Relocating with kids – how we broke the news.
They say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do in your life. Add onto that a move with kids and you have to think about more than yourself. Breaking the news to kids that you’re moving them away from family, friends and school is not easy. On them or on you.
So here is my list of what we did right and what we did wrong when we told our kids we were moving cities.
I moved home over 20 times during my childhood. Funny thing is that most of the time it was in one suburb…it’s a long story. I did move to three different cities during that time as well.
There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all approach to this. Kids are unique and all deal with change differently. When we moved cities, as a family, we had already made a home move, so our kids were accustomed to having their rooms and toys packed up. But they didn’t have to change schools or leave family and friends behind. This was a whole new ball-game for us and we wanted to manage the stress on them as best as we could.
If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.
– Paulo Coehlo
What we did right
- We told them before we told anybody else
There were two reasons we wanted to do this. Firstly, we didn’t want anybody making a mistake by blurting something out to them without consideration for their feelings. And secondly because we wanted them to know that they came first, that how they felt about the move was important to us as parents and that what they felt mattered. As much as we had made the decision as parents, we still wanted to stress to them that this was a family choice – and that the five of us were the family.
- We were vulnerable
We told them everything we had considered in making the decision. The pros and cons.
- We answered all their questions honestly
Which school would they attend? We didn’t know. Where would we live exactly? We didn’t know. If we didn’t have the answer we said so but we constantly reassured them that we were going to figure everything out together.
- We kept communication lines open
That meant constantly checking in on them and making sure they had all their questions answered, any doubt and fears listened to.
- We allowed them to feel sad
When we broke the news everybody was ok for about a minute. Then one started crying, then the next. We didn’t tell them not to cry or tell them all the positives. It was important to honour their feelings and allow them to process their emotions.
- We allowed them to be angry
Three and half years after our move we still get told off about moving them away from the family and their friends or even about the “nicest” house we lived in. Allowing them to be angry is important for them. We usually just apologise if anybody brings it up.
- We told them the positives
While we didn’t use these as a reason why they shouldn’t feel sad or angry, we did tell them what we believed the pros were to moving.
- We allowed them to house hunt with us
We wanted them to know that their voice mattered in choosing a new home.
- We took them on holiday to the city
This actually happened by chance but it was so positive. We had been on holiday in the same city about five months before my husband received the job offer. That gave them a sense of calm having seen what the city was about and the bonus with a holiday is that you get to experience all the fun things a place has to offer.
- We let them help make decisions about their new school
My husband moved a few months before us so we came with him and used the time to visit schools. We took the kids with and allowed them to have a say about which school they enjoyed visiting. This had to be a unanimous decision though as our kids were each entering different stages at school – one in College (Gr7), one in Junior Primary (Gr3) and one in Early Learning (Stage5)
- We allowed them to choose what toys to pack or give away
Even though my kids were outgrowing some types of toys, if they wanted to keep them, I let them move with it. It may have ended up being an extra box here and there but knowing they had every comfort was more important.
What we did wrong
- We told them a public space
I’m really not sure what we were thinking but we took our kids out for dinner and broke the news to them. That wasn’t the easiest for them when they began to cry and us wanting to console them. We also didn’t have any tissues with us. Not the best planning on our part.
- Our white lies from our holiday caught up with us
When we were on holiday and the kids wanted to buy toys and I didn’t want to be travelling home with more than the luggage we arrived with, I told them there weren’t any toy stores there. I also told them once when we were out that there wasn’t wifi everywhere. This was to curb online activity. So when we broke the news, my then four year old only tied those two things together and cried out “but that city doesn’t have any toy stores or wifi”. And that became the basis for his tears.
- We asked them to keep it a secret
In hindsight, I would change this one. I thinks it’s important to allow kids to process whatever they feel about a move. And telling them to not tell anybody until the adults are ready can make them feel like they can’t own their emotions, can’t lean on the people they trust for support.
There are studies that say that moving home is stressful for kids and equally those that have found that kids are more resilient because of it. I’m not sure which way things went for me having moved so much as a child. I’m not sure which of my strengths I gained and which fears and anxieties stemmed from it. Sometimes moving just is part of life and we have to try our best to make it as easy as it can be.
I did come across a study that said parental attitude towards the move is very important to how a child experiences the transition, specifically the mother.
For me, if I know my kids are ok and I’ve done my best at easing their transition, it makes the move all the more easy for me. Happy travelling.