Moving home: helping children through it.

A couple years back, my husband and I began to explore the idea of moving out of Chennai, the only place he knew as home, and also the city where our two children were born in. The idea of moving out came with hopes, excitement and dreams for a new life filled with people and culture unknown, as well as apprehensions of leaving home, friends and a community that had held us through our good and rough times. When we realized how much this move was affecting us as adults, we became aware of the tremendous stress it puts on the children. What does it mean for them to leave the only city, home, school and friends that they have known their whole life?   We began to consciously think about what we needed to do to make this transition easier for them.

Exploring the idea: 

As we got clarity that the move was a good for us and had benefits in the long run, we gently opened up the topic with our children. Keeping them in the loop from the beginning was a good idea. Our son was anyway moving away to college but our daughter who was to move with us had a lot of questions and a well reasoned resistance. She wanted to know about how often she could visit her friends and how she could keep in touch with them. Her other concern was about how she could continue her extracurricular activities in a different city. These conversations were good to have as all of us were aware of the fears around the move. Incidentally, these were also the very same concerns both my husband and I had for us. Creating the space to talk about it gave us all the opportunity to think long and hard about relocating. We also spent time really listening to each other.

Getting familiar with the new city:

The good thing about technology is that we have images, videos, lonely planet guides of every place on earth. So every now and then we would see what the new city had to offer and “look” at the schools we could apply to and places where hobbies could be continued. There were days nothing was good enough in the new city and some others where she was open to the move. We heard each other out and often knew that some apprehensions that we had as adults were simply being voiced out by our children. 

Involving them in the decision making:

We spoke to friend we had in the new city to get information about schools. Before we applied, she looked at their websites in great detail.  It was quite an eye opener for us to see a 12- year old take on this task so seriously! Once she was fine we went ahead and applied to a few schools and also got in touch with academies that held the extracurricular classes she was passionate about.    

Making a trip to the city before the move:

If it’s possible this proves to be an important step in making children feel safe as well familiarise them with the place.  In our trip, we took our daughter for two school tours so she could get a rough idea of the school. Having done that gave her the courage to make a decision of which one she felt met her needs. We trusted her instincts about where she would feel comfortable. We also introduced her to some friends we had there and spending an evening with them, getting their perspective of the place they call home, contributed to a lot of ease for her.  We also showed her the house we would be moving into; the grocery stores close by and took a cab ride to close by places to get an idea of our neighbourhood.  Sometimes it can be tough to do all this if the move is to a far off place which is expensive to travel to, then doing the same through websites and links proves to be helpful too.  These actions go a long way in showing compassion for our children, knowing how hard and even traumatic such transitions can be for them.  

Holding on to the present friends:

As the time for our departure comes nearer we have been creating many occasions for her to spend more time with her friends. Understanding that we are moving soon makes these moments more precious and meaningful. These dates with her friends create a closeness and sense of promise of remaining in touch with each other long after she leaves town. She is also secure in the knowledge that we will come back to visit and she can hold on to these friendships.    

Our awareness as parents: 

As parents, we realise that while we can do our best to prepare both ourselves and our children for the move, yet once we are in a new place each one will take their own time to adjust and accept the changes. And that’s fine too. Knowing that everything in the new environment will be different and then engaging with the reality can take a while. I have decided to take some time off from my work which will bring me ease as well help me to be present for my needs and those of my family. Having gone through the initial process of preparing and including our daughter about our relocation has helped her move from strong resistance to feeling safe and open. Keeping her in the loop of the decisions that affect her life in the new place like school of her choice, the things she wants to keep with her from her early childhood days, how she can plan her trips back to Chennai also brings her calm. 

Changes in life come in different forms. Change upsets routine and order. Children can feel a sense of anger and anxiety when everything seems out of control.  Getting a grip on the new requires a helping hand. When the change is relocation, adults can be in control of the situation by informing, preparing, introducing, and holding the child well so they are resilient enough to adapt, in their own time, to the change. 

Author: Mrinalini Ponappa Banerjea is a certified Parent Educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connection within families.