Moving across country is a stressful event, to say the least. But how do you prepare children for the transition? Author Shirley Kawa-Jump tells what worked for her household.
Hitting 10 on the stress scale
There are few things in life more stressful than moving across the country. A birthday party with thirty two-year olds, an hour at Chuck E Cheese’s, or a long night with a colicky baby. None of these can compare with what it’s like to pack up and go–with a dog, two cats and toddler in hand.
We’d been planning a move to Indiana for more than a year and had put our house on the market in January of 1996. Finally, in March 1997, we got lucky. The same day my husband got a terrific job offer, the house sold.
Communication with kids is essential
We had been telling our three-year-old daughter, Mandy, that soon we’d be moving near her other grandparents. We promised her a new swingset upon arrival (hers had been crushed in the freak tornado that hit the summer before) and hoped she’d understand.
Even though we talked about the move daily, I knew she didn’t quite grasp what was about to happen. I was pretty proud of how she handled the whole event, though. She had a few days of adjustment when we first arrived in our new home but all in all, she has come through this upheaval remarkably well.
Tips to help when you move
If you, too, are planning a move, whether it’s across town or across the world, there are ways to make it easier on your children. These tips helped my husband and I make Mandy’s new home a welcome place: 1. Talk about it. Every time we visited my in-laws, we’d point out that someday we’d be living near them. When the move got closer, we had long talks every night about how things were going to change.
2. Find ways to deal with fears. My daughter was upset that she wouldn’t be able to see her friends or babysitters and wanted to know when they were going to visit. This was one of the hard things to explain – she knew that we would visit her Massachusetts grandparents, but it was tough to see the tears when she realized her friends wouldn’t always be on the itinerary. My husband and I were honest with her from the start, and this allowed her a chance to say goodbye and appreciate the time she had with the people she loved.
3. Delay a big purchase until after the move. Not only is this financially wise (since you won’t have to pay to move it), it also gives the kids something to look forward to. My daughter had waited almost a year for a swingset and playing on it in her new yard kept her from dwelling on the move. It was also an open invitation to other kids in the neighborhood, giving her an immediate circle of friends.
4. Let the kids help pack. In the weeks leading up to the move, my daughter worried that we would forget to bring this toy or that book. Before the movers got there, I let her pack up some special toys and gave her a marker to write her name on the box. This assured her that everyone would know to bring those toys with us.
5. Be explicit with the movers. We had a moving company pack, move and unpack us. It took a lot of work off my shoulders (my husband had to move out to Indiana two weeks prior to start his job) but added some stresses. They packed my living room first — the room where the TV, toys and training pants are! Within a few hours, I was left without anything to entertain my daughter for the next 48 hours until we actually left. If I had been more explicit with them or been more aware of the ramifications of having the living room in a box, it might have made those hours easier.
6. Enlist a family member to keep the kids entertained. Even though I had movers doing the hard work, I had a million errands to run and countless questions to answer. Luckily, my cousin came down with her little girl, keeping my daughter entertained and out of the way.
7. Take the time to say goodbye. We walked through the house when it was empty and then around the yard, filling our eyes with those last few moments. My daughter saw me cry and I think that helped her understand that feeling sad was okay.
8. Keep Murphy’s Law in mind: My big mistake was not packing clothes into my carry-on. I had enough toys in there to keep Mandy busy for five weeks, but neglected to pack a clean shirt (I can only attribute it to the past two weeks of sleep deprivation!). When she got airsick and the airline lost our luggage, my first foray into Fort Wayne, Indiana was for new clothes with a very smelly child in tow.
9. Unload the toys first. We had the movers do the reverse – unpack the toys before anything else. I put them all into Mandy’s room so that she could play in there and be out of the way while they were bringing in the furniture. She also delighted in unpacking some of the boxes herself and “discovering” toys she had forgotten about.
10. Keep in touch. We take lots of pictures for everyone back home while Mandy colors drawings to send to relatives. While she still misses everyone and talks about them, drawing pictures gives her a tangible way of staying close.
Most important possession
And, as stressful as it is, in the end, moving with a child had one added benefit – she kept me too busy to dwell on leaving my family behind.
When the three of us were finally reunited in the Indiana airport, we knew we could deal with anything else that came our way. We had our most important possession intact and ready to start anew: each other.