Salute to Spouses Blog

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Retirement means change for military kids too

My kids started their first post-retirement school in August. A couple of months in, I asked my 16-year-old if he had made any friends yet.

“Not really,” he said. “There just aren’t any other kids like me.”

We often talk about how active duty servicemembers lose their bearings when they leave the military. They might feel lost, their feeling of purpose gone and their sense of working toward a clear objective stripped away. Their peers are no longer around to share war stories. They feel like they have nothing in common with anyone.

As spouses, we feel that, too. Our tribe is no longer next door or upstairs or down the street.

Kids, in a lot of ways, lose their sense of identity with retirement, too. They are no longer surrounded by kids “just like” them. Kids whose parents are in the military and are used to moving every one to three years. Kids who have traveled to places others only dream about. Kids who have been immersed in a multi-racial community all their lives. Kids who know what the world is like outside the four walls of their high school.

Kids who will almost always welcome a new friend.

Just like us, kids fear the unknown. They might be stressed by mom or dad not having a job, or by hearing their parents talk about whether they have enough money to get through the transition of retirement.

In trying to help my kids adjust, I turned to my go-to expert: Google. Several searches with different variants of “helping kids adjust to military retirement” or “kids and military retirement” turned up nothing.

There’s tons of information on how help kids adjust after a regular PCS, and many of those tips apply to retirement. But here are some more specific things we can do to help our kids, especially teenagers, have a smooth transition:

  1. Have a retirement ceremony, and make the sure the kids are recognized. This will help give them closure, just like it does for the servicemember and spouse. And it will let them see that mom or dad is walking away from the military with a clean slate, ready for a fresh start.
  2. Keep them informed every step of the way. Explain what retirement means, and what will happen on a weekly or monthly basis as you transition. Get them a calendar and write down important dates like the ceremony, pack-out dates and the first night in your new home.
  3. Before retirement, try to have them involved in some sort of activity that will translate well to civilian life. Sports and scouting are two examples.
  4. Give them a say. For the first time ever, you can move wherever you want. Some people might choose to go where they get a job, others might pick based on location. Either way, get the kids involved. Make it clear that you will make the final decision based on many factors, but that you value their input.
  5. Once the location is chosen, give them a chance again to provide input. Let them look at schools and sports programs and other activities. Many communities have magnet schools and school choice programs, and teens especially should be hands-on in making those kinds of choices.
  6. Explain your situation to school administrators, the counselor, teachers … anyone who will interact with your child. Tell them that you are going through a big transition and ask them to look out for your kids. Many will be amazed at the life you (and your kids) have lead.
  7. By the same token, encourage your kids to share stories about their adventures in military life with their teachers and peers. They just might become famous as “the kid who’s from Germany” or “the kids who’s lived in 10 different states!”
  8. Talk often about your memories of moving, traveling and military life in general.
  9. Connect with old military friends in or near your new location. We all have friends all over the world!
  10. Make new friends yourself. Connect with other parents at the school through sports teams, clubs or other activities. Your kids will feel more comfortable with their new surroundings you’re involved.

Remind your kids that military life prepares you to face any mission. They can do this. (And so can you!)

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