We are pleased to welcome back Tanya, from www.twowisechicks.com, who is here to share a post that is super important and often overlooked – Moving with Kids. We are thrilled to have Tanya sharing her perspective with us! Let’s give her a warm, HowDoesShe welcome back!
I’m somewhat of a self-declared expert on the topic of moving. Before I was 8 years old, my family had moved four times – one of those included a transatlantic move. In my adult years, there were more moves due to attending different Universities for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, again including a to-and-from Africa and another transatlantic move! And since having kids, my husband and I have moved three times – once involving a move from Canada to the United States. All of these moves were difficult, some more than others. I can with certainty tell you that while the nuts and bolts of moving is difficult, it pales in comparison to the emotional stresses involved. And it is important to realize that nobody is immune to the stress. Adults are stressed, kids are stressed, even animals are stressed. And add into that mix different personalities, any pre-existing medical (physical and/or mental) conditions, and BAM! – you have a potential mess on your hands.
While moving at any stage in life is difficult, the most difficult one for me has been moving with children. This may in part be because of my own experiences: I’ve lived being a child and moving to a new town – heck, to a new country! I’ve had to live starting over, being the ‘new kid’, trying to find my place, make new friends. And so, as a parent, deciding to move came with a lot more thought than in my pre-parenting days; a lot more weighing the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. It meant bearing the stress of the move not only as it affects myself, but trying to make it as positive as possible for my kids, too.Families move for a variety of reasons. Often it is for economic reasons: one or both spouses relocates for a better or new job, or has lost their job. Or being a military family. Or the move is a result of separation, divorce and/or loss. Looking at the research, you might be frightened about the findings that suggest children who move (a lot) are more prone to behavior difficulties at school, difficulties maintaining positive social relationships, and other behavioral concerns. Other research will tell you that these negative impacts affect mainly more introverted types of children, or those who are already easily affected by changes (e.g., highly anxious children), while more extroverted types adapt more easily. How many of us can raise our hands and say “Phew – my child is an extrovert, I have nothing to worry about!”? Me neither. Most researchers acknowledge that there are some issues that are possibly more significant than others with regard to how children are affected by a move. Of most importance, it seems, is the reason for the move. Are they moving as a result of separation, divorce or loss? Are they moving due to financial strain? How are the parents or caregivers negatively affected by the move, and to what degree? When you look at the research in the area – and I have, for personal and professional reasons – it is easy to recognize a theme: mainly, the more stressed the parent or parents are about the move, the more likely the child will struggle. So this leads me to share with you some tips for maintaining your sanity while preparing for a move with children. And it’s little to do with making lists (okay, one of my tips involves making lists).
1. Talk about it
When a move is coming up, my husband and I talked about it. We talked about it A LOT. Before we made the move, and during. Believe me, my husband is not a big talker and we talked. Or at least I did. I know that for me talking helps me to process. It is important to make sure that the reasons for the move are understood by both of you. If you are a single parent making the move, talk with somebody you trust about your reasons for the move. This goes for whether or not the reasons for the move are in your opinion positive or negative. This also goes whether or not you have a choice in the move. There are a lot of factors involved in a move, and when children are involved multiply that by … a lot. Once you have committed to the move, it is time to start talking about it with your children. I say ‘once you are committed’, because even talking about a move will bring up anxieties, and you need to be as prepared and comfortable with the decision as possible yourself before including your children – because you are going to need energy to deal with their questions (and depending on their age, there will be many). Before moving talk to your kids about who and what they will miss the most (don’t avoid these questions!!!! They are the root of your kids anxiety and the more they are avoided the more anxious they will become). Ask them what they would like to do when they get to the new place, and then do it if possible.
2. Create lists
Believe me, you will need more than one list. There’s a ‘packing & moving’ list (this is where you list your nuts and bolts of moving: contact a moving company, like Muval, schedule movers and/or packers, contact utility and other service companies at your current home and where you are moving). You will also have a list that is specific to your kids (contact current and new schools, transportation, if you have children with special needs you will need to research providers and therapists in your new area). And finally, I have what I like to call my ‘Sanity Saving List’. The last one is perhaps the most important, at least for the very first initial part of the move. On this list are all the ‘mission critical’ items and tasks that need to be done at the time of moving, and for the first several days after. On this list are the things I want to pack for myself and my kids to get us through while we wait for our belongings to arrive, including but not limited to what medications (if any) we need, basic toiletries and foods, favorite stuffed animals and books, and everyday blankets and pillows. Basically, the daily necessities which include the EMOTIONAL necessities for my children. Making their favorite and familiar items available to them through the transition really helps them to adjust at a time when they will be feeling out-of-sorts and out of their comfort zone.
3. Let them help
Your instincts will be going on overdrive and telling you to protect your children from harm (in this case, stress about the move), so you may be inclined to pack while they’re at school and late at night so they won’t be stressed about seeing their ‘stuff’ being put away. However, my strategy has been somewhat of the opposite. Instead, include your children as much as possible. My kids helped sort piles in their bedrooms of items (books, clothing, trinkets) that they would keep, donate or trash. They also helped to pack some boxes (obviously, less fragile items). My kiddos even decorated boxes with their names, and drew pictures on them. They also packed their own individual small boxes for the ‘transition’ time that included their favorite stuffies, books, small toys and favorite pieces of clothing. I encouraged this because at some level I wanted them to have a sense of control over this move, this move that we, their parents, decided on. Control = less stress for most of us, regardless of age.
4. Ask for help
If somebody offers you help – take it! I am absolutely horrible at asking for or accepting help (my issue). But believe me, help helps! You may find (like myself) you ‘need’ to pack your house by yourself because you like to purge and sort (which is difficult for even the most well-meaning friend to do). If that is the case, so be it: but then accept offers of babysitting your kids while you pack. Or offers of home-cooked meals. Think about it this way – your friends really WANT to help, but often don’t know what they can do to be helpful. It might actually be a helpful ritual for them and you both, a way of saying goodbye, marking your friendship, of being included in your last journey together. Perhaps make tissues available.. Decide ahead of time what help you need and/or would accept, and then go for it. If you have nobody who you know well enough that can help you, then hire help if possible. And if that is not possible, then just make sure you reduce all other responsibilities to the bare minimum while you are in the transition.
5. Get help
This follows naturally from the ‘ask for help’ section, and is perhaps the most important point I will write about. You may believe you are a Super-Person who can handle the whole thing yourself. You may even believe you should be able to do so. This is not the truth. Moving is one of the most stressful life events there is, factoring alongside death of a loved one, divorce, major illness or job loss as the most common ‘Top 5’ stressful life events. For many, moving happens to coincide with at least one of the others on this list. So you see, when I say ‘get help’, I mean for not just the moving part – that is often just the inconvenient life event. The underlying reason for the move very often will be what we need the help with. Talk to a counselor, talk to trusted loved ones. Get advice from trusted sources. You probably shouldn’t be trying to do this alone. And believe me, if you are stressed, depressed, overwhelmed, your children can and will sense this. They may not fully understand why, and they definitely will not know what to do about it. They will need to channel not just their feelings but what they are feeling from you as well – that that is a recipe for adjustment problems when you get to where you are moving. Getting help is NOT selfish – it is necessary and looking after yourself is the best gift you can give your child in the midst of a move. Trust me.
6. Maintain routines…. and talk some more
As your move process progresses, one of the most helpful things to do is maintain as much routine as possible. Kids thrive on routine. If you used to go to the library in your town, find the library in your new town and go there soon after moving. If Fridays after school you always took the kids for pizza, find a new ‘favorite’ pizza place to take them to… have some fun finding the right one together. Create some new traditions that are fun and special to the new place – something they can look forward to as well as share with their friends that they still communicate with. They do not need to be expensive or outlandish. Simple is often best. Going overboard to make the transition as fun and perky as possible can backfire – especially if you are not feeling particularly fun and perky. Keep talking to and with your kids before, during and after the move itself. Get their feedback on old and new traditions and routines.
Self-care is key to a successful move. If you are falling apart, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, you will barely be able to cope with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of moving, let alone the constant questions and increasing emotional needs of your children during a move. You will make mistakes. You will forget to pack that favorite stuffie in the emergency box. You will cry and lose sleep. You will run out of boxes. And then run out of packing tape. It will not be perfect, and will likely be emotionally messy to some degree. But through it all, take time to breathe. Accept your humanness. Understand that even the most prepared, sensitive parent can mess up. Children, despite preparation and encouragement will struggle with some (or all) parts of moving. Preparation is key, but so is ongoing communication. Keep talking. Keep breathing. Keep loving. For us this most recent move is, I hope, the last for a long, long time. We’ve found a home we love, that our kids love and our animals love. Short of circumstances that we cannot control, my family sees our current home as our for-the-foreseeable-future home (we don’t say ‘forever’ around here, given our history :)). It has been five months and my girls have made friends in our community, and a few at their new school. They are finding themselves in their new world. Do they still mention their old friends and school? Yes. Do they still ask if we could move back there? No. This is their new home now. Kids are super resilient – more than we usually give them credit for.
Tanya Tinney is passionate about self-development. Her previous life as a licensed psychologist only barely prepared her for everyday life as a mother of three (including twins). She lives her passion for empowering others by providing self-help tips and real-life anecdotes in a blog that she co-authors with her long-time friend and peer, Sally. As one of the ‘Two Wise Chicks’ she exposes her readers to her flexible grammar rules, tongue-in-cheek humor and charmingly child-like stick-figure drawings.
Tanya is an amateur photographer, and has many unwilling victims in her two dogs, three cats and, of course, her children. At any given time she could be drinking a strong cup of tea, writing for her own blog, baking banana bread, vacuuming up pieces of lego or being walked by her dogs.