Preparing kids for a relocation – a moving story

26 June 2018

This personal account was written by Martin Giles. Martin is a GMS at Armstrong International Movers – a North American FIDI Affiliate.

Being a Global Mobility Specialist in the relocation industry with 20-years’ experience made me feel that my own international move last year from Japan to Canada would be a breeze. I knew it all... right?

My crash course in empathy

Logistically, yes, I did. I knew exactly what was going to happen and when. Largely of course because I knew what to expect and thus set my expectation levels accordingly. Unmet expectations are the mother of all disappointmentsis my work mantra. So, I set and met the expectations as I knew they should be in regards to the move, and it was indeed as smooth as could be.

But what I didn’t anticipate, or give enough thought to, was the emotional impact that moving internationally can have on one and their accompanying family. I knew the theory but lacked the experience of what emotions people go through. I now refer it to as ‘the ultimate exercise in creating customer empathy'!

The impact of a single picture

After arriving in Canada and allowing the dust to settle, I took some time to go through the thousands of photos that had been taken over the previous months. Before leaving, and even through the process, I went on a photographic rampage! I was scared of leaving it all and wanted to visually document everything….

But from those thousands of photos, there was one which stood out from the rest and impacted me significantly. It was simply a photo of an empty room, but it was filled with an incredibly powerful emotion, and one that I didn’t even notice at the time. In fact, I didn’t even see it until months later.

It was the picture above. This is my son Noah. He was 6 years old at the time when we moved, and this photo was taken when everything in our home had been packed and removed.

Strangely, it wasn’t Noah that I had intended to make as the focus of the photo. The intended focus was an empty room, with him in it. It was to be the ‘after packing’ photo that I thought would complement one of the hundreds of ‘before’ that I had taken.

It wasn’t until months after the fact when I saw the picture again and it hit me “like a ton of bricks”. ‘What is the impact of an international move on children and how can one prepare them for it?’ came into my mind. We were all so wrapped up in our own business that we forgot to prepare the most important thing of all. My little boys’ heart and mind.

“I have made new friends”

Fortunately, it wasn’t as dramatic as the photo may appear and I feel now he was just having a quiet moment, but his moment highlighted to me the importance of the now painfully obvious question. What could I have done differently? What can I learn from this and share with others?

Today, exactly one year later after we arrived, I showed Noah the first photo above and asked him a couple of questions. I also told him I’m writing a short piece about us and our experience to help others going through a similar situation.

My first question was: “How were you feeling at the time of the photo?

Noah: “Sad. Because I will miss my friends. Miss my Grandpa and Grandma.”

Martin: “How do you feel now?

Noah: “Good. I have made new friends. I love playing with my new friends and want to stay here.

Interview done! I can’t express just how validating it was hearing those words. It suddenly 'was all worth it' because I feel strongly that such experiences are going to continue to shape his character.

This story is absolutely a happy one. The below photo is Noah a couple of months after the first photo as we moved in. And almost a year later, this is us, yesterday in Toronto where we spent most of the day just giggling at silly things. 

What can we learn?

Obviously, every family and situation are different, so every child and situation need to be addressed appropriately. But the takeaway point is to simply ensure that preparing your child’s heart and mind is not an afterthought, but a forethought.

If I could go back and give myself a few words of advice, I would say to myself “be more mindful, empathetic, and take the time to explain that it will be alright soon”.

In fact, it will be even better once we settled. That he will miss our current home, family and friends, but not only will he be able to keep his current friends and talk and ‘see’ them often (cue Skype and other communication apps!) but he will also make new friends. His world will open and his life will be further enriched with new and exciting experiences

I had set my own expectations for the move, but I failed to have set that for my son. It turned out well simply because kids have that ability to adapt quickly. But I could have made it better by giving him clarity that there will be changes, and all will be well. Such a simple but effective gesture.

So now the change and adventure continues, and my life lesson about giving clarity of the road ahead to those around me will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Oh… and it helps to have the right mover too! The ones that give you valuable advice on moving with kids.

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