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Growing Families:
On the Move Again

By Rebecca Sliter Hugh
Schofield, Wisconsin USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 10 No. 1, January-February 1993, pp. 4-6

One of the most feared statements in our household is "We're moving again!" In fact as I sit and write this, our family is in the midst of being transferred. This is our seventh move in twelve years of marriage. As a result of our frequent moves, our three daughters, ages nine, seven, and four, are becoming experienced veterans, and my husband and I have learned firsthand about the effects of relocating on the family. Whether a move is a short distance, cross country, or halfway around the world, you can expect everyone in the family to experience a similar range of feelings and reactions, including yourself. And as a parent, you will naturally have concerns about making the transition go smoothly for your children.

One of our easiest moves took place when our oldest daughter was just a few weeks old. At that age she wasn't fully aware of all that was changing in our world. Her principal needs were the closeness of her mother and the comfort of nursing. However, even babies can and do pick up on the stress of the adults around them. The secret of a smooth transition is to keep your own stress level under control.

The most difficult challenge of moving for children under age two is dealing with the stress of adults and older siblings. A baby or toddler may react by needing more attention, wanting to nurse more frequently, experiencing alterations in normal sleep patterns, or clinging to you for reassurance.

Children Don't Understand

As children get older and become more aware of their surroundings, they are likely to experience deeper reactions to moving. For three- to five-year-olds, the actual move itself may be the most difficult part to handle. Imagine moving day through the eyes of your child and you can understand why. There are strangers in the house, packing things into boxes, and then taking everything away in a large truck. For adults this can be disconcerting; for a child it can be devastating. Children often don't understand the concept of moving from one household to another. They may believe their belongings are gone forever. You may need to explain repeatedly that the truck will bring everything to your new home and all of you will live there together.

Older children experience even greater changes for they have developed relationships outside the home. They realize that not only will they be leaving the security of the place they've called home, but leaving friends, school, and other activities behind. Although a move is often necessary, how do you help your children through the upheaval?

Communication Is Essential

Good communication is essential to help calm fears and deal with stress. Be available to listen to your children's feelings and apprehensions, and provide opportunities for these discussions to take place. Allow your children to express their worries and concerns and even their anger about the move. Let them know these feelings are normal.

An effective way to accomplish this is to share some of your own feelings about the move. It's okay to say that you wish you didn't have to move either. Explain to your children the reason for the move and help them see the positive aspects.

There are children's books about moving available at your library or local bookstore. Another good resource is a video tape for four- to ten-year-olds called "Let's Get a Move On." In this thirty-minute video, children express common childhood fears about moving. The tape is available in the USA and Canada from Ryder Truck Rental at a cost of $8.95 plus $1.00 shipping and handling (call 1-800-845-3636). For older children, be sure to provide lots of opportunities for get-togethers with friends and time to say good-bye. Autograph books, plans to be pen pals, and lots of photos can make leaving friends less painful.

Children Need to Be Involved

It's important to involve your children in as many of the aspects of moving as you can, depending on their ages. If you are selling your house, their involvement can start when the house first goes up for sale. Be realistic in explaining the need to keep the house fairly presentable when potential buyers come to see it. To make picking up easier, our children helped us pack some of their toys before the house was put up for sale. This way we didn't need to worry about keeping them picked up. Older children can be assigned jobs to prepare for buyers such as wiping out the sink, picking up the newspapers, vacuuming the stairs, etc.

Include your children in the search for your new home; it will be their home, too. If they can't be with you when you look at apartments or houses, take along a list of their priorities. Our oldest wanted a flat driveway for playing basketball, our middle daughter wanted a big closet, and the list went on.

Moving Day

When moving day arrives, many moving companies will suggest that you find a sitter to take the children. In our family we've found it works best to involve them on moving day as long as they aren't in the way. They've helped set up boxes, hand items to the packers, and tape boxes shut. It made them feel better about seeing everything disappear. It can be helpful to have a grandparent or friend available at mealtime, either to bring in food or take the children out to eat.

Once everything is out of the house, make time to take a last tour together. Go from room to room and recall special memories and times you shared. As we did this in one of our houses, we came across a tiny baby footprint on the wall where the cradle had been. It was like going back in time. What better way to say good-bye to your home!

When you arrive at your new home you realize that your move is only half finished. Now the family must go through everything in reverse. Unpacking and settling often produce as much anxiety as leaving did. Getting acquainted with a new community, meeting new people, finding the school, church, and shopping center, can be stressful. Young children will need lots of reassurance and may have trouble sleeping at first. It may be difficult during the first busy days to make time for everyone's needs; just remember the boxes will still be there to unpack later. School-age children will need extra patience, support, and loads of encouragement while adjusting to a new school and making new friends. Be sensitive to their feelings even though sometimes they may act them out in ways that upset you. When this happens, allow extra time for adjustment, and let some things slide until everyone is more settled.

Your New Community

Finding your way in a new community can be a daunting task. I have found getting involved right away instead of waiting is one of the best things I can do. An easy way to do this is to find your local La Leche League Group and continue going to meetings. At meetings, you will receive support and information that can be helpful during this stressful time. You will also find the comfort of fellowship with other mothers like yourself. The social time after the meeting is a great time to ask other mothers about schools, doctors, dentists, shopping, etc. Before you move, ask your Leader if she can help you find the name of a Leader in your new location or call La Leche League International, 1-800-LA LECHE for help in finding a local Group. You might consider calling the local Leader before you move. She may be able to give you some information about the area so that when you begin house hunting or apartment hunting, you'll know a little bit about the community.

Another way to get to know your new community is to play tourist. Take the family to museums, parks, and local points of interest. By doing this, you'll not only become familiar with your new home, but also know all the points to share when family and friends come to visit.

During the period of relocation don't forget that you and your husband will also experience stress. The organizational details that may include selling a house, finding an apartment or buying a house, and orchestrating the move, can be overwhelming. In addition, you too will be leaving family, friends, familiar activities and routines, and the comfort and security of your current home. Just because you're grown up doesn't mean you can't experience separation anxiety! It's important to keep communication lines open and try to understand and accept each other's feelings. Just being aware of your feelings helps keep them in perspective.

Try to keep a positive outlook, not just for the children but for yourself, too. Children model the behavior of their parents. If they see you making the effort to adjust in a positive way, they will, too. Moving gives you a fresh start, like a blank page. It allows you to make changes you've wanted in your life. Moving can be an exciting adventure if you let it be!

You might want to look up some books about moving from your library: Grow Your Roots, Anywhere, Anytime, by Ronald J. Raymond; Moving Time, by Carolyn Trager; Positive Moves, by Carolyn Janik. A junior high or high school student might like Coping with Moving, by Dorothy Greenward and Help! We're Moving, by Dianna Daniels Booker. For younger children: A New Home, A New Friend, by Heinz Wilhelm; Goodbye House, by Frank Asch, Mitchell Is Moving, by Sharmat, and Moving, by Fred Rogers.

REFERENCES

Kuczen, Barbara. Childhood Stress, Delta Books, 1982.

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