“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
All too often these days we hear the words RELOCATION, EMIGRATION, IMMIGRATION. This has certainly been amplified by the global Covid-19 pandemic, with friends and family situated around the globe. Which in turn has also led to more of a gig working economy, where for some of us, we are able to relocate, live and work in different locations. However, have you ever stopped and thought about the emotional impact which relocation may have on you and your family?
Relocation is really tough – both logistically and emotionally. The way that we leave a place can contribute to our overall contentment and sense of connection, leaving us with a positive sense of closure and readiness to embark on the next chapter of our lives. Or, it can leave us with guilt, regret, unresolved grief and damaged relationships, which often get in the way of a positive start in your new place.
All too often I have seen families in the process of emigration (myself included), focus primarily on the logistics and practical elements thereof, however we forget about the emotional impact it has not only on us as an individual but on our partners’, children, friends and family.
When our decision was made to officially leave South Africa to England, I did not anticipate the struggles I would have when officially emigrating as a family of 4 with 2 young children. Finding work to advance in my career, building genuine friendships, feeling at home in a foreign landscape and culture, staying connected with family and friends back home, and knowing how my relocation fitted into my bigger personal and professional goals, all proved to be more challenging than I ever imagined.
Therefore, together with my own personal experiences as well as my professional background in psychology, I have a very special place in my heart to see families as well as individuals thrive in their new found home and maintain a healthy sense of self.
As such, please journey with me as I provide some useful resources and food for thought as we journey along this path called relocation, whilst focusing on you Mental Health & Wellbeing.
How to leave well Amidst Relocation
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go”. Dr. Seuss
I thought it appropriate following on from the Relocation Webinar that I provide further insight into the acronym RAFT – (original version comes from David Pollock & Ruth Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids 3rd edition: Growing Up Among Worlds, adapted from Lauren Wells in her book – Raising up a generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids, 2020).
Such an acronym was developed as a guide for LEAVING WELL. Although there are so many aspects that one needs to consider when LEAVING, below are just a few pointers in intentionally trying to leave well.
- If at all possible, try and make amends with anyone you may have hurt or been hurt by before moving. If you know you have tried from your side to make amends or apologise, then it is a process of “letting go” and making amends with the situation and know that you have tried your best.
- Honouring relationships and saying intentional goodbyes. Tell the people you love, you love them. As an individual or a family, get your children to perhaps write thank-you cards or draw pictures for those who mean a lot to you.
- Make a list of all the people you want to say “Thank-you” or “I Love You” and include your children in writing up this list together.
- Provide a special gift for those you are leaving.
- Have a conversation around how you will intentionally keep in touch.
- Say goodbye not only to people but places too. This is especially important for children as it is rather critical to the grieving process that children know it is the “final” playdate, trip to a certain park or beach, or last sleep in their bed, etc. A fun idea is giving your child a disposable camera, print these and take it all with you.
- Take your time in saying goodbye to each room in your home. Perhaps allow each family member to say some good things about each room.
- Taking mementos for yourself and others which remind you of the place you are leaving.
- Future-focused, thus focuses on where you headed. Read and educate yourself on your new destination.
- This can be done in various ways depending on your children’s age. If they old enough let them google and YouTube places of interest in the country which you moving too. This is not an exercise of comparison but rather an exercise of learning and educating oneself on what new things you will experience.
- Another great creative idea is to make a collage about all the fun facts and interesting places to visit in your destination country.
I hope these pointers come in handy during your journey of LEAVING WELL.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose”. Dr. Seuss.
Although the process of LEAVING WELL is difficult for us all, regardless of age, moving with teenagers or as a teenager has even further challenges given this season in a child’s life. I would like to just reiterate that leaving never ceases to be one of the most difficult aspects of a child’s or even adult’s life. So many emotions are experienced, in anticipation of the transition ahead. More often than not this season is often the first critical “touch point” in which children (of any age) need proactive preventative care.
Therefore, on this note, I want to add some useful “food for thought” in HOW TO LEAVE WELL with TEENAGERS.
As it is for all ages, one of the most significant factors to making the transition as healthy and smooth as possible is being intentional about LEAVING WELL. Teens will vividly remember the leaving process, therefore leaving in a healthy way is vital.
Teens are not only undergoing the emotional process of leaving what they know, but they are also undergoing significant physical, physiological, emotional, intellectual, spiritual changes.
Here are some additional points to consider (adapted from Lauren Wells in her book – Raising up a generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids, 2020), when relocating with teens or as a teen yourself:
Say good-bye well
Help your teenagers say good-bye well using the RAFT acronym.
Make it a family conversation
If possible, talk with your teenagers about the decision to move overseas, ask for their input and listen to their input. While you, the parents make the final decision, it is important to let your teenagers know that you respect their opinions.
Do no blame hormones
Do not just blame hormones as a culprit for added moodiness and negative emotions. Although the fluctuating hormones may accentuate the grief of leaving, they do not make the grief any less real. Teenagers are experiencing an extreme loss during relocation. A recommended book for teens with simple ideas for understanding and expressing grief is Healing your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas, by Alan D. Wolfelt. Although this book deals with the grief experienced in losing a loved one, it can also be applied to the loss from moving.
Take your child seriously
Just as you should not downplay their emotions and blame hormones, it is important to take your child seriously when they express points of grief to you. To an adult, missing a matric dance may seem so irrelevant, however to your teen, it may be the most relevant thing for them at that point.
Provide options for good-byes
Encourage your teens to think of ways to say good-bye to their friends and help them to make it happen.
I hope some of these pointers come in handy during your process of LEAVING WELL! Please continue to journey with me as I provide some useful resources and food for thought as we continue to embrace the path of relocation.
A book I have recently read – The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a time of Pandemic and Change, by Dr Pauline Boss, has really got me thinking as to how this could possibly relate to the losses we encounter with immigration. At first, we often refer to experiencing grief and loss after a death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job etc. However, it didn’t fully dawn on me until I started researching this concept of Ambiguous Loss in a little more detail. As perused in Dr Boss’s book, immigration can constitute a type of Ambiguous Loss. Ambiguous Losses are ubiquitous but rarely acknowledged because they are so difficult to see, even for us experiencing it. All too often we hope and wait for things to get back to normal, and for the loss to be recovered – but they don’t.
As recorded by Dr Pauline Boss, there are two types of ambiguous loss: Physical and Psychological Loss.
Physical Loss, is the loss of someone however there was no proof of death, no body to bury, or not having been able to attend a funeral due to the pandemic or other reasons, and engage in usual funeral rituals. Other examples also include separations, breakups, divorce, migration, and immigration, as well as ‘ghosting’ – meaning that someone suddenly cuts you off, vanishes from your life and ceases all forms of communication.
Psychological Loss, is where the person is present but absent psychologically, in other words here in body but gone in mind. This is something we seeing all too often in society, for example preoccupations with social media, gaming, constantly checking your phone, working too much and where a loved one may be diagnosed with a serious mental illness or has dementia or a traumatic brain injury etc.
As such, and with specific reference to immigration, the LOSS of what was, will always be there and no specific event or thing or person will bring you to a point of closure. To add relocation/ emigration is a type of anticipatory loss, a loss in which you have taken action steps in making it happen, however what proactive plans have you made to better mitigate the feelings of such loss, not only for yourself, but your family too? Having emigrated myself, there are so many losses which you don’t even realise you have lost until you are in your new found land. For example, the loss of familiarity, the loss of family and friends (in a physical sense), the loss of retirement savings, the loss of status, identity etc., and the list goes on.
Therefore, how do you plan on building your resilience, given that resilience is our HOPE in face of ambiguous loss, as described by Dr Pauline Boss.
Although what I have shared is just the tip of an iceberg per se, regarding Loss in Relocation, I would like to encourage you to reach out and obtain support through this very significant change in your life.
Need help with the Emotional Challenges of Relocation?
Please continue to journey with me as I provide some useful resources and food for thought as we continue to embrace the path of relocation. Should you want to just chat and obtain some further insight into the emotional challenges of relocation, then please drop me a message at [email protected]