“Mom, I really miss my friends.” We’d moved to the Middle East a few months before, and my oldest – then 3. 8 years old – was really struggling with leaving our old life behind.
Her downcast look made my heart sink.
“Oh sweetheart, I know. I miss my friends so much too…” I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. But I also wanted to guide her heart to the One who comforts us. So I asked,
“What do we do when we miss our friends?”
She looked at me and said, “We cry.”
“Yes… we can definitely cry… then what else? What else can we do?”
“We can eat ice cream!”
I burst out laughing as I hugged her tight. Why yes! ice cream helps. How did you know, sweet girl?
Eventually we finally got to “we can also pray…” And we did.
Walking with our kids through transition and homesickness has been very difficult for this mama’s heart. At the beginning especially, I used to carry the weight of the fact that they had not chosen this life and yet were having to live with the consequences. Even though my oldest was so young when we first moved, she really struggled with leaving our community in the States, especially that first year. It came up over and over again. All she wanted was to go back to the States. She couldn’t understand why we’d left.
We have had two more big moves since then. Helping our kids through transition has been one of our most important jobs living overseas.
Here are a few things we have done over the past four years:
We celebrate the things we love about our new country or new city. What foods do we like? What are some of our favorite places? What do we love about the apartment/neighborhood we live in? Giving thanks for all those things has been very helpful to start turning all our hearts toward the place God is planting us in.
We created a simple book with pictures of our new life in the Middle East that we could show to our friends in the US when we went back for the summer. It was very simple: I printed a bunch of pictures, my oldest and I worked together taping them on construction paper. Then I asked a friend to laminate it for us. It was a way to help our oldest daughter internalize where our life was. It also made it easy for her to share her new home with others.
We’ve made timelines over and over again to help our kids understand the process of our moves. We’ve had home assignments in between our last two moves, with a lot of traveling involved. We’ve tried to help the kids wrap their minds around where all we are going to be and what all has to happen before we finally land in our new home.
We’ve listened to them, cried with them and prayed with them as they process all the things. This last move was especially hard for our middle daughter. She kept saying all summer she didn’t want to move to this country but wanted to go back to the one we lived before. We were (mostly) patient to let the Lord work in her. We held her and also gently made sure she knew we were not going back.
We’ve done “goodbye” tours of our home to help them have closure. They need to know they can grieve with us over losing their homes, their favorite toys (that are too big to take), and especially their friends.
We ask our kids the “high” and “low” of each day as a way to create space for them to talk about the good and the hard of their new life.
Keeping traditions from our home culture has been really important and stabilizing for our girls. With so much transition, some traditions have been hard to keep. But I have tried to keep them, even if just in a small way. For example, Halloween this past year happened shortly after we landed here. I had no bandwidth to host a fall party like the year before. But my husband and I got candy, shut ourselves in a bedroom each and had the girls dress up and knock on our bedroom doors to trick or treat. Then while the girls “visited” one of the bedrooms, one of us ran to another room so that they could “visit” 4 different rooms in the house and get candy. The girls LOVED it as simple as that was.
I have tried to keep some constancy in our home décor. We’ve had to sell most of our stuff when we’ve moved, but I kept some of our Christmas ornaments, sentimental wall art and pictures. The delight on their face discovering those things, after months being packed up, has been priceless.
We’ve prioritized exploring and making memories in our new country – even when it is a lot of work. It helps our kids to connect this place with the feeling of joy, togetherness and even at home. Recently we went away for a weekend to the Red Sea. We had a flat tire, cockroaches in our Airbnb, and difficulty with our rental car company. I had to wash all the dishes and silverware because they were dirty and our beds… well, they weren’t clean either. It felt at times that the waves of culture shock followed us there and we didn’t have much reprieve. But it was well worth it to hear our girls’ joy in being in warmer weather, in being by the ocean, and especially in being together.
While it’s true our kids haven’t chosen this life, God chose it for them, not us. He is the best home our families have as we go through the chaos of transition. Let’s keep him as our refuge. None that did, was ever ashamed.
As a parent, how have you helped guide your children through transition?