Monday, April 09, 2012

Parenting Through a Move

Howdy! Things are still all kinds of crazy, but I can see a bit of the dust beginning to settle. Just a bit, but I'll take it.

This move has been tons of work--apart from The House Closing from Hell (which I will write about, promise) and the work of physically moving out of the old house into the new, this move, like any adventure, has involved parenting challenges. Some of these challenges are ongoing, but I want to write about how we are handling them anyway.

We moved around a LOT when I was a kid, so I actually have quite a bit of personal experience with this--from the kid POV. Moving always was hard, and though I look back now and am glad I had the experience of living in different homes and in different parts of the country and going to different types of schools (public vs Catholic), each time our parents announced an upcoming move, it was HARD. So I have a lot of sympathy with my kids. And I also kind of don't, which I'll explain. And, obviously, I have a LOT more sympathy with my parents now that I'm doing this from the parent POV! :D

If you know my kids, you can probably predict, by personality/temperament, who has had the easiest time adjusting and who hasn't. My predictions were fairly accurate, though there was a surprise curveball, which I'll explain.

Miss M. She has had the easiest time adjusting BY FAR. No big shocker there. In fact, the only time she has been sad about the move was when I had to explain that after we sold our house located in the swim-tennis neighborhood, we'd no longer get to go swim at the pool. She cried for about five minutes. Then I explained that as long as we did still own the house we WOULD get to swim, and that we'd probably own the house into this year's swim season. And we also talked about how other pools exist in the world. The tears dried up and she has been fine ever since.

Our swimming pool talk happened a couple of weeks before we moved, and she never had any residual trauma after we moved to the new place. She is even happily sleeping in her own bed in her own room, which was the thing I was nervous about for her. Now I'm not saying she might not have more emotions later  about this event, but I think for now, she is happy and content and fairly untraumatized by the whole thing. Check!

Then there are the boys.

Ryan is just exactly like me, and since I moved around quite a bit as a kid, I thought I could fairly accurately predict how he'd feel and behave. And I was pretty much right on, excepting for my tendency to forget how DRAMATIC he can be. (Probably I was DRAMATIC too but Ryan has his own Drama Style.)

It started for him during the pre-house-search discussions, ramped up during the actual house search, peaked during the mortgage/buying of this house process, and has been holding steady through the whole actual move process. I actually think the delays we experienced as a result of The House Closing from Hell helped him because it gave him more time to adjust to the actual moving and gave him hope that it might not happen. He was sad when we did finally close on the house, but the next week or so before we moved into the home, he was (seemingly) happy and excited to play in the huge empty house and help us move boxes.

Sometimes he'd act out on his feelings in inappropriate ways--screaming at us or his siblings over little things as a way to vent his emotions about the move. I always remind him in those moments a better way to express his emotions and redirect him to the thing he's feeling sad about (the move) instead of the thing he is ostensibly sad or angry about (someone looked at him wrong, for example). We reiterate that it's okay to feel sad about this, that this sucks from his POV because this is a decision that is not within his control (the suckiest part about the whole thing, I think), but that it's not fair to the rest of us when he says or does hurtful things to others as a way to feel better.

One thing that helped all of us deal with some of his outbursts difficult emotions was a chat I had with him before we knew if we'd actually get to close. He was having a sad moment and feeling very "woe is me" about the whole thing. So I told him a story about the time my family moved, just a few weeks before my 10th birthday (our move happened just a few weeks before his 10th birthday, which is next week). Only, instead of moving ten miles away and keeping my same schedule and friends and familiar places to go and visit, we moved from Pennsylvania (where we'd only lived about six months) to Connecticut. So I had a whole new place and school and everything was very different. I did not have a birthday party because I was so new at the school I didn't know anyone to invite, really. By contrast, Ryan is having a birthday party with lots of friends.

I didn't tell him this story to lay a guilt trip on him (I am anti-guilt-trip). I tried to keep any type of "see how good you have it?" tone out of my voice. My purpose wasn't to make him feel sorry for almost-10-year-old me or to make him feel guilty for having it better than I did. My purpose was to offer a different perspective about how these kinds of things sometimes happen. He has a difficult time seeing things from other people's points of view in general, so this sharing stories and perspectives is becoming a useful parenting tool for me with him. Laying everything out there in an open and honest way, without a martyred or "told ya so" or "woe is ME" tone of voice is very powerful and he really responds to these kinds of conversations.

I can tell he thought things over and he seems to be dealing with the actual move better than I'd imagined. He is still sad, and going back to the old house often elicits some strong feelings--but only for a moment or two. He seems to be settling in and having adventures and is not acting out in big ways, or in ways I can attribute only to the life upheaval we've all experienced. We've had friends of his over to play and will do more of that once we get all of our stuff put away!

He really appears to be adjusting, and I am very happy. I know there will be residual emotion about this--possibly forever, but he is talking to us about how he feels and we are letting him express and have those feelings as long as he can do so in appropriate ways. Which he is. Wow, it's like he's maturing right before my eyes.

The wildcard in this whole adventure has been Sean. Apparently, I underestimated him terribly. :(

He is 3 and 3/4 (though he'll deny it if asked), and I think I assumed that this move wouldn't affect him so much, his being so young. Here's where I failed to remember that A.) 3 year olds are people, too, and B.) he is enough like me and Ryan, so OF COURSE he'll notice and think about it and feel big emotions about it. I also clearly failed to remember how THREE YEAR OLDS are in general (or at least my three year olds), but I blame parenting amnesia. He is in a serious limit-testing phase, complete with passive resistance noodle legs and whining. AWESOME!

Sean seemed fine when we'd visit the new house and when we discussed moving to the new house. But I don't think I ever really took the time to explain to him what "moving to the new house" would really mean. Such as "this is where we will sleep now" and "all of our furniture and toys will be at the new house now and the old house will be empty." So these concretes, which I might have helped him anticipate, were a big surprise to him.

Since the moment we walked into the new house on the morning of the move, he has been asking to go back to the "regular house." Only he pronounces it "reg-a-ler" which makes it more endearing/delicious/heartbreaking.

I have had many conversations with him about what this means and held him while he cried (and my heart broke one evening a few nights after we moved, when he was trying so hard NOT to cry about it). I have tried to be extra-patient with the increased whining and demands. I have taken time to connect a bit more with him (all of the kids, too).

Then I happened on a fun game which seems to help. Sean is a talker, like his brother before him, and really needs to talk things out in order to process what he's thinking and feeling. So we play the "Same and Different" game. I ask him "What is the same about the old house and the new house?" And he'll look around and say something like "There's carpet." And we talk about that. Then I'll ask him what's different, and he'll say something like "The mailbox." And we'll talk about how the new mailbox and the old one are different colors.

This "game" has been immensely useful and helpful to both of us. It's a way of opening up conversation about this subject and gets him talking. Sometimes he will be sad about something that is different. I don't ever try to convince him not to be sad about what's different, or try to demonstrate why something in the new house is better. Sometimes he will be happy about what is different or the same--again, I try to remain neutral and just let him have his thoughts and feelings. Often, I will share what I'm thinking with him, too, so he can see that he isn't the only one who is going through this. "Yes, I'm feeling a little sad about the old house, too. Remember our old balcony? That was fun." 

Since we started playing that game, he seems to be feeling a bit better and asks to go back to the "reg-a-ler" house less often. He still asks, and we talk about when we're going back next, or sometimes I just let it go. Now, when we go back to the other house to move stuff (still, sigh) he will ask to go back to the  new house. Some of this is his three-year-old-related contrarian way. But I think some of this is accepting a bit that we are really moved in here.

So things are better on the Sean front, but I feel like I completely dropped the ball in not anticipating how difficult a time he'd have adjusting.

Overall, we are all handling things very well, and we're only about three weeks in. We are settling and the kids are settling and we are starting to move forward a bit. I'm sure there will be more emotional fallout over time, but for now, I'm happy with how well we're all doing.


Ute said...

It's so interesting for me to read this, as we're going through our own move right now. Both kids are immensely excited about the move to this new house, which, admittedly is only about a mile and a half away from this one. But I honestly do expect some tears come Monday. We move Saturday, clean the old place Monday and hand over the keys to the landlords.
I'm bracing myself for a very easy going daughter, and a little more emotional son. And to read how you deal with yours, gives me some good ideas on how to handle this.
Thanks for a lovely post.

C. August said...

"passive resistance noodle legs and whining"

I believe this tactic was originally used by Gandhi.

John Drake said...

We're right there with you. Although, our last move from Michigan to NC was remarkable easy on the kids. For some reason, I suspect we won't be as lucky this next move, even though its a shorter move. But we shall see.