As the school year comes to a close, many parents and their children will begin embarking on their summer adventures. For many moms and dads, especially if they’ve recently divorced or are in the middle of one, that will include moving to a new home.
Moving into a new home can be exciting. But among children, that excitement can quickly wane if the reason for the move is that their parents are splitting up.
For kids, an unwanted move can result in feelings of sadness, anger, and resentment. Losing the home they know and love may feel like another blow and another part of their lives spinning out of control.
Therefore, parents need to make sure their children feel welcome in their new house or apartment and perceive it as a home. That can be challenging, especially at first.
The end of May, according to Move, Inc., is the beginning of peak moving season. That gives divorced or divorcing parents only a few short months to get themselves and their children settled in a new home before September comes around and another busy school year starts again.
If you’re a parent divorcing or recently divorced in Seattle, here are a few tips to help you create a welcoming space for your children in a new home.
Address any emotions your children may have about the move.
Moving homes may bring about complex emotions in your children they may not understand, even if they’re old enough to understand what divorce is. You may think acting as happy as possible and convincing them nothing is wrong is best. However, this behavior teaches your children to avoid their emotions and can result in long-term problems.
Instead, think about addressing the emotions your children may be experiencing between the move and the divorce head-on. Start a conversation and listen to what they have to say.
Kristin Davin, Psy.D., a therapist from New York City, says, “it’s critical that parents provide emotional space for their children to express how they’re doing so they not only feel safe but also understood. Kids need to know their feelings are OK and normal.”
In addition to talking to them, ways to help kids process these emotions include having them read age-appropriate books about moving and handling change and enlisting professional help such as a therapist or child psychologist.
Make moving day as low-stress as possible.
Moving day is a big day, and it would be naive to say it will come without stress. That said, as a parent, you set the tone for your household.
“If parents put their children first and do what they can do to reduce the stress,” says Davin, “all the better. Children take their cues from their parents, so a parent’s ability to manage the stress is key.”
On the other hand, if you approach moving day by reacting pessimistically, you’ll create negative energy your children will notice. They may then associate that negativity with the move itself and have trouble adjusting to life in their new house as a result.
Davin suggests parents talk with their kids beforehand.
“The day doesn’t have to be stress-free, which is very difficult to ensure. But talking to children before a big move about what would help them feel less stressed can help. You want children to feel they’re part of the process and recognize you’re all in it together and still a family.”
Other ways to decrease stress on moving day include making certain you and your children are well-rested and well-fed. Also, keep a box of your children’s favorite possessions nearby and all in one place, so they’re readily available for the first night in their new environment.
If possible, it could be helpful to send your children to their grandparents’ house or another trusted relative or friend for moving day and maybe a few days after it. With children otherwise occupied away from the chaos, you’ll be better able to focus on the task at hand: preparing your home for a peaceful transition.
Let your children decorate their rooms.
Now that you’ve moved into the new house, your children need to feel like it’s their home, too. That’s especially true of their bedroom.
Denise Allen, a Washington State-based organizational expert and the owner of Simplify Experts, recommends parents give their children some input in setting up their new space.
“Allow them to feel like they have some ownership of the space and that it doesn’t just feel like a guest room.”
By letting kids decorate their room the way they want, it’ll feel like their personal space sooner. They’ll grow attached more quickly to it because they’ll feel personally invested and may likewise gain a sense of control over their environment where it might’ve been lacking before.
Not to mention, Allen says, “parents will have more buy-in for the maintenance of the space if kids are proud of it.”
Allen suggests parents “be mindful of the activities that will take place in that area.”
Parents should consider whether kids will be studying in their room and if the setup plays well into their learning style. For example, is the lighting adequate for doing homework?
Establish a routine for your children.
Divorce can make life feel unpredictable for children. One minute they’re living with Mom and Dad, the next, their parents live apart and somewhere new.
Stability is necessary for the healthy development of children. Parents, therefore, need to provide it however and whenever they can, even when a divorce disrupts the status quo.
Davin says, “Divorce is stressful enough, and children will have additional stressors as time marches on.”
Changing homes threatens stability in a profound way, which means it’s critical for parents to establish a routine as soon as possible for their children, even if it’s a new one. More than anything else, children want to know what’s around the bend.
“Starting them off with a bit less stress will help them feel good and empowered,” says Davin.
A routine preoccupies kids. It prevents them from fixating on unsettling events, keeping them grounded in the present and looking toward the future. Dinner is at six o’clock, bedtime at eight. Wake-up time is at seven.
It also puts transitions into bite-sized pieces, which children can manage more easily. As they see that what you predict happens, they’ll worry less about another seemingly catastrophic event coming out of nowhere.
Keep the new space orderly.
Highly related to creating a routine for your family, especially children, is keeping your new space in order.
Allen says, “divorce is a very challenging life event for a child. A calm living environment offers a great sense of control and a place for the brain to relax; a calm mind allows the frontal lobe better engagement and emotional regulation can happen.”
Moving also provides an excellent and often welcome opportunity to purge possessions in your home that have been weighing you down. Do you need that dress you haven’t worn in six years or the heels that only match that dress?
The same goes for your kids. Children, even younger ones, can benefit from a purge and reorganization of their things. They can contribute to the household’s order by sorting through toys and games, tossing the broken ones or those missing pieces while donating what they no longer use.
With clutter gone, children can bring to the focal point the items that make them happy. Plus, they have room to put their stamp on the new space, making it their own.
As for moving forward, Allen says maintenance is critical.
“Simple organizational systems are key, and the more visual they are, the better.”
For children living in two homes, Allen suggests parents mount a wall calendar so kids can see which days and holidays they will be spending with each parent.
“You may be fully electronic with your calendar, but still having a visual passage of time posted is helpful.”
Allen says analog clocks in every room that you spend time together are a great tool, too. But, she warns, “a cell phone in the pocket does not create strong time awareness.”
As for the dreaded laundry? Allen has a tip for that, too.
“Have a clear laundry system or policy as it can be tricky remembering to pack all elements of their clothing yet alone all electronic charging cords they may need. This is a great life skill for your child to learn and help make him or her a strong future roommate in college.”
Give kids time and space to adjust to their new home.
Divorced parents may want their children to immediately accept the new home, seeing it as a sign they’re coming to terms with the divorce sooner. But just as you need to get used to your situation, your kids will, too.
Davin says, “it’s crucial that parents give children the time and space they need to adjust and move into a new situation. Thinking they should adjust in a certain way by a certain time puts pressure on children and can make them feel like something is wrong with them.”
Instead, Davin recommends parents “do check-ins and ask their kids what they need and how they’re doing, while still giving them time and privacy to figure things out.”
In other words, give your children time and space to acclimate to life in their new home. It means don’t push them before they’re ready. If they want to sleep with the door open, let them. If they wish to have a nightlight even though they’ve never asked for one before, give them one.
But more than anything, Davin says, “let your kids know you’re around for them whenever they need you. It’s the people who live in a house, not the house itself, that make a home.”
An excerpt from this article appeared in Red Tricycle on June 29, 2021.