Remember that time you moved and you didn't know where the grocery store was let alone anything of real interest and your kids didn't know anyone and neither did you and after a year you discovered that there was this awesome museum within walking distance from your house and an adjoining park with ducks in a pond and it's where the first dingleberry tree was planted by one of the Founding Fathers? Yeah, that was awesome.
Getting connected to your new community is one of the toughest things about moving. Sure, there are boxes to unpack, painters to contract, missing important papers to find, and mail to forward. And who has time to go exploring your new town when your moving to-do list is so long?
We've all been there. And we've all felt that disconnect, feeling like we're not quite settled in yet; we're still The New Kid because we just aren't connecting with our new hometown.
Now imagine you're in a military family and you have to go through that every couple of years. Military families PCS an average of every two-to-three years, which is 10 times more often than civilian families. PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station, which is laughable, because there's nothing permanent about it. A military family has a limited time to settle into its new home, get to know their new town, and fell a sense of community.
I'm not in a military family, but because I've moved an average of every three years during the course of my marriage, I feel a kinship with military spouses who have to go through all that I've gone through, but with the burden of doing it alone, while her spouse is deployed. So when I started researching for an article I'm writing for MILLIE, a military family PCS support organization, I found the stats fascinating. Blue Star Families' annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey for 2017 showed that a major downside of frequent PCSing is that military families don't feel a sense of community with their town.
Here are just a few results from the survey:
- The majority (51 percent) of military families do not feel they belong in their local civilian communities.
- Fifty-three percent felt they were not valued members of the local community.
- The majority of military families lack adequate time to form local community bonds on their own, as 72 percent of military family respondents indicated living in their current community for two years or less.
Sad stats, for sure. But military spouses don't sit around and feel sorry for themselves. They get out there and get things done.
I have told this story a lot: When I moved from Cleveland to suburban Washington DC, I had a 4-year-old and a toddler. About a month after we moved in, I ventured out (with much trepidation) to a library story hour and was standing there feeling like a fish out of water when a woman walked up to me, introduced herself and started chatting. She filled me in on everything there was to do within a five-mile radius. Ten minutes later we had each other's phone numbers and had scheduled a play date.
"Wow, I really appreciate this," I said. "How long have you lived here?"
"Oh, I just moved here a week ago," she said. "We're military. I don't have a lot of time to waste."
I learned almost everything I know about being a quick Tourist at Home from military spouses. Their sense of community is one of the many challenges they face, but they understand the importance of a connectedness to the city in which they live.