Our family has relocated three times in the last four years. We’re lucky that we’ve loved every place we’ve lived, joined wonderful communities, and made great friends. We’re also fortunate that our children are still young and we’re not plucking sensitive teenagers from a beloved high school set of friends. Our cross-country moves have been challenging while in the weeds, but ultimately very rewarding experiences. There’s something very powerful about being together as a family in the early, unsure days of the move. The four of us, together, ready for a new adventure. We’re extremely close and, cliche as it is, we know that home can be anywhere, as long as we’re together.
One of the hardest aspects about moving with young children is that you are not only dealing with your own anxiety and stress of the unknown, but your children are watching you, picking up on your cues, and learning how to form their own feelings about the transition. Although we have had our share of meltdowns (adult and child), arguments, and crying fits, we’ve also learned and grown each time. Here are some tips based on our experience.
1) Read books.
We like the 123 series and have the books for both our new and our old home(s). As soon as we knew our move was imminent, we started to read the book about our new home to the boys and talk about what’s different, what will we miss, and what are we excited to see.
2) Spend some time online.
Before you move, spend some time looking up kid activities in your new town. Almost all cities have some sort of family-centered city guide, and it’s amazing how much you can learn about a place before even stepping foot in it. Look up a few parks near your new house, music classes that offer free previews, a rec center with drop-in hours, a nature preserve or hiking trail, and keep this info close at hand. You’re going to need some breaks from unpacking, and scheduling a few activities for the kids will help break up the chaos.
3) Lean on friends.
Seriously, if your mama friend down the street offers to take your kids for a few hours so you can pack, say “Thank you, that’d be awesome. How about tomorrow at 2?” The amount of clear-headed packing I was able to accomplish while my boys were playing at our neighbor’s house was astonishing: I could do in two hours what would take me two days. And the real bonus is that the kids got to have a fun play date with their buddies. Win-Win! (Thank you, Kate)
4) Wave to moving trucks.
This is a fun car game. Every time you see a moving truck, everyone wave and say “good luck on your new adventure!” to it as you pass by. The kids love keeping their eyes peeled for moving trucks and get so excited when the finally spot one. No matter how prepared you are for your move, the day you finally see the moving truck is in front of your house will make your stomach drop. Playing the wave-to-the-trucks game creates a positive association for your kids, and hopefully they’ll be excited when they see *your* moving truck.
5) Pack a “favorites” bag.
Whether you’re moving cross town or cross country, you are bound to have several days/weeks of unpacking to do, so be sure to pack a bag of your kids’ favorite toys, books, lovies, and snacks. No matter where we were in our journey, we always had some variation of Lightening McQueen for Bennett and Graham’s baby blanket to make us feel secure. Do what you can to keep their routines consistent, be it meals or naps. Anything familiar will make them feel more at ease.
6) Say goodbye.
If your children are old enough, I think it’s very important for the kids to say goodbye to their friends, neighbors, and teachers. My philosophy here is similar to the advice we’re given to not sneak out the first time dropping our kids off at school/day care. I think it’s important to say the words, give the hugs, and cry the tears. Say, “We’re not going to see you for a while, and we’re really going to miss you. Please send us pictures and let’s try to Skype once in a while?”
7) Talk about it.
It’s OK to be sad, and it’s OK for your kids to feel sad. Although you will need to keep a brave face on most of the time, acting like nothing just happened and bottling up emotions can’t be good for anybody. Children’s worlds are very small, and when their solid foundation and routines are changed, the huge transition can really throw them for a loop emotionally. When I notice Bennett acting a little off, I say something like, “I’m kind of feeling a little funny today, and I sure wish we could meet up with our friends at Dracena Park. I miss them, do you? I have an idea – let’s give them a call, OR let’s go try out a new park here”.
8) Keep in touch.
Skype, facetime, send videos and photos, and ask your friends to do the same. As we were leaving the Bay Area, a mom who was born in Pakistan and then moved with her family numerous times before settling in California, gave me the advice to share your new adventures with your old friends by writing letters and sending pictures. I’m not going to lie – it was a little heartbreaking when Bennett asked me to send a picture of him with his new haircut to his old bestie, but I think it’s important to keep the connections alive in their hearts.
9) Put yourself out there.
Parenting little children, especially as a stay at home mom, can be very isolating and lonely, so it’s important to create a new support group of friends for you and your kids. That said, making new friends is harder than it looks. I’m extremely extraverted and outgoing, and even I can get exhausted by introducing myself again. Join a mom group, look through your facebook friends and see if anyone lives nearby, and take your friends up on their offer to connect you with their friend from college/cousin/old coworker who also lives in the new town. Some of our favorite playmates have been through introductions to a friend of a friend. If we’re at a park or activity and a few parents get to chatting, I usually let folks know that we’re new to town and see how the conversation goes from there. On the flip side of this, I’ve also learned to be more comfortable being alone, well, with my kids that is. You’re never really alone when you have little kids, right? But in all seriousness, I come from a small-ish town and a big family, and I was very used to knowing and seeing people from all phases of my life. When you’re new to town, there’s no familiar face at the grocery store, no chance run in at Target. Everyone is new. And that, I’ve learned, is OK. Connections will come as long as I’m genuine and putting myself out there.
10) Be positive.
You will have your grumbles and comparisons about your new town, but keep those to your yourself and your partner. No one wants to hear how second rate their playground is to the one in your old neighborhood. This is not to say to be phony, but you can be honest and positive at the same time, for example when someone asks you how you’re liking it so far, say, “We’re really settling in. Actually, I’m having a hard time finding the right grocery store. Where do you find the best local produce?”
11) Keep perspective.
I thought you said 10 tips? Well, this one is probably the most important, so it’s a bonus. There’s no denying that moving is hard- it’s one of the top life stressors – and it
can will be really, really challenging at times. If you feel like your emotions are nearing a boiling point, take a break. Take a nice walk outside with your family and be amazed how much some fresh air and movement can help you gain perspective. If you’re really lucky, that one box with that one thing that you really need right now will present itself when you return. Take lots of deep breaths and know you’re going to get through it.
Before you know it, you’ll be the local on the playground talking to the new mom to town. Be kind. Recommend your favorite local kid activity or family-friendly restaurant. If you click, give her your email and invite her to your next mom group play date. Chances are she got lost on the way to the playground, was up half the night with unsettled little ones, and is trying to keep it together in front of her kids. You could be the “fun mom” that chatted with her at the playground that she tells her partner about at dinner. You could be the first conversation that makes her think, “We’ll be happy here”.
Thank you to all the wonderful friends who have been so kind to me and our family over the last few years. We are so grateful and lucky to have you in our life.
Wishing you a happy, healthy, and bursting-at-the-seams-with-love home. xoxo