Of all the news a parent could possibly have to tell his or her children, an impending cross-country move is surely toward the bottom on the overall pain scale. Yet here I was, fretting about having to tell our kids, ages 5 and 8, that the life they know and love is about to change in a major way.
For the previous month, my husband and I had been keeping a big secret: his work team was being asked to transfer from our small Midwestern city to the Dallas area this summer. We had a month to weigh the pros and cons, to go to Dallas and check out some houses and schools, and, above all, to determine: Do we want to uproot our family and take a shot on a new adventure?
In the end, and for many reasons, our answer was yes.
So now here we were, sitting at the kitchen table across from our kids, who had just played awesome soccer games earlier that afternoon and were on a natural high. I hated to ruin their sunny moods, but we wanted to tell them the news on a weekend, when they’d have time to process it and ask us questions.
Recognizing there’s no good way to do this, we opted for the Band-Aid approach and just ripped it off. As anticipated, my daughter burst into inconsolable tears, and — in a bit of unexpected comic relief — my son ran upstairs gleefully shouting, “I’m gonna go pack up my Legos!” (He is so 5!)
After our daughter’s initial shock wore off, her lips curled into a tentative smile. She grew curious about her new life in Texas — the new school she’d go to, the new friends she’d make, the places we’d explore, and so on.
Since then, they’ve both had moments of excitement and anticipation followed by moments of tears and sadness. It’s all to be expected; the unknowns are admittedly scary — even for us grown-ups. For elementary school-age kids, this is all they know. And even for us, leaving Michigan is bittersweet on many levels. This is where we began our married life 13 years ago, when my husband’s job brought us to the Midwest. It’s where we made lifelong friendships, forged our careers, started our family, and planted roots.
We came here knowing no one, but in time, this place became home. We love our friends who have become family and we cherish our caring community. Heck, I’ve even become more involved in our synagogue as time has gone on! While none of our relatives live here, it isn’t going to be easy to leave so much that we appreciate.
Because neither of us ever moved until we went away to college, we crowdsourced family and friends (especially our military friends who move frequently), teachers, and online resources for advice on making a big move easier on small kids.
These are the tips that have helped us the most.
1. Be positive about the move.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Even if you’re not feeling it 100% of the time, fake it til you make it — your kids need to know you are excited about this next step. It’s OK for them to know you’re a little sad, too; it makes you human and relatable. Go ahead and share some hugs and tears. But if it’s anything beyond that, you’re better off venting to your spouse or your best friend. Little kids facing a big life change have enough on their minds without wondering about your well-being, too.
2. Familiarize your kids with their new surroundings.
It may not be possible to visit your new city and new school before the move, but kids are curious little creatures and will probably want to know all they can about their new home. I was extremely thankful when my mom found some great age-appropriate books about Texas for each kid, as well as a giant puzzle the shape of Texas. My son’s teacher showed the class where Texas is using Google Earth, and she also told the class all the fun things to do in the Dallas area. And while we haven’t found a house yet, we continue to show them listings so they can imagine what our new home in Texas might look like.
3. Keep as much consistency as possible.
Many people suggested moving with their bedroom sets and most of their furniture and special toys to help ease the transition — in other words, this is not the time for new furniture and toys, at least not yet. Our kids both live for soccer, so we found a soccer club they can join; I also found a synagogue where the kids can continue their Jewish education (and I can meet fellow Jews!). Yes, it’ll be a different room in a different house, different teammates, and different Hebrew school classmates, but I really believe consistency will help ease the transition to a new environment.
4. Make a list of fun things to do before you leave.
My daughter brought this one up and I absolutely love it: she asked if she could put little notes in a mason jar of her favorite things to do, places to go, restaurants to visit. She’ll draw one special activity each Friday — something we can do each weekend between now and when we move this summer. Along those lines, a dear friend recommended this moving scrapbook, The Moving Book: A Kids’ Survival Guide, as a place to log all those memories of our favorite places, as well as her emotions.
5. Find ways to keep in touch.
For my family on the east and west coasts, the children’s book The Invisible String has been our special thing — and I’m thrilled the kids are now applying the concept in reference to their Michigan friends. “We will still be connected, Mommy! We have our Invisible Strings!” In addition, we’ll encourage them to write their friends and allow them to call if and when they want. Once they get settled into their new world, they may need those connections less and less — but as I learned in Girl Scouts many moons ago, “Make new friends, keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”
Parenting doesn’t come with a manual for tough times like these, but I’m grateful for the village we have and the wisdom those who have gone before us can impart. What tips helped your family adjust to moving?