My husband, David, and I have moved thirteen times during our sixteen years of marriage. Some have been cross-town moves while others have been cross-country moves. Some have been eagerly anticipated while others have been unexpected. Some have been exciting while others have been painful.
Before moving to our current home in Georgia in May 2013, we had lived in Fort Smith, Arkansas, for almost four years (although this included moving once within our neighborhood when we bought a house). When we moved to Arkansas, our children were 3 years old and 10 months old, so for all intents and purposes, it was the only home they had ever known. Moving to Georgia was the first time either of them was fully aware of the process and what it meant.
David and I knew the process well. We knew the chaos and stress that was inevitably coming and about how long it would last. We knew what it was like to say good-bye to friends. We also knew how to get our bearings and begin to make new friends in our next location.
Our children didn’t know these things. It was up to us to prepare them as much as possible and guide them through the various stages. While each family and situation is different, here are some lessons we learned along the way:
1. Prepare them in advance as much as possible.
Neither of our children had visited our new town before we moved, which is not something I recommend. (We gave our oldest the option of going with us to search for a new house, but he decided to stay with grandparents instead.) To help get them ready, we looked up our new town online, we talked about what we had seen and heard, we showed them lots and lots of pictures of our new house, etc. We homeschool, but if applicable, I would also recommend showing them pictures of their new school, new teachers, and so forth. The more information the better to help eliminate at least some of the fear of the unknown.
2. Try to keep them away from the biggest chaos.
This is certainly not always possible, but unless they are old enough to be genuinely helpful, I would suggest having the kids stay with friends or relatives during the day(s) of actually loading the truck, moving, and unloading. Not only are the younger ones likely to be kind of in the way, it’s an incredibly stressful process for all involved. Also, it can be traumatic to see the house you have loved suddenly empty. (In fact, it can be a bit disturbing even for a grown-up like me!) During our move from Arkansas to Georgia, the kids and I went to my parents’ house in Alabama for a few days, I met David when he drove the moving truck over, and then we had the essentials unpacked before the kids arrived. That way, they never saw either house in complete chaos.
3. Allow them to grieve for former things, but gently remind them of the positives of your new location (like being closer to Auburn and grandparents!).
Our youngest has mostly taken this move in stride. She occasionally mentions something that we used to do in Arkansas, but generally she’s taken on this new adventure with gusto. Our son, on the other hand, still has times of grieving. For him, I’ve found the best thing I can do is listen, agree that whatever he’s missing that day was wonderful, and let him know that I sometimes miss things, too. However, I gently point him toward things that he is enjoying now. Some of the things he enjoys doing at our home in Georgia weren’t possible at our home in Arkansas. I also remind him of the things that haven’t changed – his family that loves him, his toys, his general routine, etc.
4. Let them personalize their new space.
Over the years, I learned how important this was for my mental well-being. Since I stay home to teach my children and teach college math classes online, it’s critical that my home be a pleasant place that reflects my personality. I didn’t fully understand how important this would also be for my children.
We began by repainting and decorating the main living areas of our house as well as our schoolroom/office. It took a few more months before I was able to paint and decorate our son’s room. I thought that my daughter was perfectly content waiting on her room to be done (especially since her parents’ room was still “builder beige” at the time, too), but I noticed her becoming more and more melancholy and bringing up Arkansas more often. During a heart-to-heart one night, I discovered that what she missed most was having a pink bedroom. Needless to say, her room was finished soon after that, and now she loves it here. (It was also a very good day when my bedroom was finally finished a couple of months ago!) Hanging up pictures and curtains, painting walls, and things like that can change a house into a home.
Moving is a major life change that brings with it a great deal of stress. There’s just no way around that. But you and your children can survive the process and thrive on the other side. Don’t be surprised if they adapt at a different pace than you … and each other. Just keep listening to them, sharing your own feelings, and allowing them to have input where appropriate.