Moving with kids

Communication is key to easing the transition from one home to another


Carole Rogers-Yuster

As a child, William Frederking attended four grade schools, six high schools and lived in 10 different houses. The author of At Home, a book of black-and-white still-life photographs that capture the essence of his current Oak Park home, Frederking has spent at lot of time pondering the meaning of home.

"The only house I remember was the house that I grew up in, in Effingham, Ill., which is where I was born," he says. When he was 7 or 8, his family began a long series of moves from coast to coast, and cities in-between, for his dad's jobs.

"My father literally called our moves 'vacations.' 'We're going on a two-week vacation.' The only difference is we never went back to the place that we left."

Talk-then talk some more

Frederking, born in 1955, acknowledges that things were different when he grew up, and that parents didn't really involve their children in major decisions. His advice to parents today: "Talk to them."

Moving is a big deal to everyone in the family and can be traumatic for kids. It's up to us as parents to set the tone and ease the transition from one home to another. As a veteran of eight moves in eight years, I agree with Frederking: Talk to your kids and then talk some more.

Leslie Levine is the author of Will This Place Ever Feel Like Home?, a book she describes as a "sort of blueprint for settling in." Levine relocated with her two children and husband to Highland Park from Rochester, N.Y. She believes that "it's important to be honest, because when you minimize what you're going through, you're not honoring your experience. You have to highlight the move, and not pretend it's not going to happen. Don't downplay it. It's a huge, huge transition, and it's one of the biggest transitions in life."

Don't assume young children understand what it means to move. Be clear that the family pets and what's in the house go, too. Before we moved from Highland Park to Wausau, Wis., we gave our son, Adam, then 6, a camera to take pictures of his friends and things he wanted to remember. We were astounded when he took pictures of our dog, his toys and other household items. That's when we realized, with a wince of sadness, that he thought only the people were moving. Of course, he was quickly reassured that neither our golden retriever nor his toys would be left behind.

Moving is more than packing

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly half of all moves occur between June and September, coinciding with school calendars. Whether moving within the same city, to a different state or another country, careful research, planning and sensitivity can help you maximize the positive impacts of a move on your family and build a new home life.

This is the time to think about what makes your home a home, and what makes the community you live in feel like your hometown. Once it is a foregone conclusion that the move is going to happen, how do you proceed? There's more to a move than packing boxes.

Critical factors in choosing your city or suburb are the schools and proximity to work.

"We always choose for schools first," says Cheryl McCarthy, a veteran of nine moves in 20 years and a current Naperville resident. "The second thing is that it has to be accessible to my husband's work. The third thing is it has to be a neighborhood where a stay-at-home mom like me can fit in, find friends and valuable community work to do."

McCarthy, a freelance journalist and mother of three daughters, says that the key to an emotionally successful move is to recognize that "settling in is your job, and that you have to keep at it-you don't give up making friends for yourself and your kids. Expect your children to succeed, and commiserate with them over the hard times. They may surprise you by integrating lickety split."

Here are some tips for researching the schools in the neighborhoods you're considering:

 Determine a school's academic standing. Visit school districts' Web sites and search for the state report card or do an Internet search for "school report cards" for the towns you might call home.

 Evaluate school programs and schedules. Research special programs and calendars of activities on school Web sites.

 Visit the schools. The principal should take you on a tour and introduce you to potential teachers for your children.

 Does the school have a buddy system? Many schools provide new students with a classroom buddy who will be assigned to help the child adjust to the new school. Programs like these can ease new kid jitters tremendously.

Join a club

Seeking out community clubs and organizations specifically designed to build relationships can be your saving grace when moving to a new town. In fact, McCarthy says it is essential, and has done this each time her family has moved. As president of the Naperville Newcomers and Neighbors Club, she says, "You join Newcomers to find friends and have fun. We're open to everybody. One of our strongest groups is our moms and tots play groups, and that's a godsend for a mother who's new in town with little ones."

To alleviate the feelings of isolation and the rigors of a move, support organizations such as Family Network of Highland Park fit the bill. In January 1997, my husband and I (eight months pregnant at the time) relocated from the San Francisco Bay area to Deerfield without any friends or family nearby for support.

I stumbled upon a brochure for the Family Network while browsing through the new mom packet at the hospital after giving birth. Feeling a little lonely, not only as a new parent, but also as a new resident, I visited Family Network with Adam. The staff and other families warmly embraced us. Outings there became part of our routine for the next four years. I had found a place where I could have coffee and adult conversation in a comfy, homelike setting, knowing that Adam was also safe and socially content.

Transitioning from one locale to another is easier when extended family already lives in the area. Shelly Sachs, a Highland Park mom of two who has managed six moves in 11 years, says that one of her family's moves took them to New Jersey, where her husband's family lived. It was a very "comforting move" and it was "nice to know that I could raise my children with family around." The move to the Chicago area has strengthened other family ties because Sachs' mother lives in Lincoln Park. Sachs' 11-year-old daughter, Lauren, is happy about that. "My mom's mom lives closer and I get to see her more often," she says.

Other tips for moving

Here are other ways to ease the transition from one locale to another, gleaned from my own experiences and those of other veterans of many moves with kids:

 Research the area you're moving to. Study the Web sites of the communities you might call home.

 Explore the new city with your family. Walk the neighborhoods. Talk to residents. Hang out in coffee shops.

 If you can, rent before you buy. You never truly know a place until you live there.

 Safety matters. Contact the local police department to learn of high-crime areas. Check out your potential neighborhoods for registered sex offenders using www.nationalalert

 Get to know the neighborhoods. Note the family composition of the neighborhoods you're considering. Are there empty-nesters, families with young kids or families with college-age kids? Will the neighborhood fit your lifestyle?

 Start something new. Levine started a book group when she first moved to Highland Park. "It forces you to get involved," she says. "It helps you create something of your own."

 Ask, ask, ask. The more you know about your destination, the better equipped you are for transitioning your family.

Knowing when you're 'home'

Once you've unpacked the boxes and settled into a routine, how will you know when the community has that "hometown" feeling and your house is now your home? Sachs says: "You can make a home anywhere. A home is a house with a roof that is filled with love, tradition, opportunities and food on the table."

McCarthy of Naperville has two markers she uses to see whether she's at home yet. "One is, when you are out and about on the street running an errand, do you run into people you know and stop and chat and say hello? When you do that, that's your first marker that you're home. The second marker is if you're at home and somebody drops by your house without calling first. I just love it."

My son, Adam, now 9, believes that "Everywhere we are is home. 'Home' is where the family is." And, I guess, when you think about it-that says it all.

Carole Rogers-Yuster, a freelance writer, mother of a 9-year-old son and veteran of many moves, plans to reside with her family in Highland Park for a long, long time.

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