So you’re moving. With small kids. Congrats! My husband’s new job just took our family from Portland, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts. Schlepping our lives 3000 miles across the country was a big undertaking for us adults – and an even bigger deal for our just-turned-three-year-old son. We knew we wanted to do this move the right way for him. Here are a few tricks we discovered (some intentionally, some through trial and error) that might help to smooth the process for you and your little ones, too.
1 | When you first share the news, draw pictures of their new room together. What color will they paint the walls? How are they going to decorate? Where will the bed go? Let them share in the excitement as they look forward to making it their own.
2 | Print out a paper calendar of the month leading up to the move and cross off each day as it passes. This can make the few weeks’ worth of “lasts” (e.g. last day of school, last sleep at the old house) and “firsts” (e.g. first airplane flight, first day at their new childcare) feel more manageable.
3 | Check out library books about moving. We found a few favorites that emphasized the adventure and excitement of moving to a new home – try "The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day," or "The GoodPie Party," for starters. Keep an eye out for the negative ones, though. Some, like "Little Critter: We Are Moving" or "Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going To Move" introduced feelings of fear, resistance, and dread that our son wasn’t otherwise feeling. No need to go there if they’re not already feeling angst-y.
4 | Ship favorite puzzles, toys, and books ahead of time so the kids have something to play with when you arrive. We packed a suitcase full of beloved toys and games and shipped it before leaving Oregon. Our moving truck took two weeks to drive cross-country, but we flew eastward in just one day, so it was wonderfully helpful that our little guy already had familiar books and puzzles to play with while his father and I were unpacking and settling into our new place.
5 | Never ever ever take a redeye or it will mess with their sleep for a week afterward. We made this mistake and regretted it immediately. Even though an overnight flight feels efficient, if your kid is anything like mine he’ll be so delighted and overstimulated watching airplane movies at 2 a.m. that he’ll miss a solid night of sleep. And everyone will suffer from dealing with a tired, cranky kid (and family) for days to come. Sleep is sacrosanct – especially in times of great transition. Don’t mess with it.
6 | Have the kids decorate your moving boxes. Stock up on stickers, markers, and crayons in the days before the big move. Give the gang a functional art project to keep them busy and happy while you’re frantically throwing stuff in boxes. Bonus: your moving boxes look sparkly and fab.
7 | Don't make a bunch of plans or sign up for classes right away – especially if you’re moving across time zones. I signed our son up for parent-child Waldorf preschool and swimming lessons starting two days after we arrived, thinking they’d be good opportunities to dive in and build community right away. The first week, he slept through them all (thanks to the three-hour time difference). Guess I should’ve given him a week to adjust before jumping into activities. #parentfail
8 | Get babysitters. On both ends. Don’t be shy about this. Even if you use that time to catch up on your abandoned inbox or sort through old sweatpants, everyone benefits from a little playtime with someone fresh. Once we landed in Boston, we asked neighbors for trusted babysitter references and used Care.com to find another. Moving can be intense and emotional for big AND small people, so getting a little support is good for everyone.
9 | Stay on schedule as much as possible. Deify naps. Aim for consistency. Honor your regular rhythms and routines. This will offer a solid foundation in the midst of a great deal of change. Everybody does better when they’re rested.
10 | Pack snacks. Whether you’re prepping for a five-hour flight or a 12-hour car ride: pack snacks. Low blood sugar makes for cranky humans. Good, healthy snacks will go a long way, especially in places like airports and gas stations where they can be hard to find. Almonds, cashews, roasted seaweed, raisins, hummus, and chopped veggies helped us stave off a moving diet of 24/7 french fries.
11 | If you’re spending a lot of time in the car traveling or house hunting, bring along audiobooks to make the car time more bearable. A few entertaining picture books with CD accompaniment can keep the kids entertained in the backseat while you’re navigating new neighborhoods and tussling with your GPS in the front.
12 | Seek out familiarity and continuity wherever you can find it. Even grocery stores will do! We hit up Trader Joe's as soon as the dust settled. It was comforting to find the same old favorite foods we’d loved in Portland right here in Boston, and our son was delighted to play the familiar “find the hidden mascot” game (and to celebrate with the same bright-colored lollipop prize he knew from before). Little things can go a long way in making someplace new feel like home.
13 | Take advantage of public spaces. I can’t emphasize this enough. Get a library card first thing. Make friends with the librarians. Mark the storytime schedule in your calendar and force yourself to attend, even if you’re not feeling up for it. You’ll meet a lot of other cool parents, grandparents, and caregivers who also operate on a toddler’s schedule. Use the park for parental reconnaissance. Brave the awkward hellos (I’m talking to you, fellow introverts!) and strike up a conversation about the easiest day trips, the best preschools, and the most convenient indoor play spaces.
14 | Create new rituals right away. Find a new spot for Saturday night ice cream and introduce yourself to the cafe owners. Research local churches if you’re the religious type, and make attending on Sunday mornings a priority. Scope out local sports schedules and hit up a game first thing. (We bought tickets for a Red Sox night game just four days after moving, when our son was still on Pacific Standard Time, and had a wonderful time; his body still thought it was 4 p.m.!) Don’t forget maintain your old standing rituals. Our usual Friday night movie night has stayed consistent whether we were in Portland or Boston.
15 | Stay in touch with the folks you’ve left behind. FaceTime with abandon. Send snail mail to the friends, family, and classmates you’ve left behind. Maintain those relationships for your sake, and your children’s. You’ll be glad you did. As my good friend Cara once told me when she completed a cross-country move from Boston to San Francisco, think of it less as leaving your old life behind and more as expanding your world, gaining new family, friends, and life stories along the way. We just get richer for the adventure. Enjoy. And take a nap. You’ll need one.