I placed the last purple hyacinth bulb in the six-inch-deep hole in front of our new Tennessee home, patting down the dark earth over the flower bed. "This is one way to put down some roots here," I thought. Only a few months before, my Midwestern family had moved across three states?and the Mason-Dixon line?so my husband could pursue a new career. Oatmeal had changed to grits, pop music to country and western.
Our family was not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, every year more than 40 million Americans pack up their belongings to move across town or across the country. If you are among this number, take heart! By preparing ahead for the changes to come, you can help your family adjust to life in a new location.
It helps to keep in mind the benefits of moving. One bonus is the chance to teach your children important life skills, such as coping with change. Susan Miller, author of After the Boxes Are Unpacked (Focus on the Family), says parents need to decide in advance how they will model their response to the move for their children.
"When my husband, Bill, told us we were making a corporate move from Atlanta to Phoenix, I did not want to move," Miller said. "I didn't know anything about Phoenix and didn't care!"
In choosing how to communicate her feelings to her children, she decided to be honest, but to phrase things in a way that was appropriate.
"I told them, 'Hey, Dad has a new job in Phoenix,' " Miller remembers. "We are going to hold hands, stick together.
It will be hard in some ways, but we will look for new ways to broaden our horizons."
Clinical psychologist Todd Cartmell, author of The Parent Lifesaver (Baker), recommends showing your kids that moving is an adventure.
"Explain the reasons for the move," he says.
"Be honest, yet communicate optimism. This can be a real bonding time for you and your family."
No matter how short a distance you move, the change will create some disruption. Preschoolers, elementary-age children and young teens will all experience a range of emotions, from happy anticipation to deep feelings of loss and grief. Here are ways to meet their needs.
Although very young children will adjust to a new location more quickly than older ones, they still need reassurances from Mom and Dad to help them feel secure. Let your toddler help pack a box to take in the car that includes favorite toys and stuffed animals. That way she can be confident those treasured items will not be left behind. Explain as much as you can before the move, emphasizing the things that will stay the same: "Grandma will sleep in the extra bedroom when she visits us in our new house, just like she did before."
The most important thing to your young preschooler is that you are still there?his feelings of security are central to this. Let him know that you will be there for him.
Betsy Rossen Elliot, author of The Moving Book (Shaw), suggests expressing your feelings simply and appropriately to help your preschooler deal with his own feelings of loss. "This has been a good house for us; I feel a little bit sad to leave it," followed by "Let's look at the pictures of our new house. Isn't it wonderful how God helped us find it?"
Once in a new location, preschoolers will need time to adjust to the loss of the familiarity of their old house. Cartmell reminds parents that their toddlers may regress in several ways, including thumb-sucking, bedwetting, potty-training delays and acting out (temper tantrums, crying). Parents will need an extra measure of patience during an already stretching time.
Helping Elementary-Age Children
Count the days
. A month before the move, Cartmell recommends putting up a calendar where kids can count down the days left until the big event. Letting your kids check off each day gives them a tangible way to mark time before the big change takes place.
Before you leave, make sure your children have a long visit with their best friends. Consider taking pictures of them together and making a scrapbook that they can treasure later. This helps bring a sense of closure to important relationships, and it helps your child work through the grieving process.
Sad isn't bad.
Remember your children need to grieve the loss of their friends, school and house. Acknowledge those feelings, don't minimize them. At the same time, help them look forward to new experiences and the people they will meet.
New school visit.
A change of schools may well be the biggest fear your elementary-age child faces. If you are moving over the summer, check with the new school principal to schedule an appointment to drop in with your kids before school begins. Let them see the cafeteria and the gym, and introduce them to some of the teachers, if possible.
A brand new room.
Helping my 11-year-old daughter plan her new room before we moved did a lot to create a sense of excitement and anticipation. Discussing which room would be hers, picking out wallpaper, planning the things she would put on the wall, and figuring out where to place the furniture gave her something specific to look forward to. After our move, we enjoyed working together putting up the paper, hanging the posters and arranging the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, just as she had pictured it.
. After the move, if your children have trouble making friends, Miller suggests role-playing. Help them imagine scenarios, such as finding someone to sit with at lunch or asking a classmate about an assignment. Practicing these scenarios will help shy children develop the courage to reach out to other kids.
Miller also advises: "Help involve them in activities where they are likely to make new friends. Encourage them to bring new acquaintances home from school or church."
The gift of time.
You'll be busy getting your new house in order, but remember to set aside lots of time for your elementary-age kids.
Helping Young Teens
While teenagers can understand the reasons for a move, they may also react the most negatively. Anger is a typical reaction from young teens who have to leave friends, extended family and familiar schools. Don't view their displays of anger as anything out of the ordinary.
Stay in touch.
Before you leave for your new home, give your young teen an address book and encourage her to collect names, addresses and e-mail information from close friends and relatives. When we moved to Tennessee, we purchased wallet-sized phone cards and gave them to each child so they could call their friends when they felt lonely. E-mail can help your kids connect with friends and family at a substantially lower cost than telephoning. And old-fashioned letter writing will ensure some quick pick-me-ups in the mailbox on days when everything else might seem to be going wrong.
Tour the city.
Cartmell recommends bringing your kids to the new city before the actual move. This can be reassuring to elementary-age children and young teens alike. If there is no way to visit, ask the chamber of commerce to send you brochures and other information about the city. On one of our house-hunting trips, my husband and I brought back photos of the neighborhood, the house we had chosen, the school, parks and downtown area to share with our children. Seeing what things looked like helped build excitement.
Dress for success.
It's good to see how kids dress in the area you're moving to. Maybe you won't let your son get a nose ring, but let him update his wardrobe. This will help him have more confidence in a new school setting.
Make sure records and test scores are sent to your children's new school well in advance of your move. This avoids further disruption when children are placed in the wrong skill-level classes and have to be moved later on.
Lower your expectations.
If your young teen has a tough time after the move, you may need to temporarily lower your expectations about grades and behavior patterns. Additional pressure will just make things more difficult.
"Moving at this age is hard," Miller says, "there is just no other way to slice it. But even if they are angry with you, stay available for them. Let them know that whatever they are going through you will be there for them."
Plan some special times with your teen. Maybe it can be a Dunkin' Donuts stop on Fridays before school, or a monthly outing for the two of you to a favorite restaurant. Let your teen know she is special, and you want to be with her.
Let Go of Guilt
When kids are upset about a move, parents often battle intense feelings of guilt. I remember my husband holding our 11-year-old son, Dustin, while Dustin sobbed uncontrollably.
"I feel like my whole life has been thrown in a dumpster," Dustin said. "Why did you have to move us to Tennessee?" Were we wrong to move our children away from their grandparents, the church they had been in since birth and their support network of friends?
Miller, who has moved her family 14 times, reminds us that there is a point where we have to let go and trust God with our children's feelings. "As parents, we do all we can to help them adjust, all we are equipped to do," she says. "Then we let go of them, turn over our feelings of guilt to the Lord, and trust him to fill in the gaps. With the help of Jesus Christ, we move from our feelings of guilt to a feeling of trust in him to see our family through these feelings. And we remember that our moves are temporary ones in light of eternity."
Two years after my purple hyacinths bloomed in Tennessee, we were once again packing up for a new job back in the Midwest. The lessons we learned from our first move helped us prepare our kids for a new adventure, although the thought of starting over again seemed overwhelming. But today as I plant purple hyacinths in the front yard of my Illinois home, I know that God will once again see us through.
Cindy Crosby is a widely published writer and the mother of two children. She and her family live in the Chicago area.
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