According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 41 million people in the U.S. move to a new residence in a given year—roughly 14 percent of the population. When you account for multiple moves, over fifty percent of Americans have made at least one move during the past seven years. This growing trend in mobility has both positives and negatives for fathers and families.
On the positive side, relocation often brings fathers new opportunities for employment. Additionally, moving to a new environment often spurs a man to greater achievement, exercises his problem-solving capacities, and provides an opportunity to build new relationships.
On the negative side, relocation stress has been equated with the stress of a divorce or a death in the family. It causes families to face a number of adjustments that may fuel loneliness, anxiety and depression.
Clearly, the experience of relocating can be both a traumatic challenge and a tremendous opportunity for a family, and fathers can play a vital role in helping family members adjust. When John moved his family to a new community for a job, he underestimated the social cost the move would require. Formerly, his household had been rooted and established with a strong support network. Now in a new community, John’s children were struggling with friends and school, his wife was depressed, and his new position required much more time than he had expected. Perhaps most distressing was that John felt a bit disillusioned because his new job wasn’t working out like he had expected. To deal with the stress, John retreated to his home office at night, leaving his wife and children to manage on their own. The rest of the story only gets worse.
To cope with the challenges of moving, John would have been better prepared had he considered these seven questions:
- Have I explained clearly to my children why this move is necessary, and listened to their concerns?
- Have I identified supporting organizations in my new community—like the YMCA, Scouts, a faith community, sports teams and neighbor activities—and made sure that my family gets involved?
- Have I given my children some authority in furnishing, painting or designing their new rooms?
- Have we planned something fun as a family before and after the move?
- Have we explored the new community together, mapping out landmarks and places we want to visit?
- Have I allowed my family to get closure with friends in our previous neighborhood by encouraging them to keep in touch via telephone, e-mail, letters or a personal visit?
- Have I allowed everyone, including myself, to talk through the loss of moving, and to express themselves emotionally during and after the transition?
- Someone you know is moving or getting ready to move. Make it a family event to help them move or settle in.
- Play the “Where would you like to live?” game. Ask your kids to suggest places they would like to live and why. Talk about what they would miss most about where you live now—and listen carefully.
- Get out a camera or video recorder and make this a weekend to record your children’s growth. If they’re old enough, let them take some of the pictures.
- Cook dinner for your family this weekend as a master chef in disguise.