When international families are preparing for their next move, they often only get a few months or weeks to get everything done. When they leave the place they called home for the last few months or years and conquer new frontiers, they have a lot on their plate and they are on a real rollercoaster ride!
Leaving is never easy, but we can learn how to do it in a healthy way
Especially when we leave a place where we have invested in friendships, learned to belong, and built a “home”, saying goodbye is one of the hardest things to do. Our children should learn it from a very young age and it’s our task as their parents to show them how it’s done.
Frequent Transitions are part of the international life
Tina Quick, cross-cultural trainer, popular international speaker, transition expert and author of The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition states that:
“Leaving a place you have been rooted in for any amount of time is never easy, but making the time for proper farewells is something no one has ever regretted. Proper closure and forward thinking help pave a smooth road to transition and reduce the stumbling blocks of adjustment…”.
How does a “proper closure” look like?
In their book “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds”, David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken suggest to build a R.A.F.T. in order to have a proper closure:
R for Reconciliation
During the leaving stage we tend to deny or avoid confrontation with those we had disagreements with. We think we won’t see this person again and since we are going to leave anyway, why bother? Fact is that unresolved business will stick with us like a mental baggage.
Avoiding reconciliation is an unhealthy habit because it can cause bitterness and our discontent can affect our future relationships.
It happened to me with someone I had a problem with in highschool. 20 years later I happened to run into her on a train station. I felt like going back in time: all the bad feelings were there again, like if all these years hadn’t passed!
We only had like 5 minutes but instead of a quick smalltalk, I chose to put our problem on the table, right there. It was an awkward situation but very revealing because we both realized that we had experienced this time in two completely different ways and we both had outgrown this moment. But I needed a closure and I never felt the bitterness that I used to feel when thinking about her ever again.
Therefore it is important to resolve any problem and to forgive and be forgiven before moving. – And so do our children! They might need our help with this!
A for Affirmation
The key is to leave in peace. We’ve encountered and befriended many people over the years, and in order to be really emotionally and mentally moving on, we need to let them all (!) know that we appreciate them.
Many fear the tears and the sad feelings that leaving entails. But we always have the choice to focus on the positive moments we have shared together and to solidify our relationship with them. – Closure doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye forever. We say goodbye to this phase of our life they were part of. But they can (choose to) remain our friends.
If we look at the terms used in different languages to say “goodbye”, they are not forever but usually mean “see you again”: auf Wiedersehen, arrivederci, au revoir, hasta la vista, nos vemos etc.
Planning a gathering together after a few months following our move or regularly scheduled skype-chats can make it easier to say goodbye. We might not meet as frequently as before, but there’s still a chance to keep in touch. Social media are a great invention for international families: you can still share happy moments with friends living on the other side of the globe.
I have said goodbye many times and I am always amazed to see that really good friends stay with me no matter where I live: they’ll always call me, meet with me in whatever places and will be part of my life.
We can help our children to do the same with their friends by letting their favourite friends, teachers, neighbours know that they like them and that they want to stay in touch. Throwing a farewell party in the middle of all the preparations for the move seems overwhelming, but it’s really worth the effort!
If you want to keep it simple, a kind of gathering in one of your (or your kids’) favourite places with these special friends will do it. And you really can’t find the time to say goodbye to all the friends, let them know by writing that you leave and why you are thankful that your paths crossed. It’s a small gesture that has a huge impact, believe me!
Affirmation is important also among siblings. When one of our children leaves for university for example, it’s important that the siblings who stay behind are reassured that they’ll still keep in touch. – A commitment to call, skype or regular visits will reassure everyone that this is just a phase, a change in the relationship but not its ending!
F like Farewells
Most of us try to avoid the word “goodbye”: it hurts since it marks an end. It’s the end of a chapter in our life. It’s important to take the time to pay attention to things we’ve enjoyed. Taking pictures of places, doing things we’ve enjoyed, meeting friends: every member of the family will benefit from gradually saying goodbye to the 4 “p’s”: people, pets, places and possessions.
- A good way to remember them in the “old” place and “life” is to take pictures.
- We can make a goodbye book with our children. They can collect pictures of their friends, the favorite areas, pets, possessions and assemble them in a scrap book.
- They can also collect a small item which reminds them for example of their home, like a piece of bedroom curtain, a scrap of wallpaper, a pressed flower from the garden or a ticket to the cinema.
- Or they can make alternatively a short movie of their friends.
- A friend of mine once gave me her favorite soap. Every time I smell it, I think of her.
– Let your children guide you as they have an eye for the small details we adults often miss.
T like Think destination
- What do we need where we’re going?
- What are the drawbacks and benefits to expect?
- How will our life look like in the new place?
– While saying goodbye, it’s also important to focus on the future and to prepare ourselves and our family for the approaching transition.
Thinking about practical aspects of leaving will help us to be more balanced emotionally. – We can help our children in this by involving them in the planning by taking pictures of the new house or area we’ll live in, studying maps of the city and collecting information and details of the new school. Maybe we can even meet new classmates before the school starts. All this will help them (and us!) to plan ahead, to picture us in the new place and get the impression of how we’ll feel in this next place.
Children have a peculiar outlook on life. Parents should try to answer their questions unambiguously and clarify that nothing will change within the family. During the whole transition, our children need to be repeatedly reassured that all is well. You should expect to have (many) ups and downs.– This is all perfectly normal since (young) children thrive on routine and stability. If you can keep up normal routines in your new home, such as the way of having breakfast or dinner, the bedtime routine, or certain other habits, you’re halfway through the battle.
Especially new routines need to be introduced gradually such that the children (and we too!) can adapt easier to our new life.
I would add another “T” to the RAFT: Time. During this part of the transition stages we easily run out of time. But this is exactly why we should plan extra time to slow down, to stand still a moment and smell the roses… Sometimes a few minutes suffice: take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Give yourself a pat on the back: you’re doing a fantastic job and you can really be proud of yourself! And if it is all too overwhelming: think about what you’ll be doing in a few months – picture something you like doing!
And then take the next step in your R.A.F.T. I assure you it will help everyone to have a smooth transition, say a healthy goodbye and allow a happy hello!
I wish you and your family a smooth transition and a stellar new start!
Make sure you get your copy of my free guide through transition for leavers and stayers.