How to Make that New House Your Home

How to Make that New House Your Home
Tips for helping kids adjust to relocation
Paul Thigpen

© 2001 by Paul Thigpen

Just call me The World's Leading Catholic Expert on How to Move a Family Without Major Disaster or Losing the Cat Somewhere Along the Way (Unless You Want To).

My wife and I have just made our seventeenth move in twenty-two years. (Remarkably, we're still married.) We keep our boxes. Our friends' address books have our family's entry in pencil.

We've lived on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts, and in the Heartland. We've resided in the mountains, at the beach, on an island, in the hill country; in an urban apartment, a mobile home, a duplex, a Victorian bungalow, a farmhouse, a suburban ranch.

Not surprisingly, friends who are about to make a move often ask us for advice. We have numerous tips for organizing the chaos, but most important, we insist, are the steps you can take to make that new home distinctively yours.

Personal ownership

The first key is to give everyone in the family some sense of personal ownership in the new home. Given their ages, what decisions could your children take part in that will help determine their new surroundings? This consideration comes into play even before you choose your new home.

Young children may be dreaming of a large yard. Older kids may be anxious about the age of the neighborhood kids. Of course, budget limitations or work commute distances may have to override such concerns. But you should at least ask your children what they're hoping for, and then explain carefully what other factors must be taken into consideration. If possible, let them come along with you when you review your choices and make your decision.

Once you've chosen your new home, the children can take part in at least some of the new decorating plans. Smaller children might be able to choose the wallpaper, border, or paint color for their rooms. (Our son once chose a bright "hello yellow," as we called it, for his walls. I detested it, but that color made it his room, and he loved it.) Older kids might also want to help with decisions about where the furniture goes or what will hang on the walls-not just in their bedrooms, but in other rooms as well. (My daughter wants the family portrait from her junior high years in the darkest, most obscure corner of the house.)

If you can find a way to allow everyone at least a few choices about the new setting, you're all more likely to say to yourselves: "This is my home."

Maintain continuity

A second priority, we've found, is finding ways to provide some degree of continuity — to assure the kids that what's most important about your family (your love for one another) remains the same, despite the change in surroundings. Consider these ideas:

· A few days before the move, mail each of your children a postcard at the new address, welcoming them and sharing your excitement about your new home. As soon as you arrive there, send them to check the mail. Somehow, a new address seems more "official," and a new house seems more like home, once you've begun receiving mail there. More importantly, the postcards remind your children that you're thinking of them.

· When you pack up the framed family pictures in your old home, tuck a few of them in your luggage. Then set them out as soon as you arrive. Nothing says "home" quite like the mug shots of those you love most.

· Since first impressions are critical, start building fond memories in your new home right away. The normal routine may not return for awhile, so now's the chance for a few unusual family times you'll long remember.

Is the furniture arriving late, so that your first night will be spent in sleeping bags on the living room floor? Try eating picnic foods, sitting in a circle, and telling tall tales or singing silly campfire songs. Beg some coat hangers and a log from a new neighbor (a good ice breaker) to roast marshmallows in the fireplace. If it's warm outside, camp in the backyard and watch together for shooting stars.

· At the same time, reestablish family customs and routines in the new house as soon as you can. How you arrange your space is only one aspect of what makes a home distinctively yours. How you arrange your time there is just as significant.

The bedroom may be a different color, but the nightly bedtime prayers can be the same. The kitchen may have a breakfast bar instead of a table, but Dad's famous Sunday morning pancakes will taste just as good. Even maintaining the normal schedule of family chore assignments can provide some continuity amid the disruptions of settling in.

In all these ways, you're helping your family realize that even though you may put down roots in a particular location, the more important roots are the ones that remain firmly fixed in those you love. Wherever you may live, you belong to one another. And that sense of belonging is what makes the place where you live together unmistakably your home.