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Four Misconceptions About Being in a Military Family

There's more to being a military family than what meets the eye. Every single year during transfer season your heart breaks. It breaks when you watch your children say goodbye to their best friends, and when you say goodbye to your best friends.
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Several times last week while our family was here visiting, the conversation revolved around different aspects of the Coast Guard. What Josh's specific job is, things that drive us crazy about it, the potential for Josh to get out in a few years and moving. After saying that moving is the number one reason why Josh wants to get out, our sister in law said, "I've only moved twice and I hated it but I imagine your moves are pretty easy since you have someone do it all for you." This made me think about all of the misconceptions people have about this lifestyle.

1. Moving is easy since we have so much help.

Moving is anything but easy. Even when we use a moving company. There's the physical side of moving (what Ashley was talking about) and the mental side of moving. The physical side of the move (when using movers -- it's completely different but equally as hard when you move yourself) starts with a company coming to your house and estimating how much weight you have to move -- and then bringing a truck that's too small to move it all or only hiring two guys to pack your entire house in one day. All day long one adult must stay at the house and supervise the packers while the other adult has to entertain the kids because they're stressed that all of their belongings are being packed away and shipped off with people they don't know and also because they can't be in the house getting in the way of the movers. After the house has been packed and shipped on it's way to your next destination, it's time to clean and paint. Most people I know don't sleep on that last night. Between finishing up everything around the house, being uncomfortable because you're either in a hotel nor sleeping on an air mattress in your empty house, and being stressed and anxious about the pending move, sleeping can be difficult.

The next morning starts the second half of the physical move -- leaving. We've moved from Ohio to New York to California to New Jersey to Texas and back to New York so we're no strangers to the cross country drive, which we've done every time with a kid under the age of two. Planning is huge when it comes to the drive so you even though you have a moving company, you still have to pack a ton. Clothes (enough for the entire trip unless you want to worry about laundry), entertainment for the kids, food and snacks, pillows and other things for comfort, essentials for your dog, all of your valuables that you don't trust the moving company with, plus everything you'll immediately need at your new house because you can guarantee that the movers are not going to beat you there. There's basically a checklist for household goods that any seasoned military wife knows she needs to pack for the new house including:

  • a shower curtain
  • bath towels
  • a pot and pan
  • air mattresses
  • blankets

A fellow Coastie wife, who is actually going through this process right now, wrote an entire post detailing what it takes to make a military move.

Next is the driving part. If you don't like riding in the car with your children you're probably going to struggle with this. Of course depending on where you're moving to and from, this could be quick and easy. But if you're making a cross country trip be prepared for several eight to 10 hour days of driving. For us, this is where the planning stops. We make a basic outline of our itinerary but some days the kids need to be out of the car sooner than you'd expect and some days they can last longer, so we never book hotels in advance. Obviously this is not fool proof. We've had days where we planned to stop after eight hours but found that due to some random event in the area, every hotel room within a hundred miles was booked so we had to continue on with crying, tired children until we could find somewhere to sleep. We've also had days where our kids are rock star travel champions and can last the 12 hours that it takes to drive from Flagstaff, AZ to Oklahoma City.

The physical part of the move continues on to your new house where you make do with the things you packed and the things you have to buy while you wait for the moving company to show up with your household goods (three weeks after our arrival in the case of our last move). It continues on when your belongings do finally arrive with some things banged up, broken or missing. It continues on as you unpack everything, realize that you don't have the same amount of cupboard or closet space as you did in your last house and try to make this new place feel like home for your family while knowing that you'll be moving again in a few years. It continues on as you have to find new doctors, dentists, schools, sports associations, etc. and have to transfer all of your records from the last place. It continues on as you have to change your address on everything and make sure that all documents are current to your new residence.

The mental side of moving starts all the way back at receiving orders. First is the waiting game where you anxiously wait to get "the list." The list comes out and you're disappointed because pickings are slim this year. You go through weeks of researching cities all across the country. We make spread sheets with factors such as schools, cost of living versus BAH, Josh's actual job, crime, proximity to friends and family, etc. Then you make your list, turn it in and hope you get what you want. Months go by without hearing anything. You anxiously ask around to see if anyone has heard anything at all. Has that job been filled? Have any other guys in your husband's rate gotten orders? Finally, you get orders and find out where you'll be raising your family for the next 3-4 years. I always cry. Always. Whether it's where we want to go or not, it's extremely emotional and I don't think there's any family that would disagree with that. The feeling you get when you finally get orders is a combination of relief, stress, excitement, disappointment, happiness and sadness. We've been very lucky with our orders and have gotten our number two pick every time but we still go through this. The mental side of moving continues on as you near your moving date and start to worry about the move. You worry about the physical side of the move. You worry about whether you'll like your new home and whether your husband will like his new job. You worry about how the kids will adjust and how they'll handle leaving. You worry because whether you like where you currently are or not, your entire life as you know it will be changing.

The next part of the mental side is saying goodbye. The day our movers arrived to our house in Cape May, Parker broke down. Typically he's a very go with the flow kid who doesn't ruffle easily but this was his first move since starting school and it was too much for him. Josh drove him to school for what was going to be his second to last day. After about 20 minutes I got a call from Josh saying that Parker refused to enter the school because he knew he was going to cry and he didn't want his friends to see him. Josh spent nearly an hour talking to him before he finally got him to go in and try to enjoy his last days with his friends. By the time Josh made it back home, he himself had broken down crying and told me that we were done. After this contract was up, he wasn't reenlisting because he couldn't put his kids through that again. Just because someone else does the heavy lifting doesn't make our moves easy.

2. It's only hard when you have to move.

This is something that I thought before we became a military family. If you only move every three to four years then the stress of moving only effects you every three to four years. But in thinking this, what I didn't consider was the fact that during those three to four years when your family is planted, everyone else around you is not. Every single year during transfer season your heart breaks. It breaks when you watch your children say goodbye to their best friends. It breaks when you say goodbye to your best friends. It breaks when the little guy across the street continues to ask when his buddy will be home. It breaks when you look outside on the playground and the huge group of kids that used to occupy it all summer long is no longer there. It breaks when you realize that you've started to love some of those kids as your own and even though you've watched them come home from the hospital, learn to crawl and walk, and given them hugs and kisses, they may not remember who you are by the next time you see them. Transfer season sucks for everyone, not just the people leaving.

3. It's only hard when your husband is deployed.

I used to feel like we didn't deserve it when people would tell my husband (or our family as an entity) thanks for his service. I mean, for most of his CG career he has had a desk job. Nothing dangerous, nothing that takes him away from us. He's missed a few milestones and birthdays because of having duty, we've dealt with no communication for two months while he was in bootcamp and we've even lived the boat life for a month while he volunteered to replace a guy whose wife was preparing to deliver their baby, but nothing that had made me feel like a "military family." Within this past year though, my feelings on that have changed. After watching my kids struggle with goodbyes, being stuck in a station that literally drove me into depression and dealing with the general BS that comes with a military career (no, your wife isn't issued in your seabag but a lot of effing drama is) there is no way in hell I'll ever again cringe at being respected as a military family. Josh still has a desk job (although now he deals with things like bomb threats and having to tell gang members they can't join), but if he chooses to reenlist, he'll be going on boat, meaning we'll only see him six out of 12 months for three years. Another thing I've witnessed, from living at the Coast Guard's training center in Cape May, are families of company commanders. These guys work so much, that even though they're not deployed, they're not exactly there either. The wives of these men carry most of the load of the family and deal with similar issues as those whose husbands are gone for months at a time. We all deal with some of the same problems whether our husbands sleep at home every night or not.

4. Your kids are always sad and lonely.

This is another one that I would have guessed before becoming a Coastie wife. As I've said before, Josh and I grew up in the same area, surrounded by family, our entire lives so it was hard for us to imagine anything else. But what I've seen in the past six years from my own children, as well as our friends' children, is that military kids are anything but sad and lonely. They are some of the most well adjusted, open minded, easy going, friendly kids you could find anywhere. They have to be. Yeah it sucks that they have to leave their friends and yes they're sad sometimes, but they also know how to readjust, pick up the pieces and move on better than any kid who lives in the same place their entire life. And while they may not get to spend their entire childhood with the same people, they get to have friends all over the country. The Coast Guard is a little different than other branches when it comes to this because we're such a small service. You can basically go anywhere and be stationed with someone you know. We could travel around the entire coast of the United States and be able to meet up with friends everyday. Military kids also get to have some incredible experiences. In Parker's short seven years, he's been to at least half of the major cities in America, seen the Redwoods, the Grand Canyon, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the Alamo, the St. Louis Arch, the Liberty Bell, the Rocky Mountains, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, swam in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, attended the world's largest rodeo, and visited nearly every freaking zoo and aquarium in the country (at least it feels that way to me) and it's all thanks to the Coast Guard.

I get that the military lifestyle is a hard thing to understand for people who aren't a part of it. Half of the time, it's a hard thing for us to understand. But there is definitely more to being a military family than what those who haven't experienced it can see or even imagine.

This post was originally published on This Organic Family.

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