, these events offer us another opportunity to meet people. And often enough, they turn out to be fairly enjoyable. Get to know the neighbors. Sometimes sitting outside and playing in our front yard is inviting enough for a neighbor to come over and introduce themselves.
5. Be intentional with far away relationships
Write and send letters. This is especially fun between children. Children love getting mail. Sending photographs or drawings is a simple way to start. Utilize Google Hangouts or Skype for casual and organized events. Personally, I like Google Hangouts because it allows us to group chat for free. Skype offers a group chat for a fee. Opening presents and celebrating together during Christmas, birthdays or other occasions over a group chat is fun. When I was pregnant, my in-laws threw me a virtual baby shower. It was a great way to share an exciting time together. A mom’s night in via Google Hangouts is also fun. Pencil in a Friday evening to chat with girlfriends after the kids are asleep.
At face value living as a military wife and mother appears kind of daunting, but when we take a moment to look deeper, we find it really isn’t that bad after all. Living far from home affords us unique opportunities to become more woman, mother and wife then we ever thought we could. We all chose this life. We should be proud.
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