Moving is always tough. But it’s harder when your teens are old enough to decide that they no longer want to move with you. That happened to us a little over a year ago when our then 17 year old son asked to stay stateside while we moved overseas to South America.
We had tried our best to prepare for the unexpected. And it did nothing to prepare us for the change of heart he experienced three weeks before our scheduled flight to our new home.
So we speak from experience when we recommend having a back-up plan for your older teens, even when you are certain that they moving with you. Better yet, have your teen design that plan. The process provides great practice in thinking like an adult and even though it may just be a learning exercise, it is a practical one.
There are some things that made the change of heart easier for our family. Our son already had his own bank accounts set up. That meant we only had to transfer money into accounts that already existed and not go through the hassle of starting from scratch. Start teaching your teen how to manage their own finances early rather than late and get those bank accounts online.
Our son had lived off-base at our last assignment, a choice that we made specifically so that our kids could learn what civilian life is like. Let’s face it, most of our children probably won’t be joining the military and they will need to know what life is like without a commissary, a base exchange, or the base gym. They need to know how civilian neighborhoods work. It’s a little harder to just walk across the street and borrow the proverbial cup of sugar. His year living with us in Washington DC taught him those things and a few more, like street sense and how to ride the metro. It made it easier for us to leave him in another city far away from us.
Things were less complicated because our son chose to stay in a city that we already knew, where he had a support network built in, and where family was nearby if he needed help in an emergency. Know where those places are for your own kids. The last place you lived might not actually be the best solution and a town where extended family or good friends are located might work better.
Our son had been home-schooled and was about to enter his senior year. Homeschooling himself would not have been a legal option in California, where he decided to stay. But he was accepted by the local community college after taking their entrance exam and was able to start taking classes that fall based on the results. It was actually easier getting him into Community College than the local high school, which probably would have been most parents’ first choice. That means you might have to think outside the box. When your first reaction is that it can’t happen, you might be surprised that a perfectly viable solution exists.
I’m not going to pretend this process has been an easy one. But most older teens go through the process of leaving home and encounter challenges along the way. What has made this journey different is that he can’t bring the laundry home on weekends or even come home to visit for every holiday or vacation. We are grateful that the government pays for one round-trip ticket a year and we plan carefully so that he can get as much time with us as he can stand.
The biggest lesson we learned through all of this is that while older teenagers often change their minds, when they figure out the right decision for themselves, it is important to trust and support them, even when it means it might cause the family heartbreak in the process.
Angie is the founder of Not Your Average American where she currently writes about living and traveling in South America. As the daughter of an Air Force NCO and the wife of an Air Force Officer, she has broad experience with military life. She is outspoken about issues that affect the military community and posts opinion pieces at DailyKos and helps run the KeepYourPromise Facebook page with more than 100,000 followers fighting to keep military pay and benefits intact.