4 years ago this week, our family experienced a massive downsizing and relocation from 34 acres in the middle of the country to a quaint corner lot in an established urban neighborhood 200 miles away. For my husband and me, the move was a relief and felt like returning “home.” But for our children, then 11 and 9 years old, it was the most horrible, frightening thing that could ever happen in their lives!
Other happily downsized families told me de-cluttering the “stuff” from their households and paring down to the bare essentials was a psychologically and spiritually liberating experience. For me, “purging” just felt like flushing a dream down the toilet.
While life in South Central Kansas was not easy for me, a huge consolation had been the amazing life my husband and I had been able to give our children. An enchanted, carefree childhood with land to roam on and critters to enjoy – not to mention countless bonfires, campouts and many loving friends we would have never met in a typical suburban neighborhood. But our dream had to end because my husband’s job ended. And rather quickly, we were going to have to come up with some pretty convincing reasons for the kids to want to move with us!
The transition took much longer than I expected but it is complete, thank goodness. Looking back I can pinpoint 3 distinct parenting approaches we took to help our children move through each phase of their journey from country kids to city kids: Reassurance, Respect and Reinforcement.
Of course, any parent with any nurturing instincts at all will understand that the first thing you have to do is reassure your children that, even though many things will be changing, the fundamental things about your family will always remain the same and they will feel happy and strong. It was reassuring to our children to know that we were all going through changes together and we would all find comfort in one another. Our family, like many that face job and location changes in the middle of a school year, decided that my husband should move to Kansas City and start his new job at the beginning of the year and the children and I would follow after school was out. This gave us all time to prepare for the change and when we saw each other on weekends, the reassurance that our family was intact and in sync lifted our spirits enough to face the coming weeks and months until the move.
As the time of the move drew closer, I became more anxious and focused on the details of the move rather than providing reassurance to my children – so don’t think I am a saint! In fact, there were a couple of times I did not have the energy to reassure my kids at all. I just wanted the whole ordeal to be over!
After we got into the new house and started growing used to living in such close quarters (downsizing from 5,550 square feet to 2,400 square feet is noticeable!), it was time to start thinking about the new school and making new friends. I expected the kids to make friends and be happy again overnight.
But like adults, my children’s transition would take giant leaps forward – and then there would be setbacks. I was feeling impatient. This was a problem that an ice cream cone would not fix. I needed to find a way to respect each child’s loss while helping them find their future.
When we would hear the kids talking about people or things they missed from their old hometown, my husband and I started talking with them about steps they could take to get invested in their new school and neighborhood. This gave them the sense of control they needed to establish the path of their own choosing. In particular, it helped each child find new things to look forward to. Once we realized how valuable it was to the kids to put things in terms of having things to look forward to, it made respecting their journey seem like less of a monumental task and more like a day-to-day coping strategy. “What will you do tomorrow to have a better day than today?” gave each kid a tool to empower themselves. They began to thrive.
The best part was getting to reinforce each child’s success by pointing out all the new challenges they had each tackled and overcome independently. We talked a lot, as a family, about how important it is in life to have to learn how to function outside of your comfort zone. Some people never get that chance but we reinforced with our children how invaluable to a successful life it is to learn how to adapt to new and different people and situations. Fun, even! I will never forget how proud I felt when both of my children reached out to “the new kids” their second year in Kansas City – because they remembered what it felt like to be the outsider. It proved to me that they had learned something only life and a nurturing environment can teach a person: you have the power inside of yourself to make a difference to someone else who may be feeling the way you once felt. Compassion!
4 years later, I think our family is much stronger as a result of the changes downsizing and relocating thrust upon us. We appreciate what we have and require very little to be content. There are far fewer disappointments because, in the end, we have all learned that any day you have the strength to meet and overcome life’s challenges can be a good day! We have choices and we have power.