My family has moved a couple of times in recent years for new job opportunities. My 7-year-old has started asking questions about how long she’ll be in her current school and when we might be moving again. The honest answer is that I don’t know, but I’m not sure how much uncertainty to introduce into her life. Any suggestions on how to respond?
As any adult knows, nothing in our lives is actually certain, but we do our best with the information we have based on the most likely outcomes given our current circumstances. Parents need to add on an extra layer of providing stability and routine for our children, while also teaching them to be resilient and flexible when things change or don’t go as planned.
Your child already knows what it’s like to live with uncertainty, which is why she’s asking you these questions. If she felt completely stable, she probably wouldn’t ask when you were moving, and if she felt completely unstable, she wouldn’t bother forming attachments to her current location. She sounds like she’s in a healthy in-between place of knowing change is possible and knowing that you’re around to guide her through it.
As with most parenting questions, answer her as succinctly and honestly as possible without introducing any new information that she hasn’t requested. Because her questions are based on her real-life experience, you can and should provide her with some real-life and still age-appropriate answers. If you have a contract in your current job and expect to stay through the end of it, you can tell her, “Our plan is to be here until you’re in fourth grade and then to decide after that whether we go someplace new,” or, “We don’t have any plans to move now, but if we do, I promise I will tell you about them.”
She may also benefit from having lots of outlets to talk about the other places you’ve lived. Maybe you can look at pictures together, or reach out to friends she remembers or, if you haven’t moved too far, you can go back to visit. Encouraging her to think about all of her different home experiences as part of her identity will help her create a consistent narrative that doesn’t feel disconnected and uprooted. And if and when the time comes to move again, she’ll have more stories and memories and, most importantly, a model of how to take them with her.