It’s not as if we were moving 1,000 miles away as Alexander did in the book “Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move,” by Judith Viorst. We only moved across town. We moved from our comfortable town home to a 1960 fixer-upper house.
It would have been ideal to be able to spend a couple months preparing our new house for our family’s arrival, but we rented out our town home quickly to avoid two out-of-pocket mortgage payments so we had to make the move swiftly.
Our new house had a lot of “potential” although it had sat idle for two years as dust settled in every nick and crevice, paint chipped away and weeds grew up tall. Yes, there were more problems then dust, paint and weeds - electricity outlets didn’t work, water didn’t drain through pipes, phone lines were down and the bathroom, well let’s just say we were convinced it hadn’t been touched since 1960.
We didn’t prepare our kids for the move by talking to them about their feelings or what it would be like to move into a house that wasn’t ready for us, because, well, we were just moving across town and they were able to continue attending their same schools. We thought it wouldn’t be any big deal. Initially our two boys, ages 6 and just turned 9 year olds, were excited to move closer to friends and school, but the first week in our new house my husband and I were surprised at our 9 year olds reaction.
Twelve college students (my husband coaches a team at the school) helped us move across town. In all their kindness coupled with their lack of understanding of the importance of keeping things organized and handling furniture carefully, our stuff was dumped in one room in a helter-skelter manner. And then they left. I was relieved that I had packed a week of the boys’ clothes in their suitcases and made sure I had them set apart in my own car.
We camped out in sleeping bags on our living room floor of our old house for one week while we tried to prepare our new house - although a week is only long enough to paint a couple of rooms.
The first week in the new house we laid out the boys’ mattresses on the floor in their new room and there they slept for the next two weeks, because we hadn’t bought the bunk beds yet. It was the going-to-bed routine that held the most commotion.
At first my older son started saying mean things to his younger brother, then he just didn’t want to go to bed and then he threatened to run away almost every night. He would go grab his favorite stuffed animal, snatch a few apples from our fruit bowl and then stomp outside in his pajamas and flip flops. He would just walk a few houses down and then he would come back in and be mean to his little brother again.
Century 21 and RE/MAX have great Web sites with suggestions on how to make a smooth move with kids. The RE/MAX site has a series of 26 tips which are videos of kids talking about how they adjusted to their new place - even a “make-shift” home. Centruy21.com points out what to expect from kids during a move:
Moving affects children’s behavior and emotions. A move represents change, which creates issues for every age. Younger children need more routine, so throughout the move period, aim to keep mealtimes and bedtimes normal. Even as familiar surroundings morph into a mountain of boxes, if breakfast can still start with cereal in a favorite bowl and bedtime is still a ritual of tooth-brushing and story-reading, your kids will cope better than you might expect.
It also goes on to say that the younger kids might handle the move better than the older, although some parents might see a little more clinging behavior with their toddlers. It also points out that if you give age-appropriate “move-in” tasks the kids might feel a little more responsibility and part of the move. A child psychologist reminded us that a common reaction for children is to blame everyone such as the dad or mom, the company that moved them, their younger sibling for everything that went “wrong” and he also included that “moving will trigger anxiety.”
We did do a few things right along the way such as say “good-bye” to our neighbors and our favorite shopping places and eateries (although in our situation it’s not like they are too far to drive to if needed), and we tried to keep the kid’s daily routines set even if it meant eating our cereal off of a step ladder.
What we did wrong was we didn’t talk to our kids about what they could expect to see at our new place or that it would take awhile to establish the house in a livable manner. Yes, we have heard the stories of those experienced movers who have unpacked every box and hung every picture in seven days or most suggest it should take about three weeks to get a fixer-upper set up, we were relieved to hear our new neighbor confess it took them a year and half to finally get their house the way they wanted it. We should have talked about that with our kids and asked them how they were feeling about the move every step of the way. We also liked the suggestion of finding kid-friendly books on the subject and reading it to them during our process.
As flexible as kids might be, we still forget that it’s a challenge for them to sort through feelings and be able to communicate confusion or frustration about the move and they might exhibit their feelings in different behaviors. Yes, a move is difficult no matter how far you travel, but, as we learned, letting your child be part of the process is an important part of the course. For all those movers and shakers out there, here is to a smooth move-in process and welcome to your La Jolla community.