During my first visit to the UU church in Miami last week, the reverend began her sermon by saying, “We have arrived!”
Given that this was the first Sunday of 2014, she was obviously talking about arriving to a new year. But my husband and I looked at each other and laughed, because her sentence meant something completely different to us. WE had finally arrived following a long six-month separation that began when Steven moved to Miami in June and ended when the kids and I joined him last month.
It was a long and often difficult six month transition. One of my primary concerns was how the children would handle the temporary separation. But it turns out that I had little to worry about. My children were okay. There were no acting out behaviors, no indication of any turmoil or distress due to this major life transition. I think this was in part due to them being old enough to understand what was happening. But I also think there were some things I did that helped make it a smooth experience.
Talk about it…but not all at once.
We tend to talk things through in our house. From the beginning, the kids understood that Daddy was starting a new job in Miami and that we would be moving there in December. We would count the days until Daddy visited us (or we visited Daddy) and count how many “dark nigh-nights” (i.e. days) the visit would last. I feel that being open about the schedule and keeping our kids in the loop about what was happening helped to create a sense of structure and safety for them. They knew what to expect and when.
But there’s a line between being open and overwhelming them with information. There were weeks when visits and travel experiences happened in relatively quick succession. When this happened, I would still talk through the changes, but not all at once. I only shared what they needed to know next.
Transitions can be emotionally difficult. A variety of feelings can be involved: excitement, loss, grief, anxiety. I made it a point to check in with my kids periodically (“how do you feel about X?”) as well as be aware and take advantage of opportunities when they asked questions or shared a feeling (“Mommy, I miss my friends”). I feel that allowing that space to process and validate their emotions helped my children know that their feelings were okay and reinforced that they can talk to me.
Soon after Daddy moved to Miami, I started telling my children that I needed their help more now. I gave them a little more responsibility with helping out around the house, which I think gave them more of a sense of ownership over the transition experience. This was a big change for our family, but they could step up, help out, and be involved.
Accept (and ask for) help.
The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child…and that saying is true! No one person can go it alone. I had certain people on speed dial (or “speed text” in my case) who I knew could help me out in a pinch. I also tried to accept help when it was offered. Not trying to go it alone helped keep my stress level (relatively) down, which in turn allowed me to be there for my children physically and emotionally.
Be a role model.
Friends would periodically ask how the kids were doing with Daddy being in Miami. My honest response? They were great! No acting out, no personality changes. They genuinely seemed to be doing fine with the transition.
One of my friends commented that of course they were doing fine! They were handling it well because I was handling it well. My kids were getting their cues from me. It wasn’t intentional, but it seems that my ability to handle the transition served as a role model to my children by showing them that everything was going to be okay.