Moving into a new home is a stressful enough experience for adults and families, let alone for single parents – and newly single ones at that. In fact, according to an often-cited survey, one in three Australians ranked the stress of moving house second only to divorce. In other words, for recently divorced mums or dads who are now saddled with the task of settling into a new home with their child/children, they are dealing with the two most stressful situations they could possibly face – at the same time!
With so much to think about and even more to do, it is natural for single parents in this situation to hunker down and focus on the to-do list at hand, oftentimes because they have no other choice. But in addition to all the practical and emotional aspects involved in setting up a new home, there is one other very important consideration that not only should not be overlooked, but perhaps should be moved to the very top of the heap of priorities: their child’s concerns and expectations.
It is often assumed that moving house is harder on older children, for e.g. high school kids, than on their younger counterparts. But while it is true that older children benefit from stability and might have a harder time adjusting to new surroundings, particularly if the move involves an unfamiliar environment such as a new city or a new state, younger children, though they might not be able to elucidate their worries as effectively, also need a lot of attention and assurance. For the parent, it is important to keep in mind that every child is unique, and every child, regardless of their age, will react to the stresses of moving house differently. To help make the transition smoother, here are five pointers on how to manage your child’s concerns and expectations when moving house.
1. Understand where your child is coming from
While a fresh start might seem like an appealing notion for some, the fact is children rarely consider the positives when faced with the prospect of moving into a new, unfamiliar home. To alleviate their concerns, focus on the positive aspects whenever you talk about the move. Assure your child that their favourite belongings will be just where they want them to be, get them excited about getting a new room, and give them the opportunity to be actively involved in planning their new space, from choosing the décor for their room to packing and unpacking their own things. Explain the benefits of the move to your child, and most importantly, assure your child that it is okay to feel uncertain, that you understand where they are coming from, and that you are there to listen to them (or simply to give them a cuddle!) whenever they need you.
2. Pay attention when your child expresses their feelings
Because every child responds differently to life events, it would be impossible for you to accurately predict everything that your child is thinking and feeling, no matter how well you might know your son or daughter. Therefore, the only way to truly know your child’s concerns and expectations when it comes to moving house is to pay attention and listen to them! These expressions could take different forms, from a subtle change in behaviour to outright voicing of their feelings, so do pay close attention to your child in the period leading up to (and during) the move.
If you can, prepare your child in advance, giving them as much time as possible to digest and accept the impending changes. And when they do express their feelings, whether it is sadness, nervousness, happiness or excitement, acknowledge those feelings, empathise with your child, and perhaps share some of your own feelings about the move as well. Besides helping your child to process their emotions, it will also reassure them and let them know that the lines of communication between you two are always open. Just bear in mind that if you are experiencing a lot of anxiety about the move, it might rub off on your child, so always try to maintain a positive and optimistic attitude.
3. Involve your child in the process
As tempting as it might be to do everything as quickly as possible on your own, do try to involve your child in the moving process whenever you can. This means not only encouraging your child to help pack – giving your child a special box for them to pack some favourite things to bring along to the new house might be a good idea – but also showing them pictures of their new home, taking them around the new suburb if you can, driving past your new house, showing them local landmarks such as the neighbourhood grocery store, visiting their new school if they are changing schools, and generally familiarising them with the new environment. The more they know about their new home, the less uncertainty they will feel, making for a much smoother and happier process for everybody involved.
4. Don’t set your child up with unrealistic expectations
As parents, all we want is for our child to be happy and unafraid, and when they come to us with their fears, which parent wouldn’t do everything in their power to make those fears go away? However, there is a crucial distinction between reassuring your child and being optimistic about moving to a new house, and building up unrealistic expectations of what will happen after the big move. Telling your child that everything is going to be perfect after your move is both unrealistic and a sure-fire way of setting your child up for disappointment. Adjusting to a new house and new environment is not without its challenges, and while you do not want to burden your child with unnecessary anxiety, you also need to find that balance between being positive and optimistic, and being realistic.
5. Remember to have a little fun
Fun is definitely not the word that comes to mind when you are dealing with the stresses of moving house, but it is extremely important that you take the time, even if it is just a couple of minutes every other day, to spend a little quality time relaxing or playing with your child. Already dealing with the daunting prospect of having their world as they know it turned upside down, the last thing your child needs is for you to transform into an equally unfamiliar, anxiety ridden and distant parent. This is especially important if you are newly single, and your child is experiencing upheaval in other areas of their life.