Communicating my experiences as an oft-moved Air Force child is meant to help bring a greater level of understanding of resilience for teenagers during the trials of military life. In this edition of my series on resilience of military children, I want to talk about emotional resilience when it is time to move.
Saying goodbye is never easy. Doing it often can make life rather difficult to handle. When a move threatens to change your entire life, your strongest instinct is to hold on. The alternative is so scary. In order to have a healthy social life, however, you need to be able to let go and build new friendships; otherwise, you will spend your time alone and lose a major asset in your own personal happiness.
Letting go is not easy.
When I moved to Hill AFB in the summer of 2014, it was my fifth move in five years. I was very weary of making friends only to lose them almost immediately. I needed to find a way to handle this kind of separation, for the sake of my sanity. The best idea I have found is to say goodbye gradually — let the process happen naturally, in stages.
I traded emails and chatted on social media for a while, detailing what life was like where I was and my plans for the future. I distinctly recall several phone calls where I spent at least an hour describing teachers and classroom setups to my friends, fully knowing that they would never meet these people or see those places.
It wasn’t for them at all — it was for me. I was the one who most needed the support. It is not shameful to admit this. It is a fundamental first step to understanding how to manage separation. Military kids play this game and want to win, but instead of Monopoly money, the currency is happiness.
When I first moved to Utah, there wasn’t a place I could immediately find friends I actually wanted to hang out with. I went about six months without them. The prospect was daunting, but it was for the best. Developing friendships out of the fear of loneliness or desperation is not the beginning of a healthy relationship. I found it much more effective to slow the separation from my old friends for a while, until I could develop new ones.
This in no way is meant to suggest that you can never see your old friends again. In fact, I found reconnecting with older friends very rewarding and exciting. I got to see how people changed with maturity and hear about their new plans and dreams for college. It was fun and inspiring.
In the summer 2013, I was visiting my grandparents in Washington and took a day to go play mini-golf with some friends. We spent the day walking around town and I learned a great many things I had never known about my friends before. And while sometimes weeks go by without thinking of my friends, I could still meet them again during the college visitation season as we begin our senior year.
If your contact only reminds you of what you lost and how lonely you are now without them, then you should stop making that contact. I learned this lesson the hard way when I moved to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, in the beginning of 2013, away from my friends in Washington.
I used to stay up until midnight or later having at least three Faceook chats going at the same time. Sure, sending Internet references is a ton of fun, but it cannot replace real-life contact with other people.
Sometimes you need to let go to create the emotional space for the people you interact with during the day. Poor management of past relationships can actively drain any chances you could have of building positive new support in your new life.
Emotional resilience means acknowledging your needs and sometimes going against all your instincts to come out ahead in the long run. Take a lesson from Princess Elsa — “Let it go,” but do it with style.
Editor’s note: Zachary Baker is the son of 75th Air Base Wing Deputy Chaplain (Maj.) Scott Baker.