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 husband."
"You have to make sure you don't forget anything," he wryly explained.
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 too.
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 first-year molars?"
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 rush.
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 through it.
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.