Saying Goodbye: How To Deal With The Ups And Downs Of Moving

Molly GraceSeptember 05, 2019

So far in my life, I’ve lived in eight different houses and four different states, and I’ve been the new kid at school a handful of times. I’ve said goodbye to lots of good friends, but I’ve also made countless new ones.

Moving is hard, especially when things like moving costs, children and new jobs are involved. Uprooting your life and starting over in a new place while all of the people you love in your old town get to go on living the life you’re so used to – it’s hard not to feel like you’ve shut and locked the door on a very important part of who you are as a person.

However, moving can also open up a lot of great, new opportunities for families. It can introduce you to new people and new perspectives. It can get you closer to a better job or into a safer neighborhood. When you’re going through such a big change, though, it can just feel like you’re leaving behind everything and everyone you love for a scary and uncertain future.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the sometimes frightening and sometimes exciting process of moving and all the emotions that come with it.

Why Is Moving So Hard?

Humans are social creatures, and sentimental ones too. We get attached easily not just to people but also to communities, homes, towns and even routines.

When you move away, you aren’t just saying goodbye to friends. You’re also leaving the place you call home. Both of these factors are part of what makes moving so emotional, said Heidi McBain, licensed therapist and author of the book “Major Life Changes: Stories of Motherhood, Hope and Healing.”

“Moving takes away some of your stability as well as the normalcy of your everyday life,” McBain said.

When you move to a new place, everything you’ve become used to over the years is suddenly ripped away from you. Not only are your friends farther away, making it more difficult to visit them, but your usual routines are gone too. You can’t stop at your favorite local coffee shop or go to the grocery store you know and like. And when all this feels overwhelming and you just want to go home, you can’t because the house you live in doesn’t quite feel like home just yet.

Eventually, you’ll find a new place for good coffee, and you might even end up liking your new town’s grocery store more than your old one. You’ll make new friends, keep in touch with your old ones and soon enough your new house will become a source of great comfort for you.

But in the meantime, you’re probably going to feel sad. You might even feel grief for the life you had. That’s normal.

The Stages Of Grief

Brandi Lewis, Owner and Executive Director of Reach Counseling Solutions, PLLC in Charlotte, N.C., has found that the emotions many people experience when moving isn’t just run-of-the-mill sadness, but actual grief.

“The grief in this situation is the grief of leaving a place called home, friends, a job or career and a general sense of the life a person has made for themselves. With the grieving cycle, it can spark anxiety and depression. Anxiety may come along with experiencing something new for some people, and depression may come along with the loss of familiarity,” Lewis said.

She also said that the bad feelings that come with moving can have long-lasting effects on a relationship.

“Another emotion that I've seen is resentment. Sometimes families move because of one person's career or better housing opportunities. Resentment may look like asking questions like ‘Why do we have to leave?’ or statements like, ‘This is all your fault.’ Resentment can lead to anger and put distance in a relationship,” she said.

Becky Beach, who runs the blog Mom Beach, experienced feelings of homesickness, loss, loneliness and anger when her family moved from Florida to Texas last year.

“I didn't want to leave Jacksonville, to be honest. It was an awesome city! The loneliness mostly came from leaving all of my friends behind me. My 3 year old missed his friends from daycare so he would cry at night,” Beach said.

How To Cope

Keep the lines of communication open within your household, Lewis said.

“Specifically talk about how the move is affecting each person and address the positive aspects of the move as opposed to the things that you may be leaving or missing out on,” she added.

Don’t feel like you need to put on a face of unflinching optimism about the move if that’s not how you really feel, but reminding yourself of the positives can keep you from feeling like it’s the end of the world.

Are you moving for a better job or to an area with more opportunities for you or your family? These are things you can get excited about or feel grateful for.

If you’re struggling to find things to feel happy about, do some research about your new town and find some fun events or spots to check out when you get there. Maybe your new town has more trails for hiking or a better selection of restaurants. Look for activities that fit your interests that you can at least somewhat look forward to.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“Find the people in your life who can emotionally support you during this hard time. Consider going to therapy before, during or after your move to help you process how you’re feeling about all the changes in your life,” McBain said.

Once you’ve moved into your new place, meeting new people can help fend off feelings of loneliness in your new place.

“I coped with feelings of sadness and loneliness by joining Meetup groups in my area that had other moms in them. This way I was able to meet new friends quickly, so I didn't feel so isolated anymore,” Beach said.

Putting Down New Roots

With your old community in a different town, state or even a different country, you’ve got to put some effort into creating a new one in this new place.

The idea of making new friends can seem daunting, especially if you’re not ready to stop talking about how much you miss your old ones. Give yourself permission to take some time to mourn your “old life” and recognize that becoming established in a new community doesn’t mean you have to give up on your love for your old one.

As you get used to your new home, start to look for opportunities to get out and potentially meet new people.

Alison Bernstein, Founder and President of the real estate and lifestyle advisory firm Suburban Jungle, has a few tips for how the new kid (or grown-up) on the block can get out and make friends:

  • Take a class: “Whether it’s an exercise class, art class or perhaps something at your local library you are bound to meet people – and people with similar passions. Going to the same classes consistently can be like joining a squad.”
  • Make a (furry) friend: “A dog is not only an incredible addition to the family, it is a great tool for integrating into a community. And dog parks are everywhere. Dogs are like children; you can meet so many people at various dog parks and set up dog playdates.”
  • Get involved: “Investigate your local volunteer opportunities and get started. Each town has a multiplicity of them! Whether it is working at the town library, the local food bank or your kids’ schools, it not only feels good but you are guaranteed to meet some like-minded folks.”
  • Help your kids make friends: “Try a few activities and classes in town where your children will meet kids of similar ages.”
  • Go online: “Join your new town’s Facebook moms’ page. It will be a great way to immediately join the conversation and learn about events or activities that may be of interest to you and your whole family.”

Be patient with yourself, and don’t worry if you have trouble making friends right away – there’s no deadline. Focus on getting your house unpacked and learning your way around your new town or city.

Staying In Touch

Not too long ago, if you were a kid who had just moved and wanted to talk to your friend from your old neighborhood, you had to hope your parents would let you make a short but pricey long-distance phone call. Before that, becoming pen pals was your best bet for staying in touch. And long before that, during the time of the pioneers, families who were leaving their hometowns for the west would say goodbye to close relatives with the knowledge that they might not ever see them again.

These days, however, goodbyes are rarely permanent.

For me, this was always the most comforting thing to remember. In today’s world, you never truly leave your old friends behind when you move away. With texting, video chatting, social media and the ease and relative affordability of modern travel, your friends are rarely too far away.

Make time for regular video calls with your best friend. If you get some time off work, plan a road trip to visit all your pals in your hometown. Stay involved with your friend group’s chat and keep everyone up to date on the ups and downs of life in your new home.

When you first move, leaning on the social support systems you already have can make a stressful experience so much easier. And even as you become more acclimated to the area and make some new friends, staying in regular contact with your old friends can still be deeply rewarding. You’re fostering a lifelong friendship that can withstand the test of time and geography.

Moving With Kids

For how hard moving is on adults, it can be even harder on the kids they take along with them. In fact, moving during childhood can increase a person’s likelihood of developing a mental illness or having other negative outcomes.

To lessen the pain of moving as much as possible, make sure you’re there for your child and let them know that you’re always available if they want to talk about the move.

“Check in with them and give them an opportunity to talk about how they are feeling: the good, bad and ugly,” McBain said.

Don’t pressure them to feel a certain way about moving if they feel sad, scared or just aren’t sure what to feel. Lewis said it’s important to respect your child’s thought process when it comes to moving.

Lewis also recommended giving your kid an opportunity to visit all the people and things they love in their current town before they have to leave.

“Allow them time to say goodbye to friends or visit a place that they may frequently go in their current home. The same is true for adults: Allow yourself time to grieve and enjoy things you like while you are in your home before you go,” Lewis said.

Though Beach’s son struggled with the move at first, she found ways to help him cope by helping him stay connected to his old friends.

“Luckily, he made new friends at his new daycare, but he constantly talked about his old friends. I helped him deal with the process of moving by letting him keep in contact with his old friends. I had a few of their parents’ numbers so he was able to video chat with them on the phone. Modern technology like this is instrumental in helping someone keep in contact with friends after a move to avoid loneliness,” Beach said.

Though younger children can certainly feel negative emotions during a move, it’s especially important to make sure your early adolescents (ages 12 – 14) have the support they need, as moving can be hardest on that age range.

While you help your child work through these complicated emotions, remember to be easy on yourself as well.

“Take care of yourself and your own feelings and emotions about the move so that you can be in a good, healthy state to help your kids get through it too,” McBain said.

Moving Forward, Not On

Would I have been better off not moving around so frequently throughout my childhood? Probably, according to some studies and mental health experts. But I don’t think it’s so clear-cut, and I think that people who are facing a big move have a lot to be excited about.

Moving has taught me that nothing is permanent, to not take things for granted and to always cherish a friend who’s willing to take some time out of their day talk to you on the phone or hit the road for an hours-long trip just to see you.

Moving is hard, stressful and scary. But it also comes with new opportunities and the chance to meet new people who could end up changing your life forever.

You shouldn’t feel like you’re being ungrateful or a downer if you aren’t excited about a move, but you also shouldn’t feel like it’s the proverbial nail in the coffin for you either. There’s plenty to look forward to including getting settled in your new house, discovering a great restaurant in your new locale’s lively downtown area or even just inviting your old crew up for a visit at your new place so you can show them around town and let them see what your new life is like.

Though it might feel like you’ve reached the end of the book, you’re only just turning to a new chapter. You’re still you, just in a different place.

Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.