Originally posted Aug. 1, 2008
We were surrounded by boxes. Some had already seen active
duty in more than their fair share of moves and sported several
layers of packing tape, badly tattered corners and barely viable
seams. Those travel-weary boxes looked like we felt, as we
contemplated the rigors of yet another move.
Late one night I found my husband bent over a list he'd
feverishly composed, his brows knit in concentration. His
list of "things to pack in the car" included "cats, cat food,
litter, and vacuum, cleaning supplies, one baby, one wife and one
"You have to make sure you don't forget anything," he wryly
That was six moves ago. We swore we'd never do it again,
but here we are, unpacking old boxes in another new home.
What have we learned, besides a few strategies for sneaking off
to the Goodwill with boxes of forgotten toys without being
intercepted by the kids? We also discovered that it's not
simply our precious photo albums and favorite things that need to
be remembered when we move. Families need special handling
Moving is hard. It rates right up there among the most
stressful life events. Sometimes it involves a wind-down
process at work and the sale and purchase of real estate, but
moving can also be about how we manage grief. It shows up as
we say good-bye, for what may be the last time, to a space, a
place, and even to an elderly neighbor we've grown to love and
honestly wonder if we'll ever see again.
Before each move we've also wondered: will our new
neighbors like us? Will we like them? How will our kids
adjust to their new surroundings? Twice our concerns included
"How are we all going to tolerate a fifteen-hour road trip to our
new home with a puking cat and one of us in the throes of cutting
Familiar routines and unconscious habits that we take for
granted but which get us from one end of the day to the next are
forever altered when we move. Where will the kids stow their
backpacks in our new home? How long does the dryer need to
run? What time will my husband have to set his alarm so he
can catch the train? These questions require a mental
attention which, until we get our bearings, demands that we not
No matter how many lists we write and what we anticipate, we're
only human. We're likely to be a tad anxious or cranky during
a move, and it's helpful to be more lenient with each other.
Lower your expectations and cut yourself and your family some
slack. You're all likely to regress a bit in the face of this
kind of stress. Young children may need extra reassurance and
will appreciate a few more snuggles at bedtime.
Crabby kids can be redirected with suggestions to personalize
their new bedrooms and make change-of-address cards to send to old
friends. No matter your reason for relocating - job
transfer, divorce, etc. - remember that your kids will model your
example of how to manage stressful times. If you turn the
move into an adventure, a discovery process of finding the sweetest
ice-cream joint and coolest park in town, they will be reassured
that life will go on. While you're at the park get the dirt
on pediatricians and mechanics. If you're really clever and
charming you'll even score a few playdates - for the kids, too.
Make sure that everyone gets a little respite from the tedious
chores involved in your move and takes time to play. I'm
inclined to toil too long and don't always remember to take breaks
(once I get started, that is), but it's truly not possible to
sustain the intensity of the physical and emotional 'work'
inevitable with transitions - and come through them well - without
a little down time.
Don't be surprised by or criticize the thoughts and feelings
that come up during your move, even if they seem foreign or
'weird.' They, and any dreams you may have can be unsettling
and even scary, but they are very important ways in which we work
through and manage transitions. Delayed reactions from
children who suddenly melt-down a few weeks after a move aren't
uncommon, either. Be gentle with yourself and each other,
have a few belly laughs when things get absurd and you'll all get
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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