Moving house, missing toys and how a simple story helped

My kids have been dealing with constant change over the past six months. 

We put our house on the market in October last year, which meant open homes. So twice a week for four weeks we had to make our house look like we didn’t live in it. Man, I hate open homes. I even hate going to them, because for some stupid reason I always wear shoes which require far too much effort to remove.

In preparation for the open homes, we decided to get rid of heaps of our kids’ toys. It turns out that our kids have way too much stuff, because afterwards our house looked much bigger. As we were putting all of their stuff in boxes, we told them that it was because we wanted to find a home that was going to work better for our family. Which, now that I think about it, is a really weird proposition. “Kids, if we pack all of your favourite things away, someone might buy our house.”

Eventually, someone did buy our house, and then we started the process of actually moving. Moving sucks. I always end up wearing shoes that are really hard to remove at the end of the day. 

We tried to include the kids in the process, but to be honest, kids are really hard to look after when you are trying to pack stuff up and move out. Legally you aren’t allowed to put them in a box, but it would make things easier. After the packing was finished, we made sure to take a photo of our family outside the house just before we drove away for the last time.

When I look at this photo now, I have mixed feelings.

For me it meant that everything had been moved out. The job was done. But for my kids, this meant uncertainty. For my two youngest kids, they were leaving the only house that they had ever known, and we weren’t moving into a cool new house (just yet); we were moving in with the in-laws. 

What’s the big deal?

My wife and I knew that there was a reason for all of the change, but I don’t know if my kids could actually comprehend it. For them, they went from having their own house, with all of their stuff, to all three of them sharing a room with hardly any of their stuff and we kept telling them that it was going to be good.

No wonder they found it hard.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article by a psychologist and it said this, “Our adult lives are big and complex and our kids’ lives are small and simple.” The implications of this idea are pretty profound.

Here is what I took away from that quote: something that might not seem like a big deal to us adults, can actually be a massive deal for our kids. But we don’t always notice what is a big deal for our kids.

Soft toys and Dave Dobbyn

Two weeks into living with the in-laws, we had an offer accepted on a new house, which meant lawyers, insurance company hold music, mortgage brokers and the council. It was big and it was complex. And I never want to hear Dave Dobbyn ever again.  

I was working so hard to make this big exciting new thing happen, but every time we would talk about the house with the kids, they didn’t really seem that excited. They just wanted to know exactly when they would get their soft toys back, which were buried in a box on the highest shelf at my dad’s warehouse. Hardly top priority… for me.  

So when my kids would bring up the soft toys, I would get annoyed. I was thinking to myself, “Can you not see how complicated everything that I am doing is?” “Can you not understand that I am dealing with lawyers and mortgage brokers and the council, and storage unit owners and truck rental companies and Dave Dobbyn?!”

Looking back now, I wish that I had actually asked myself those questions, instead of being frustrated and dismissive. Why? Because OBVIOUSLY my seven-year-old and my ten-year-old wouldn’t really be able to understand what I was dealing with. All they cared about was their small simple world, and in their small simple world, their soft toys were a big deal.

I like to run. And when I say run, I mean that I like to go to the hills for hours to reflect, wearing tight shoes that are hard to remove. So while I was out running, thinking and praying, I realised how self-centred I was being, and I decided to take a different approach. 

Instead of getting frustrated every time my kids asked about their soft toys, I decided to write them a story. It didn’t actually take me very long – which is why I was particularly creative with the spelling of some of the words – but it was so helpful. Page four, for example simply read:

Friday will be a funny day, because Eliza and Tilly will go to school like normal. Freddie will go to kindy, and Mum and Dad will be painting the new house. That night we will eat pizza and watch movies like we always do.

(This page was illustrated in impressive detail by my daughter – one side of the page representing my wife and I painting at the new house, the other side offering an artist’s impression of pizza and movie night at the grandparents’ house, complete with an open pizza box and two slices of Hawaiian.)

And here is the crazy thing…

When I took the time to tell them what was going to happen – in the form of a story where they were the main characters, which explained where they were going to sleep and what they were going to eat – everything changed. And it had nothing to do with Dave Dobbyn.  

Every time they had a question I could just say, “Well, what does your story say?” and I would read it with them. This helped them to work out the answer for themselves.

Our kids see themselves as the main characters in their life story on a daily basis, so when I used story to explain the significant transition we were navigating, it gave them stability. It gave them confidence. It gave them something to hold onto in the midst of all of the change. It was awesome, and I am definitely getting breakfast in bed on Fathers Day.

Written by James Beck.

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