Why are you moving? A basic question that most will answer in a basic, for “a job” response. This is the answer so many people give me when I ask them whey they are packing up, and moving abroad, or across the country. It is simple, easy, and most people don’t press any further, except for me, it is my job.
But lets get real. My least favourite saying is “kids are resilient.” Are you kidding me? That saying is what I grew up with, the old guard used it to justify their decisions. I still hear it and read it all the time. Lets change that saying into “kids are only as resilient as you coach them to be.” Yes, you are a parent, it is still your responsibility to coach your child to adjust to new environments and situations.
Moving is hard, besides money, moving can be one of the most difficult and stressful periods on family and marriages. I can’t tell you how many marriages I saw growing up, fall apart. I couldn’t comprehend why some friends moved away, but their fathers stayed, I wasn’t an adult, but they fell apart, and slowly, there was an unraveling that would happen that would send shock waves through an entire embassy. Sometimes it was a small ripple, sometimes it was a tsunami. As I got older and began to work within the 4 walls of Foreign Affairs, I began to ask officers who were heading off to posting with kids, lots of questions. It was an interesting exercise. Officers always started with excitement, with an illusion of adventure, even though packing was stressful, they seemed genuinely excited with their future. Soon, you would get word of kids getting sick, red tape getting into specialists, culture shock, problems in schools, isolation, stress on the job, and a depressed spouse. Quietly, the whispering would start, the officer would either be thriving as the family was crumbling, or the officer would be falling apart, focusing on their family and not being able to perform their duties on the job. Guess which one was always revered? Yup, the one whose family was crumbling, but was putting all energy into work.
The thing is, the majority of large organizations don’t really care about the well being of your family. When you have agreed to move, it is up to you how smooth the transition is, and it is still up to you to go in with your eyes wide open.
All kids, and I mean all, are impacted psychologically by a move, it can either be positive or completely negative, and really it is all on you as a parent. You can’t ignore that, and you don’t want to. Every time you move, the culture shock they experience, the hard lessons in language barriers, new food, the saying goodbye to best friends, to a community, even down to a new bed, can really affect their life, their happiness. What many adults don’t understand is there are always long term affects.
I get asked a lot “Were you happy moving all the time?” My basic answer is “No”. It was all I knew, our 3 year routine of packing up a house, and getting on another airplane to a new hostile country, was not fun. The majority of the time, it was beyond scary. I was not asked if I wanted to go, it was just my Father’s duty, his drive, his need to grow in his career. In that way, all of our moves were selfish and very adult centered. I was expected to adjust as quickly as possible, to just survive. I did not get any guidance, my Mother usually was in a state of shock, unpacking and adjusting herself. My Father was immersed in work and running an embassy. I was left to fend for myself, but it was, and still is the same for many kids. There is a belief, that everything will turn out, that kids somehow have something we don’t have as adults, like an invisible ability to be resilient and to thrive.
It wasn’t until I became a Mother, that I realized how much all those moves had an impact on me, my mental well being, and my confidence.
I suffer from PTSD, between the coup attempts, the kidnapping threats, the gunfire I had to sleep to in the background, the constant culture shock, and reverse culture shock. Everything compounded on me, and sort of exploded in my face when I gave birth. Between the hormones, my past, and my sudden responsibility of a tiny human being, I realized, I had never settled down. I moved a lot even as an adult. Making friends was easy, keeping them and deepening a friendship was beyond painful, I was incapable of it, except for loving my husband, but even that has had some ups and downs due to my flight or fright response. I had never really had a full nights sleep since I was 11, and as much as yes, I got thrust into new languages all the time, I didn’t speak a 2nd language fluently. I entered Motherhood facing my own demons, and the need to examine myself as a Third Culture Kid/ Diplomatic Kid.
I had to slowly work on me, to examine why I did things a certain way, why I needed to find roots, and learn to make them in order to become a Mother who was thriving, and could nurture my son. In all honesty, the majority of the kids who grew up like me, are working dysfunctional.
So lets honestly look at some basic things you need to cover with your child during a move:
- Talk to them about the move, include them. Tell them why you are moving.
- Research schools together. Google is an amazing thing, and there are always virtual tours etc, you can watch together.
- Always make sure they have one sport that can continue, no matter where you move. Sports break down language barriers, and help build a child’s confidence. Being a part of a sport is important no matter where you live, and can let your child shine in a way they can’t in school.
- Makes sure you take a tour of your child’s school before the first day. First day of a new school are really hard, not knowing where the bathroom is, classroom, library or office can stress out a child. Makes sure they know where everything is, and introduce them to a teacher or even someone in the office.
- Be realistic, every stage of your child’s life, and your life is different. Don’t think that you can transplant what you have in another country, or city. Get that out of your head, it will make decisions so much easier.
- I like to tell clients to really watch their child’s development. Make sure you get them tested for learning disabilities early on. Sometimes a B student goes unnoticed. My parents thought I was just a lazy student, because all of my IQ scores came back so high, but my grades never reflected what my brain was capable of. It wasn’t until University, that my archaeology professor noticed my inability to process information in a large class. It turned out, he had seen it in many kids in my case, due to lots of languages around me, I suffered from a gap in my development of 1 native language.
- Always change what you are doing, if something is not working, adjust yourself as an adult, don’t expect your child’s behavior to change if you aren’t changing.
Moving isn’t the key to Happiness, nor is seeing the world if you don’t have the right frame of mind or the tools to do it.