We were preparing for my daughter’s first day of Kindergarten at her new school. She was five years old and we had recently moved across the world to a new country. Our first few months had been spent acclimating ourselves to a different culture, public transit, and a new normal. The next big transition was starting at yet another new school. She had an undercurrent of excitement that simmered beneath her anxiety, which seemed to leave her feeling even more unsettled. A new building, with new friends and a new teacher held so much possibility but so many unknowns. That’s when we began the conversation that we continue to have as we make transitions and that is, “two things are true.”
MODELING THE PARADOX
As research professor and author Brene Brown says, “The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It’s the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid-all at the same moment.” Your military life can offer you the beauty of forging new relationships, homes, lifestyles, and identities if you can stay open to all the possibilities.
You have a choice in how you approach the big transitions. You get to decide how open you will be to the people and places you meet in a new PCS or a new season of life. You could choose to be closed off to the new connections because the pain of what you left behind is too much or because you fear starting all over again, but being able to experience the full scope of your emotions is what helps you to navigate all of the changes with an open mind and heart. Modeling and normalizing these feelings for your kids can help them learn to name them and begin to see how two things can be true. You can be scared and brave at the same time.
My daughter woke up that Monday morning for her first day of school with a brave face. I walked her into class, gave her a hug, and whispered in her ear that I loved her and that I would see her at the end of the day. As I walked out I glanced back to see her sitting in a circle with the other students with tears streaming down her face. She sat brave and tall, but the fear inside was showing in her expression. I walked out of her classroom also feeling two very different emotions. I was incredibly proud of her for her bravery and at the same time felt anxious about leaving her there in an unfamiliar building with unfamiliar faces. Leaning into her bravery, I set aside my own fears and walked out of the school knowing by doing so I was giving her the space she needed to grow and trust herself while feeling both brave and scared.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
We know another move is looming ahead for us and as a blooming third grader she is even more aware now of the difficulty in leaving behind the relationships and familiarity she has come to love. She told me just the other day, “Mommy, I don’t want to leave my friends and school here, but I’m excited to move into a new house in a new place.” I can’t make the pain of the goodbyes go away. But I’m so proud to hear her share that she feels the sadness but also the hope of what lies ahead for her. She can value the connections she is leaving behind while still leaving room in her life for what is to come. As I watch her begin to live out this idea, I’m reminded of how I too, need to continue to recognize the sadness I have as we close out this chapter and bravely step one foot in front of the other to begin building a new life in our new location.
Here are seven tangible ways to help your kids navigate transitions, giving them some control and connection in a situation that might otherwise feel uncertain:
- Bring something special with them in their backpack that symbolizes, for them, something about you or your family.
- Create a secret handshake (for us this typically ends with a hug) that you can do when it is time for them to say goodbye.
- Make photo books of memories from the places you’ve lived or of pictures with a deployed parent.
- Have rituals when beginning new routines (for example getting ice cream after the first day of school) that give them something to look forward to with an otherwise uncertain day ahead.
- Establish traditions and special moments you can continue no matter where you live. In particular, ones that you can begin soon after arriving at your next home.
- Let them pack a box themselves that they can look forward to opening when you arrive at your new home.
- Role play the event or situation that could lead to distress. For example, going over the sequence of events for a new school drop-off.
This paradox of being brave and scared can follow you through your military lifestyle with continual seasons of transitions. The weight of watching your kids carry these conflicting emotions can be heavy. However, you have a great opportunity to help them learn how to navigate these emotions. Normalizing all of the feelings helps kids to cope in healthy ways. It’s often said how resilient children are, but in order to cultivate the kind of resilience needed for your military lifestyle, or really any season of transition, requires some intentionality.
Kristin is a military spouse of eleven years and a mother of two. She has a master’s degree in speech and language pathology and is a 200 hr certified yoga instructor. She has moved across the globe teaching yoga and leading wellness workshops to expat and military communities. In her spare time, Kristin enjoys cooking, reading, practicing and teaching yoga, and traveling.