4 things I’ve learnt about moving house with kids
My parents have been clearing out their loft. When they came to visit recently they brought a box full of my exercise books from primary school. I was gripped by my little coloured pencil drawings of fairies and snowmen and my carefully-formed letters. We had moved house quite a bit when I was younger and I came across a story I wrote about moving house as a six year old where I had written about the day before I moved house: "This night I was sad because I didn't want to miss my friends."
Fast forward 30 years and I am no longer the child. I am now the parent with three children aged 2, 5 and 7, who has just moved house. In fact, we have moved three times over the last seven years. We’ve now been in our new house for nearly nine months and I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I’ve been learning.
1. Every child reacts differently to moving house
People say to us all the time when they hear we have recently moved: ‘Children are very resilient, they’ll be fine’. I don’t doubt this is true but I do think that we can underestimate how hard it is for some children to navigate a different environment and set of people and to adjust to the new emotions that this involves. Two of our children found it difficult initially when we moved here. There were tantrums and late night meltdowns. But then they settled into the new routine. One of our children seemed fine initially but then has struggled ever since. It is hard to know how to help and it takes a lot of energy to deal with the emotions; their emotions and ours.
2. It is okay to not feel ‘settled’ in a new place
People often ask me ‘have you settled in?’ and I’m never quite sure how to respond. It seems to warrant a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer but I don’t feel that either of those answers suffices. I feel a pressure to feel ‘settled’ but I don’t even know what it means. We have unpacked all our boxes but the house doesn’t quite feel like we’ve put our stamp on it yet. I am only just getting to know people in the community and to find my way around the area. ‘Settling in’ for me is a gradual process.
3. It takes a village…to move house with kids
We have needed and appreciated help during this move. But it can be hard to ask for help. My husband was brilliant at asking for help from friends on our moving day and in the days preceding it so our children were well looked after, which made everything easier.
There was a team at the church in our new area who cleared our garden completely before we moved in – amazing! This is something we never could have done on our own. People brought us thoughtful gifts when we arrived – a huge basket of fruit, some vegetables from one lady’s allotment and a lovely ‘welcome box’ of goodies from someone else.
After we moved we didn’t know anyone in the local area. We asked some ‘parent friends’ from our old neighbourhood to bring their children and come and spend a day with our children over the school summer holidays to help us out with childcare while we worked. This meant our children had familiar faces around them which they loved. We also had a friend move in with us for a while to help us settle in as a family. We were very grateful for this time that people gave.
4. Stay in touch with old friends – your children will thank you for it
Two sets of friends have recently been very kind to us and they probably don’t even realize how much this has meant. We have a community of support which we have created for each of our children called a Life Village, made up of our invited friends. One couple from my son’s Life Village, Fiona and Derek (and their lovely dog!) invited us over for an impromptu BBQ at their house.
These Life Villagers have a huge trampoline in their garden and the children spent the afternoon bouncing around in the sun and squealing with delight. Fiona and Derek gave us a gift that day – the gift of effortlessly creating a relaxed environment. It was just what we needed. The children loved being with them because Fiona and Derek have known them all their life and have demonstrated their love in lots of tangible ways. This is one of the real treasures of the Life Village concept.
Another Life Villager, Sarah, recently offered to take our five year old son out for the afternoon. He had an amazing time climbing along a treetop walkway, exploring nature and doing crazy, silly voices with Sarah. I was surprised he hadn’t been scared of climbing so high but because Sarah is energetic and full of fun, he showed a side to himself that only she seems able to bring out! These little pockets of time with safe and loving adults have really helped our family during this time of transition.
My parents have also been a huge support to us and to the children. In addition to their help it is great to have other forms of support like the Life Village community. Together this has given us roots in times of uncertainty.
Moving house with children can be stressful. Setting up home, making new friends, finding schools and childcare, exploring a different area and learning a new culture takes time. And children do things in their own time and in their own way.
I am *still* settling in. And maybe I will be for a while.
Maybe once we have a few more pictures up on the wall.
Or I’ve finally managed to create the garden of my dreams.
Maybe then I might feel ‘settled’.
Or maybe not.
Maybe it’s more about nurturing a sense of thankfulness about the community of friends we have been able to keep in touch with and the new friendships that I see are developing. In times of vulnerability, support is vital, whatever form it takes, and I hope that we can offer this support to others too.
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