As a veteran of two cross-country moves in three years with two children under four, I feel like I know a little something about relocation. Due to the sagging economy, many people are picking up and moving to new cities and towns in search of work and more affordable housing. Now that I’ve just wrapped up my second job-related move—this one from Los Angeles back to New York City, I feel compelled to share what I’ve picked up along the way. Consider this a little friendly advice to ponder when you feel like a basket case because your life is in boxes and you can’t find anything and have no idea when you will.
Follow my unofficial guide to relocation sanity: five ways to avoid a moving meltdown.
1. Let Go
In my ideal scenario, my adorable son would have resisted the temptation to pull the hotel fire alarm the night before we moved, the flight wouldn’t have been delayed three hours, and the car seats would have been properly installed in the taxi when we arrived at JFK at 1 a.m. Things happen. What I learned most by weathering this most recent transition is that if you accept that nothing will adhere to the plan, you’ll be much better at handling the bumps along the way. Whether it’s the boxes coming in on schedule or the cable guy showing up on time, you will do a lot of hurrying up and waiting, waiting, waiting. Keep that in mind going in and you will be smiling a lot more of the time. A glass of wine, a massage, and/or regular deep breaths can also do wonders.
2. Keep Your Routine
It’s really disconcerting to live out of a suitcase and not know when exactly you will be able to unpack. I have found that keeping up my own exercise regimen—scoping out the running paths or checking out the hotel gym—really helped me both times that we relocated for my husband’s job. This was especially key to my mental health the first time, when I was also reeling as a new mother to eleven-week-old twins. The one thing that helped smooth things over (the best we could) was to keep up our usual schedule. This time around, for my now preschoolers, who eventually stopped napping in the first weeks we returned to NYC (yikes), it was really important that we stuck to regular meal times and the typical bath and bedtime routine. Even if your surroundings are new, it is helpful for everyone in the family to hold onto something that’s predictable.
3. Don’t Forget the Sitter
Plan ahead for how you will manage packing and moving with your children, especially if your partner cannot take off time from work and you have small children or babies. In my experience, if you have very young kids, it is best that you keep them occupied and somewhere else while the movers clear out your home. Seeing all those boxes can be really upsetting. On the other end, when your shipment finally arrives, try to find a relative, friend or babysitter to help you and put that high on your to-do list. I tried hard to keep the kids away from our new place until everything (mostly) was put away. We were lucky to be housed in a temporary apartment while we waited for our stuff and unpacked. It made the transition a little easier. But there was of course, one day when I had no one to help and it was me and the kids in the new place with the cable guy who insisted that we empty out a heavy armoire filled with toys so we could move it to another corner. The next thing I knew, all the hard work I had spent organizing and putting away puzzles, trucks, tea sets, and play dough, was being decimated by my three-year-olds. Who could blame them? They hadn’t seen their old toys in over a month. Total chaos.
4. Accept the Transition
I wish I could say that four months into our relocation to a city we’ve lived before is as seamless as could be. But there is something to be said about the psychology of the move itself. Even if the surroundings are somewhat familiar, it takes time to wrap your head around uprooting and resettling. And getting into the swing of things, like knowing which dry cleaner does a really good job or which playground has more shade or even finding a reliable babysitter takes a lot more time than I ever predicted (even though I’ve been through this before!).
When I told friends and family I would be back to writing in a few weeks after our most recent move, they politely cheered me on. But the truth is that all of them knew it would be months before I would have my structure in place to find the time to sit at my laptop and think. Settling in happens. Accept that it may take longer than you think and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen as fast as you would like.
I really think that if you can go to bed a little earlier while you are in the midst of the stress of moving, it can help a lot. The reason I believe this is that I had quite a few nights in the first few weeks we landed in NYC that my three-year-old twins refused to sleep in their own beds. So the four us spent several frustrating nights desperately trying to get some shut-eye (to no avail) in the same bed. The days following those nights were unbearably tension-filled. Grouchy parents and kids are not a good mix when you’re living in a new place … and it’s pouring rain outside. We quickly instituted a sleep in your own bed incentive program (with stickers and other treats). Once we started getting better sleep, everyone weathered the transition a lot better. I think it is important to respect what it is to relocate and the unique stresses it puts on the mind and body. Perhaps if more of us looked at moving as an athletic endeavor, we might focus more on getting adequate rest, better nutrition and taking time to chill out, too. Taking care of yourself is really key during the upheaval. So build in time to indulge, decompress and focus on other things outside of the big transition. Good luck!
Originally published on The Well Mom