Wisdom from Pastor M

Our visas are here! In case you didn’t hear the news, all three of our visas came suddenly on Friday. In a flash, the wait was over. Jaron and I spent the weekend with a couple of fabulous church families who, like so many others before them, poured out incredible hospitality and blessing on us. Then, we bounced (yes, bounced) home in a vehicle in which the rear airbag suspension had gone out. All that bouncing (and the news about the visas) propelled us into a flurry of packing and last-minute “To Do” lists. D-13 days and counting.

It’s an interesting time for Q. On Monday morning, the dishes had barely been cleaned up from breakfast when he announced, “This is not the best day of my life. Everyone is doing too much work!”  We laughed, but truly, we’re paying attention to those statements–and to him. He even got a special movie night with Gigi last night.

Our friend Margaret Tyler has spent some significant time thinking through the process of helping kids move and journey through major life changes well. Margaret is the wife of Don, mom of two, grandma of five, pastor of many, lover of children, and bearer of much wisdom. Pastor M and her son, Kyle, put together a list of 11 things think about when it comes to nurturing children through big changes. They are as insightful and helpful for people who are moving across the state as they are for those moving across the world.

Pastor M and her husband Don
Pastor M and her husband Don

On occasion, I hear from young parents who ask, when considering a move and the needs of our children, how do we move them well? When should we tell them? How can we help them understand? Are there tangible ways that can help them understand? How can we make it easier on them? These are really important questions! It is wise to recognize that “moving well” is not as simple as discovering a new job, packing boxes and loading a moving truck. There are actually multiple layers including the good and necessary work of grief for the whole family (those moving and those left behind).

Here are a few thoughts related to the subject:

1. “Moving” is a pretty abstract concept for little people. Until you actually “move” it is difficult to grasp the concrete interpretation. So, depending on the age of your children, it may require more work to help them wrap their mind around the concept. Moving from left to right and up and down is different than moving our whole life where every norm will be altered. For little ones, I would not begin to tell them about moving until you have something to tell. However, as soon as you know where you are going and a timeline, it would be most appropriate to begin to introduce “moving language” to your daily conversations. I would especially tell them just before you begin to make the news public. You don’t want them to hear this foreign language from others.

2. Giving children space to participate in the “big deal” pieces of the move is important. For example, seeing the new place (even if it is through Skype of FaceTime). Seeing the new school, visiting the new church and helping in the process of packing to go to the new home.

3. Offering language the whole family can use so children know how to say what they are thinking. For example, our 2 year old Granddaughter referenced her “old house” and her “new house.” Her “old church” and her “new church.” This is a simple way to create clarity. 2 years later the use of this language has faded where she rarely references her old house or old church but at first she talked about them a lot. Now she says, “your state” and “my state.”

Kyle and Menda's family
Kyle and Menda’s family

4. When my 3 year old friend Tyler made a move from one state to another, he had a really difficult time managing himself. A play therapist recommended we enlist Tyler’s help to assemble a photo album. This simple tool provided him with a “story book” to remember the past and envision today. It consisted of: Photos from “old” favorite places like church, school, neighborhood. Friends and special people from “old” home. Photos of “old” bedroom, kitchen, etc. Photos from “new” places like church, school, neighborhood. Photos of “new” bedroom, kitchen table, playroom, etc. Friends and special people from new home. A photo journal to help the family pray for old and new relationships. At first they used the album nearly every day. Soon, he no longer seemed to have such an intense need. This project helped him reflect on what he lost as well as helped him begin to embrace his new story. This is not always necessary since every child is different. This was very helpful for a sensitive child. Just what he needed!

5. One of the things I have learned from our son’s move 2 years ago, it is important to expect and create space for grief. Grief shows up in many forms and at some of the most unexpected times. Because little children cannot always “name” their struggle, sometimes we forget they are grieving. We may hear ourselves ask questions like, “What is wrong with you?” as a child finds ways to act out their feelings. Our son and daughter-in-law have done a great job of allowing Lucy to hang out in her grief. When Grandma and Grandpa are driving away, they do not say, “quit your crying.” Instead they hold her and validate her tears. They always allow her to walk us outside, wave until we are out of sight and cry for awhile if needed. Lucy has learned that it is just as “safe” to be sad as it is to be happy.

Kory & Katie's family
Kory & Katie’s family

At first, when grief was most intense, they allowed her to send pictures in the mail, FaceTime a couple times per week and many visits home. Slowly but surely Lucy is releasing her longing to be in her “old” home and embracing her new life. However, it has been 2 years and I think it is fair to say that it has taken a good chunk of that time to do the work of transition and grief. It just does not happen in a week. We often hear people say, “children are resilient.” This is so true. But parents are wise to recognize the real feelings, real fears, real loss and real adjustments in daily living. While our granddaughter who moved away has walked through significant grief, so have the 3 grandchildren who remain. They grieve of the loss of a children’s pastor they call Uncle. They’ve lost the tradition of our “whole” family gathering at the Sunday table. The loss of cousins who had been in their daily lives. None of this is impossible. It is just real. Don’t be afraid to allow grief to do its work in the whole family.

6. If your “normal” includes living near grandma’s, grandpa’s, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins, etc. Moving means a huge shift in your “normal.” Your new normal may include fewer occasions for date-nights or free childcare, family gatherings, ability to attend family/friend birthday parties, etc. Again, this is not impossible but it is real. If you have enjoyed close relationships with family, then they will likely be grieving too.

7. Think about a few practical ways to create opportunities for kids to make choices that affect the family in some way. These could be simple things like allowing them to choose which room will be theirs (within reason), or letting them pick their new wall color, or letting them decide between two choices on where the couch will go, etc. This will help offer a level of ownership and buy-in to the process. Thus, feeling less like “mommy and daddy are moving and we are going with them” and more like “we are moving.”

grandkids-cousins-friends
grandkids-cousins-friends

8. There are children’s books available that teach about moving. Perhaps you could pick one to read together so you have a common language and relevant story to reference.

9. Get children involved in the exciting parts of moving. Check out the local parks to see which one you like best. Let them choose a new restaurant near your new home. Go exploring together. These positive, fun parts of your new location will offer balance when feelings of grief are more intense.

10. Moving “sounds” exciting and the truth is, it can be. But it is kind of like telling a 4 year old, “We are going to get a new baby!” That news comes with hype and excitement until you begin to live the reality of, we have to be quiet all the time so the baby can sleep, it poops on everything including mommy and daddy, it NEVER plays like everyone promised, it’s always in mommy/daddy’s lap, when we walk into a crowd of people, I feel invisible because everyone wants to see the baby. On second thought, getting a new baby is really no fun at all. It takes time for “it” to grow on you.

it=moving

it=baby

it=change

11. Finally, much of the work of creating feelings of safety for a child is on those who are moving with them. Children want to be with their family. Even if they are sad at times, having the family transition together is the best thing for a child.

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