When is the best time to move?

I have two fantastic kids. One is in first grade and the other in fourth grade. They do well in school and participate in many activities. After being in Michigan for twelve years, we are seriously considering moving to Oregon because of an employment opportunity. I think it would be best for them to finish the school year here in Michigan, but friends have told me that moving mid-year is best. When is the best time for a family move?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

I definitely second your opinion. Summer represents a natural period of transition between grades and the perfect time to adjust to new surroundings and meet new friends. This timing allows your children to not only complete their respective classroom experiences together with their classmates, but time to adjust to changes one at a time instead of all at once!

Saying good-bye to classmates at the end of the year signals a natural time for departure. One adventure has ended and another one is about to begin. Likewise, starting a new school in a new grade next September echoes the experience of saying hello to strangers who can become friends. And there is the added advantage that not all children will already know one another prior to their arrival. They are able to begin at the beginning with their new classmates! How could this not be preferable to leaving in the middle of things and coming in the middle of things? Instinctively, you are leaning towards the natural cycles for adaptation that already exist in your children's lives.

Perhaps the people you have polled have tendencies towards repressing rather than midwiving family members through a healthy expression of feelings during periods of change. It is emotionally strengthening to help your children learn how to say good-bye and allow feelings of mourning to be expressed about people and places they have become attached to in their lifetimes. Failing to allow space for these emotions by catapulting them into immediate requirements to adjust will likely backfire. A common cause for difficulties in attaching to new places and people is the emotional backlash resulting from sudden change which allows no period of adjustment.

We are more likely to be overwhelmed if we are not allowed the time and space to process feelings inherent in letting go of places and people we have grown to love. Feelings that are shunted aside come back in hidden forms which may also be difficult to decipher. Angry outbursts, sudden tantrums and crying spells are often the result of people who have held it together under stress, only to "fall apart" later. In your case, your children to not have to be put under pressure to adapt. You have a choice to ease their transition and you should definitely take it! A shortcut approach to dealing with loss now will have reverberations later.

By taking provisions for a slower transition, you give your children the message that these people and places have been important in their lives and can be carried inside. Where your children have been and who they have played with, are all parts of your children's identities. Cutting them off precipitously in the midst of the school year can relay the message that these experiences of the past are to be "forever forgotten" rather than memories to be cherished!

It is natural for your children to experience both sadness and excitement about the move. Assist their adjustment process by having a farewell party at the end of the school year in each of their classrooms. This will allow your children to say their good-byes and accept appreciation from others who will miss them. Maintaining contact through letters or cards might also promote your children's adaptation. The summer is a natural time to embark on a new adventure. Support your children's participation in helping you with moving their toys and furniture. And encourage their sense of excitement about the new situation they are moving towards.

Rest assured that helping them say good-bye will allow them a greater capacity to say hello to new friends and places. Trust yourself, and do not shy away from the inevitable sad feelings you will all experience together. Honor the friendships you will leave by grieving for them. Your family closeness is the vessel which will carry you through many transitions in the years ahead. Sharing feelings is a part of the family journey.

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