Our family have worked through some major life changes in the last few months. Moved country, sold our home, given up our dog, new job, new schools, new friends and I’ve (temporarily) given up sweets. These are all major changes. All. Of. Them.
I’m not an expert in child psychology or parenting, but I generally fulfil the role of Change Management Co-ordinator in our family, so I thought I would share some things I’ve learnt along the way. As I said in Part One, children do adapt to change but it takes time and they need help to navigate through the choppy waters of change. As their parents, we are in the best position (frankly it’s our responsibility) to help them along the way. And at the same time, parents can make things harder if they’re not switched on to the version of events as experienced by the little people. Something I realise now I have hindsight on the first half of this year.
It’s not surprising, given I blog, that I believe when you know there are changes coming, it’s good to communicate with your children about what’s around the corner. Children want to know things. They are constantly asking questions, wanting to know what we are doing on the weekend, how many days until Christmas, what cake can they have for their birthday, who’s coming for lunch on Sunday, what did the person on the other end of the phone say, how old will I be when they get married?!?! And nothing frustrates them more than the passive, blow off. I’m not saying we communicate on the big changes, so they can have an input. I personally think children should be allowed to be children and their opinions on the big decisions of life are not required in order for the adults to make decisions for the family. However, when our decisions are going to have an impact on their “normal” life, then I think it is important to talk to them about it. When we knew we were coming home to the UK, we took the children out for a hot chocolate and explained what would be happening. We gave them time to ask questions and we answered them as fully as we could. How exactly the container was going to be put on the ship was a little out of my expertise, but I talked about cranes and such like, it seemed to help….
The thing with communicating with young children, is you have to be aware that their internal interpretation of what you have said, may not be as accurate as their nodding heads would lead you to believe. Check in with them regularly to find out what their understanding of the situation is. It was a few months before the move that we told our children, and there were smaller changes happening along the way. We would remind them of what was happening, ask them if they had any concerns or questions. Minnie was excited about going back to the UK where her grandparents and cousins lived, but I needed to clarify that we would still have to travel to visit them and we wouldn’t see them every day. For a while there, she believed that the UK was one happy village where all our family lived next door to each other.
Timing is everything. Yes communicate, yes be honest, but sometimes it’s not best to tell the children things as soon as you know or when it’s still not fully certain. When we arrived in the UK, we had to go on a waiting list for the village school. One weekend we were all in the car and I knew a place was coming up for Jackson at the village school so I was talking to Gareth, in ear shot of the children, about getting new uniforms etc. The following week, the school he was currently in called to ask if Jackson was leaving at the end of the week, because that’s what he was telling people. When I talked to him about it, he said that there wasn’t any point making friends because he wasn’t staying at this school – eek! I had to do some back tracking there. Lesson learnt: children can listen to a conversation in the front of the car whilst watching a film in the back. That whole thing about males can’t multi-task must kick in after puberty/their wedding day, or something?
When the changes are big and stressful for you, you need to find your own peace. Children know when their parents are struggling with something, probably ours do more than others as we’re ‘heart on our sleeves’ kind of people. When we were preparing to leave, we had a lot going on. The house had work to be done to get it ready to sell, we were both trying to finish well at work, our beloved dog needed to find a new home, and fundamentally we were both really sad to be leaving NZ. I think it would be ridiculous to suggest we should (or even could) have hidden some of the real emotions we were feeling through all of this. I burst into tears when we said goodbye to our dog and sobbed as we landed at Heathrow. The children saw I was human and was feeling things like they were. However, I know I exposed the children to too much of my stress and frustration about the whole thing. I wish that in the really stressful times, I had taken a moment to say to myself – I am confused, I am angry, I am upset, I am not in control. I give those things to God (you can send your concerns to whoever or whatever you’d like to give them to) and choose to not burden my children with them. It seems overly simplistic but acknowledging those feelings and choosing my attitude for the day, i.e. not shouty, grumpy and irrationally strict mummy, would have helped them to feel more secure in the changes.
On my best days, I managed to share the fun in the changes. Ultimately, I want my children to not fear or hate change, because change can often be the best thing ever, even change that is hard can have positive outcomes, so to be able to adapt and not lose hope when things change in your life, is a great strength to have. When we first arrived in the UK, we tried to see as much of the family as we could; that way the children immediately saw the benefits to be being back on this side of the world. We signed up for the National Trust, we went to Legoland, we ate really good fish and chips, travelled on a train, I took them to an M&S food hall and we put the heating on so they could marvel at the wonder of radiators. We tried to highlight the exciting things about leaving one country and discovering another. Looking for the bright side is a skill I want my children to have.
Change can come in so many forms. It can affect one part of your life or be a change that alters everything in your life. Children are resilient and they will adapt, but there is much we can do as parents to help them come out the other side, stronger, happier and more confident in who they are and what they can achieve. What our family have discovered is when the tough days come and it feels like we’re on the wrong side of overwhelming, there is always ice cream to bring a bit of comfort, joy and delight.