We all have had duty station or two we would like to forget and never revisit. They weren’t are favorite because the school wasn’t the best or the neighbors were really loud (ALL THE TIME), or maybe your husband/wife was deployed more than they were home or maybe it was the first time you were away from home raising a baby and many more reasons beyond these. Mine was Japan…. for many reasons. One being that I was not used to being home with our then two year old and my husband was gone A LOT and I was pregnant at the beginning. I used to say that I moved to Japan to be a single parent. We did survive and for the better. Now that I have been back in the states for three years all I have are good memories. Yes, I do remember not being happy there but I choose to focus on what I miss. How is that possible? Here are my three tips for making the best of a bad duty station.
1. Get out of the house or off the base or both! I refused to sit home even though I was not happy with being in this strange world. I owed it to my kids to create happy memories despite wanting to do nothing but sit on the phone and cry to mom about how miserable I was. We didn’t travel as much I had hoped but we saw a lot, the Great Budda, the world’s largest ferris wheel and even swam with a barracuda in Guam. We also did a lot of shopping and boy do I miss the five story 100 Yen Store! If you ask my kids they only have happy memories and that has a lot to do with not always being home because they saw and experienced so much. Get out and travel! It could mean playing tourist for a day in the city you live or planning a vacation elsewhere. Most important thing is to not sit home wishing you were somewhere else.
2. Make friends! While we all wish we could pack up our families in our suitcases and take them with us, this just isn’t reality and so we reach out to other military families and they can really make a difficult duty station memorable and happy. I dearly miss the friends I had in Japan; there is something very special about them. They were there for me in some pretty rough times. We laughed a lot and complained A LOT! For a couple they were surviving just like me. I spent long afternoons by the playground watching our children play or sipping coffee and talking out my feelings with them. When you aren’t in a place that makes you happy staying home alone can make for a very long and lonely tour. How you make friends depends on what kind of person you are. I used to sit for long hours at playgrounds talking to other moms. I also made friends through my husband’s co-workers. Either way they are important to survival and these people will be close to your heart for life.
3. Keep in perspective and focus on the positives. It can be so easy to continually think about all the things that are making you unhappy. Try instead to think of what is good. It could be that you don’t like the house you are in but your children are attending a really great school and have lots of friends. In Japan it was the food! We loved eating there and we miss sushi so much that I think we have eaten it a total of three times since we moved back to the states. It was also the baby years of my children and that in and of itself is a happy memory I would remind myself continually that while I wanted our tour to go quickly, I didn’t want to wish away their baby times.
Bad duty stations will happen at least once to everyone and the reasons that make them “bad” will range. The important thing to remember is that they don’t last. Two, three or four years is a blink of an eye when compared to your whole life. I feel like my “bad” duty station made me a stronger military spouse and mother. I know that I survived a very difficult time and it gives me the confidence to take on anything life throws my way. In fact, I feel like I could move back to Japan and I would be okay and even look forward to somethings. Perspective! It really is the ultimate key to surviving and making the best of a bad duty station. Of course for those days when travel and perspective just aren’t cutting it a cocktail with the friends surviving with you will.