I believe that children grow well when they have routine. It gives them security, helps them to feel they are part of something, it teaches discipline and as they grow, they are empowered to play their part in a family’s routine.
From the day our babies were born, Gareth and I committed to creating routines for them. In the beginning it was essentially for sleeping, eating and playing.
A family where both children are in school, both parents are working, you’re members of a church, you excercise, own a dog, shop online, have a garden, a routine is essential. As our children were trained from birth to embrace routine, they have generally been happy and secure in the rhythm and flow of Team Cowles.
That is until February, when the routine began to be systematically disestablished. Gareth was offered a job in the UK, which coincided with family news that convinced us it was time to go back. Once the decision was made, operation ‘all-change’ began.
We told the children we were moving back as soon as we could. Jackson wriggled and squirmed throughout the family meeting and only really took an interest in the matter of exactly how a container of our belongings was going to be physically put onto a ship. Minnie was delighted because in her mind, we were returning to the village where all the family from the UK were living together and we would see them all the time.
Gradually changes began. We decided to sell our house but in order to do that we had to do several “touch ups”, which included recladding the garage, painting the outside of the house, getting a new kitchen floor laid, a picket fence put out front and the list went on and on. Cue Mummy and Daddy spending every weekend sanding and painting, while the children were either palmed off onto friends for play dates or they had to stay at home and be ignored by their parents the whole time.
Darcy, the most wonderful family dog in the world, was given away. It was crazy expensive to transport her and as we didn’t know where we would be living we couldn’t be sure we’d find a rental that would allow her. We’ve regretted that decision so much and if I’m honest I have this tiny hope that we’ll get an email from the family one day, saying it’s not working out and could we take her back – YES!
There were so many changes, some not even connected to the move, like me having back surgery four weeks before the flight home!
It’s often said children are adaptable and resilient, which I also believe to be true. However, they are not robots and whilst they do adapt to change, they find ways to help them adapt. Not all of them healthy.
A major response to the changes in our family life gradually happened over the first month after the big decision. Indeed we’re still trying to get a handle on it now. Essentially, their behaviour took a nose dive. They started shouting at us more, barking orders, getting upset quickly if we didn’t do things the minute they asked for them and they would squabble with each other. End. Less. Ly. Who have they learnt all this from I wonder?! Could it be their stressed out, distracted parents who act exactly the same way?
We are acutely aware of how little time and attention we have given our children in the last five months and that we are living through the consequences of this. If you don’t invest time, patience, fun and focus into your relationships with your children, then the return is going to be poor. I know our children aren’t angels and a level of naughtiness is to be expected, particularly at their ages, but their love tanks are empty and it’s up to us to fill them back up again.
There are other, more specific reactions connected to the move too. They are easy to spot in Jackson, as he is much like me in the way he likes to be in control. He’s an organiser, a planner, someone who sees a goal and works out how to get there in the blink of an eye.
Once Jackson heard about the container that would take our stuff to the other side of the world, he started packing. This was two months before we were leaving! For a couple of weeks he would spend his bedtime organising his toys. One night he used up a whole box of plastic zip lock bags to pack up his collection of Matchbox cars.
I remember for years after my parents divorced, I suffered from a fairly signifcant level of OCD. When I was in primary school I would wash my hands constantly and if certain children (smelly boys) touched things, I would avoid touching them after. Later it was closing my curtains or cleaning my teeth; night time rituals I would repeat over and over again until they were completed perfectly. In my teens, this morphed into an eating disorder which lasted into my early twenties. Quite a lot of counselling and prayer helped me understand that it stemed from my need to have control, if things around me were not in my control, I would over focus on what I could control. Over time you learn you will never be in control of everything and shit happens, so just let it go already because no amount of checking the light switches is going to make it stop.
My parents divorcing meant there were lots of changes I couldn’t control happening all around me, so my first coping mechanism was to look after my personal hygiene. Oddly enough, that’s what Jackson is up to. Nothing too crippling but significant enough for us to notice that he has found some rituals to help him cope with the changes that are happening around him.
I had thought Minnie was adapting with little concern (only a madam attitude, which I am reliably informed is typical of seven year old girls), but now that we are in the UK and I have some capacity to properly observe her, I realise that she has become more insecure. Things that would have never worried her in the past are huge challenges for her now. Last night she had a nightmare, which was most certainly rooted in fear of things happening out of her control.
We will stop moving soon, and a routine is already being established. We’ll go back to being parents that spend time with their children, that don’t have anything to paint and can take them out on a date without it needing to be at a DIY store.
Moving to a new country with young children is very different to emigrating with two babies. They are aware of the changes in a much deeper way, their minds try to understand and engage with the process and whilst they do adapt, it doesn’t happen instantly.
I’m hoping we haven’t caused any irreparable damage. In fact there is a good chance the experience will build character in our growing buds. Though I think it will take some wisdom on our part to help them get there.