By Kaumudi Goda
Sometimes, I think change has been the one constant in our lives. By the time our younger fella was three, we’d moved across continents and switched careers at least as many times. We were living out of suitcases. Family and friends floated in and out of the kids’ lives, depending on where we were. “Routine is important for kids”, people pointed out. I looked at two mopey little faces seeing their dad off as he went away on yet another work trip, and I worried. We had to get better at coping with change – and fast.
Put a date on it: We made countdown calendars. Since neither kid could read at the time, we made a poster that showed them what mum and dad were doing and how long they would be gone. I drew pictures of who would be around, of some activities they might do together. When it was time for me to move back home with them, I made another calendar – “In how many days is mum coming back? Isn’t that going to be fun?”
List everything: We had schedules of tasks for the nanny to supervise, lists of medicines and dosages that we updated as the kids grew up, emergency numbers, and instructions for grandparents to keep in mind as they kindly and generously took care of the kids. Breaking a big undertaking into bite-sized lists of tasks made it all less daunting.
Acknowledge emotions: For our last big move, the kids were old enough to worry. Our four-year-old later confided in me that, at the time, he had been convinced his grandma would die if he moved away. “It’s been a year now and she is OK. So nothing bad happened when we left, right?” he asked. We talked about feelings, about how it’s okay to be anxious or sad or even angry.
Take control: We prepared for our big move to Singapore with reconnaissance visits. The kids picked out stuff for the new house, and most importantly, their room. On one such short visit, our older guy decided of his own volition to map out all the bridges on the Singapore river and walk across them. The younger one declared the evening we flew out, “Tonight is going to be Singapore night.” That became our mantra.
Stretch yourself and commit: Raising kids takes a village and we needed to build one for ourselves each time we moved to a new place. It takes effort and time. We try to volunteer, give time and effort towards various causes and community events. It is rewarding to contribute and help others. It also helps forge genuine connections with like-minded people. So go ahead and participate in that neighborhood event, join that runners group, enroll your children in that Imagin8ors workshop or a football camp.
Face your anxieties: Along the way, we have made it a practice to talk to the kids in detail about upcoming changes, whether big or small, and involve them as much as possible so that they feel in control.
Mom/Dad have to travel for work? Let’s look at the map and see where they are going. How many days till they return? Let’s learn the names and phone numbers to contact in case of emergencies. Let’s learn our address so that we always know how to get back home if we get lost. Let’s have a family emergency plan. What time each day shall we Facetime/Skype? Oh no, the best friend at school is relocating to another country! (One of the common travails in an expat community.) Where are they moving to? What language do they speak in that country? Let’s learn a few words so we can use them with the friend. Do we have their email address so we can stay in touch? Let’s make play dates with new classmates!
Start new traditions: We miss how grandma would feed us at mealtimes or tell stories at bedtime. Let’s begin new traditions. Xmas tree! Bedtime music and reading! How about Friday night family cuddles? Movie nights and popcorn!
It has been a learning curve, but seeing happy little faces tucked up in their beds safe at night gives us a measure of peace. The munchkins, now aged eight and six, make friends easily. They have happy memories and great friends from different countries. They are curious about the world and are confident in new settings. An ongoing dialogue with our children and robust preparation helped us manage change. Learning from fellow expats and working parents has been invaluable.
Have you had to handle big changes with your kids? Do you have any tips on how to help them cope?
Kaumudi Goda is a mum, former attorney, current corp desk jockey, full time bookworm and pop-culture enthusiast. She has been a fan and supporter of Imagin8ors from its inception. With her crew of three goofy boys (two munchkins and one overgrown football fanatic), KG has traveled extensively and lived in several countries. She is happy to share her family’s hilarious adventures with the Imagin8ors community.