Welcoming a New Military Spouse
One day I noticed the “For Sale” sign was gone from the yard of the house down the street. Then a few weeks later I saw the moving van arrive with all the furniture and brown boxes. A car pulled up in the driveway and three children ran with excitement into the house that would soon become their new home. A man in a military uniform and his wife got out of the car. She looked up and down the street, and then took a quick overview of her new yard. It was obvious she was surveying the neighborhood as well as the yard work that needed to be done.
As I watched from the window, I looked at her with eyes of understanding and with memories all too familiar. Once you’ve gone through a move, you don’t forget all those feelings that come with being the new family in the neighborhood. It seemed as if I could read her thoughts at that moment…”Who are my neighbors?” “Will they like us?” “Will anyone come over to meet us?”
I knew immediately what I was going to do. First, because I had “been there” and understood what she was going through as a newcomer. In my 14 moves, I looked forward to some of them with enthusiasm and excitement; others I faced with fear and anxiety. I found the challenge of change can be exciting or it can leave us overwhelmed. So I knew what she needed. Second, because this was an opportunity to meet, and welcome, a new friend.
Perhaps you have a new military family that has recently moved, or will be moving, to your neighborhood. Here are some of the issues that military spouses, as well as any woman who moves, might have to deal with.
- Facing the unknown. A military spouse can be fearful or anxious about many things. Some of the unknowns are: Will we like it here? Will I fit in? Will my husband be deployed? (Sometimes they know before they move.) Will my children adjust?
- Coping with the unfamiliar. A military spouse moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Every military installation is different. Not only do they have to find their way around on a new post, or base, but also the local community. The simplest task takes longer and becomes stressful when you don’t know where to go or who to call.
- Starting all over again. For many women, starting over after a move can be filled with uncertainty and apprehension, or it can be an exciting adventure with new opportunities. For a military spouse, the process of starting over can be overwhelming, a real challenge, or a welcomed new beginning.
- Leaving behind friends and family. The military life has its own sense of community and belonging. It’s never easy to say goodbye and leave dear friends, family, or a place that was loved. Leaving close friends can be devastating and an emotional time for everyone involved.
- Making new friends. All women yearn for new friendships when they move. Starting over is all the more difficult when you don’t have a friend, or friends, by your side. Moving can force a woman into aloneness, especially when her husband is deployed, or temporarily away on assignment.
- Establishing new roots. Many women resist change and resist having to establish themselves in a new place. They have lost that sense of community and connectedness that comes with many military moves.
- Dealing with loneliness. In that interim time when a woman doesn’t know anyone, hasn’t made friends yet, and doesn’t feel connected, loneliness can be overwhelming, especially when her husband is away.
Sometimes a military spouse might need some words of encouragement or maybe a hug. Sometimes taking the time to listen meets a real need. A helping hand is always appreciated. And who wouldn’t feel welcome when greeted with a plate of cookies, or a lovely plant? No matter what you do, it’s the thought that counts and shows you care. The important thing is to take the time to reach out to a new military family in your community.
Here are a few practical suggestions on how you can welcome a new military family:
- Remember the golden rule of welcoming a new neighbor—just show up!
- Give them a 3x5 card with names of everyone in your family for easy reference. Include your address and phone number, along with your children’s ages.
- Take one of your family’s favorite meals or a food that represents the state you live in. I love sharing a chicken enchilada dish for a southwest favorite!
- Attach a note to a blooming plant that reads, “to encourage you to bloom where you are planted!”
- Fill a welcome basket with any number of helpful things—from a coffee mug and a bag of coffee or tea bags, to a local magazine, a welcome sign, a city map, a packet of seeds, an address book—be creative. What would you like to receive in a welcome basket?
- Share a list of babysitters with phone numbers.
- Offer to run an errand for their family.
- Have a neighborhood drop-in to “meet and greet.” It can be as casual as setting up a table and chairs outside in the garage or drive way on a Saturday morning and inviting the neighbors to drop by for coffee and donuts.
- ASK how you can help or if there is any particular information about the community they would like to know.
- Invite their family to go to church with you.
- Let them know neighborhood necessities like when the mailman comes, what days garbage pickup will be, where the school bus stops…etc.
Add your own ideas to this list based on what would mean a lot to you as a new neighbor. Your kindness, sensitivity and effort in making a new family feel welcome is an important factor in their adjustment and transition. Never let your busy schedule keep you from doing the things that will impact another life!
Susan Miller is Founder and President of Just Moved Ministry, a faith-based organization dedicated to giving hope to uprooted women. She has written five books, including After the Boxes Are Unpacked and But Mom, I Don’t Want to Move! She is also the author of the study, Moving On After Moving In, which is offered in churches, neighborhoods, military installations, and among corporate expatriates all over the world.
Susan is a popular speaker nationally and internationally, at conferences, women’s events, churches, and with the military. Her father and husband served in the Air Force and she travels the world to speak to military spouses. Susan has two children and six grandchildren. She resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.