I Nearly Fell Apart When We Moved Out of My Kids’ Childhood Home — Here’s the Advice That Got Me Through
When a friend learned I was moving, she texted “WHAT??? I thought you loved your neighborhood more than anything.”
The truth stung. I’d been mourning our move for months, terrified I was making a giant mistake. I’d made crying-packing an Olympic sport and leaned on my family and friends (and my therapist) for massive hours-each-day phone support.
It’s time, I reminded myself.
My high-school-prom date husband and I had lived in our Connecticut home, the first and only home we’d owned, for 18 years, eventually welcoming three children, now 8, 13 and 16. We’d touched every surface in our 1970s Colonial, pulling up carpeting and staples, removing wallpaper and popcorn ceilings, renovating the kitchen and bathrooms. The only thing we couldn’t manage to update was an unpleasant cat smell that somehow greeted us every time we returned from a few days’ vacation.
Our third of an acre backed up to wooded conservation land, though the magic on our circular street happened in our front yards and driveways, at fire pits and block parties and mailboxes, and on the walk to and from the elementary school via a tree-canopied path. The kids and I found best friends in our neighbors. On snow days, our doorbell rang early with friends ready for sledding and fort-building, and in summer, the kids biked and shot hoops until dark.
It wasn’t all perfect. On separate occasions, I’d hit my babysitter’s car, my mother’s car, and my mother in law’s car while backing out of my short, sloped driveway. As my eldest’s bedroom shared a wall with ours, there was very little privacy. And bedtime was mayhem with all three kids needing their shared bathroom at the same time.
Our lovely new house has more bathrooms, a longer driveway, a guest room for the grandparents, spaces for my husband and I to work, not to mention a KILLER mudroom. Still, from the moment we closed on the new place, I could not stop thinking I’ve sold my soul for a mudroom! It didn’t matter that we were moving to the same street as my younger sister, her husband and three kids we adore. When I closed my eyes to imagine our new life, I could only picture the ugly power line in the far corner of the backyard.
I attribute my extreme anxiety to a traumatic childhood move. When I was six, my dad left my mom, two sisters, and me. To pay off his debts and keep us afloat, my mom sold our house at the end of a sweet suburban cul-de-sac. We moved to an apartment one state over and started over, without a father.
It’s nothing like that move, I tried to convince myself. Our family was intact. My kids would stay in the same schools. My therapist reminded me that I didn’t need to change doctors or grocery stores or even make new friends.
Would we ever feel as safe and comfortable and happy in a different house? I couldn’t fathom.
As you can guess, I survived the move around the corner. In retrospect, I’m embarrassed that I was so undone by such a normal and positive change for our family. But as I began sharing how difficult the process had been for me, I spoke to other parents who faced similar challenges in leaving the homes where they raised their kids.
Here are a few universal mantras that helped us endure emotional moves:
It was time to move.
Parenthood is full of transitions. The sledding and lemonade stands do not go on forever. While we sometimes wish to stop time and hold onto one parenting season or another, witnessing our families mature typically beats the alternative. Staying in my old house wouldn’t stop the tides. No matter where we live, my 16-year-old is ready to drive, my 13-year-old has a cell phone, and my 8-year-old may soon outgrow her Squishmallow obsession.
By the time her kids were grown and employed, Julie Stephens, a Colorado writer who blogs at Living in the Mountains, felt ready to leave the big family home and swimming pool behind. She explains that she and her “husband had other plans — it was time for US and it’s been better than ever imagined.”
I’m learning that no change is all good or all bad; usually there will be both benefits and drawbacks. And, as my older and wiser sister counseled me, I’m lucky to have the tools and support to either “make the right choice or make the choice right.”
We’re moving our house to a new home.
I wrote this mantra down in therapy and repeated it again and again. Yes, I loved my house and neighborhood but those were just walls and doors and sidewalks. Most of all, I cherished the connections the house had afforded me — with my husband and kids, our neighbors and friends. And thankfully, those could continue beyond our move.
As Jaclyn Greenberg, a mother of three, shared in her 2020 Scary Mommy essay, “I worried so much about pulling my children from the house that made them feel comfortable and safe. But what I realized is that our home lies with the people, not the place.”
Sometimes, fear is simply a failure of imagination.
When my kids expressed being scared or nervous about the move, I admitted that I felt the same. Then I explained that I had accepted that I had a lousy imagination. I was well-acquainted with my old, cozy home – I just couldn’t imagine the happiness that might continue around the corner. Allowing the possibility that things might just work out can turn that apprehension into excitement.
Our brains sometimes give us bad information.
My younger, and also wiser, sister likes to point out the many ways anxiety can give us bad information. She said this with empathy when I was anticipating the move and expecting the worst. Now she teases me every chance she gets. Sitting on my old couch in my new living room, she’ll say “Remember when your brain told you these ceilings weren’t high enough?” Or when our kids are sledding together during a two-hour morning school delay, she’ll say “You’re right, this is horrible.” Watching me joyfully host our “old” neighborhood friends for Friday night pizza, she’ll remind me how worried I was that I’d lose these friendships forever.
A few more pro tips from parents who have been there.
Involve the kids in the move.
Try to make time for usual fun, even during the stress of moving. My sister stepped in for me, somehow managing to keep my daughter giggling and decluttering in a silly game of Keep, Toss or Donate.
My daughter insisted she wanted to escort her “kept” stuffed animals to her new room. After the moving truck left, we filled my backseat and she adorably talked the stuffies through the transition (yes, I cried).
You can also let the kids pick their rooms and help figure out where to place furniture and art. Canadian mom Kayla Wexler Robinson said her family spent the first day in their new house painting the kids’ rooms, as the kids had requested, in the same colors as their old rooms.
Illinois mother Stacey Posner Lavy recommends setting up the kitchen, kids’ rooms and bathrooms first. Then, she says “Don’t rush to put everything away. Give yourself time to breathe. Everything will get done.” Several parents explained that it took over a full year to feel settled and even longer to feel connected to their new community.
Stay connected and make new connections.
Hannah McCollum, whose family relocated from Brooklyn to New Jersey, told me she worked hard to stay in touch with friends from their old neighborhood. She made each of her daughters “a photo album of special memories … with their friends and special spots, so they could look back at it and have these visuals of people we loved.”
While nurturing the past, Hannah also recommends “leaning into spending time with your kids in their new communities,” including volunteering at schools or joining local organizations to meet other adults and provide grounding for children.
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