I was 18 when I made my first “big move”. That was to a university dorm. Since then, there’s been to New York, and then London with my husband to settle in his country. Another significant shift was to the wonderful world of parenting, which has been a little different because work took my partner to East Africa for chunks of time while I was in London, effectively solo parenting. I didn’t imagine there would be another big move on the cards, but here we are, all moved to Uganda. Even with a dog in tow.
When we decided we were making the move, I knew it had to be as stress-free and as positive an experience as possible for our little one. It’s important to make the transition smooth. So, here are some of my practical tips to help make your own ‘big move’ with a toddler a success.
Travel with your kids when they are very young
Even if you don’t think a big move is in your future, it’s a good idea to familiarise your little one with long journeys. Start with easy, short trips – by car or on a bus or a train – and build up to longer journeys. You do not want your child’s first travel experience to be a long-haul flight.
The more used to travelling your child is, the less stressed you will be about that parent with that kid. While I understand the fear that you are going to “disrupt” others around you on a flight, early introductions to different environments really set up your child to feel comfortable with travel and changing settings. And by building up your travel experiences, it’s easier to teach the child to treat others with respect and to be considerate of other travellers.
Talk to your little one about the big move
Leading up to our big move from London to Uganda, we talked lots and lots about it, especially why we were doing the move and what to expect. Adiya had already been to Uganda a couple of times, so she was already pretty comfortable with the environment. We looked at all the photos we had taken on previous trips, and we talked about how we would be back at her favourite play area and that family members would be coming there to visit. Pictures were really helpful; they made it easier to say goodbye to London and hello to Uganda. So even if you haven’t been to your new location, get pictures of what to expect to experience. Google Street View can even allow you to “stroll” around your new neighbourhood.
Kids call the shots
Adiya was 2.5 years old for our big move. She was very much a part of the packing process, and I encouraged her to use her words or express what she wanted to keep and what went into storage. It truly is about empowering your child and making them feel as much a part of the process as possible. She had a major attachment to certain toys and books, and even her legion of animals that sleep with her at bedtime. I let her know what suitcase they were going in and that they would be there when we landed in Uganda. She knew exactly what suitcase her toys were in and was delighted to welcome them when we arrived.
Don’t hide the clear out
The clear out that is inevitable when moving can actually be therapeutic. I highly advise you to not hide what you are donating to charities, giving to friends/family or simply taking to the rubbish bin. My daughter watched it all and I explained it all. I even asked her what she really didn’t like anymore so we could give that to another friend that would really love it. She was delighted to make that pile. A family that was expecting their third baby girl visited us one day and my daughter offered toys to the expecting mother’s baby bump. It was incredibly cute, and my daughter was very pleased.
New home ready
My husband was in Uganda during the packing up process and clearing out of our London flat. This meant that we could do lots of FaceTiming to show our daughter what her new room would be like. She helped with picking out her wall stickers and her bed, and she was most excited about her table/chairs for her ‘painting station’ – there was delighted squealing. She was very present and aware of what was going on and it was good for us to feel her excitement and have her be a part of it all.
Travel day ready
I had a calendar with Travel Day marked on it. We packed one bag plus laid out her travel day outfit a few days before so there were no surprises. My daughter’s travel bag always includes washable crayons, drawing paper and the real lifesaver: stickers. We always travel with these easy-to-remove puffy stickers (found on Amazon) as she puts them all over the aeroplane seat and they are easy to peel off and place back on the cards. It fills up so much travel time on the flight as if she puts up 100 stickers, she then has to remove them all. It’s a fab game and keeps for calm engagement on the flight.
Overall, the constant dialogue was key and, to be fair, I think it was also helping me along the way. My entire adult life was city life. I found moving easy to navigate pre-Mom but this move to Africa put that move in the shade, and the constant dialogue was important for everyone involved to level out emotions and to make good decisions as a family unit. It all turned out to be a positive experience, but it could have gone completely the other way if it hadn’t been for a thorough game plan and approaching this positively.
I can only speak of my own experience as a mother to a toddler. I imagine having an older child has greater layers of complexity involving friendship groups, school sports and even first loves which create a deeper element that I have yet to experience. What I do know and will always hold close to my heart is that whatever I project will bounce onto my daughter, so I have tried my best to stay positive and communicate properly with her. I wanted her to thrive in the moving process and to make her transition to Uganda as smooth as possible. She was enrolled in a couple of classes within the first week of arriving and she was busy making new friends and, more importantly, new memories.
Ashley Verma is a mum, and founder of the Bizzimumzi podcast and Define London fitness studio. She is a former Broadway performer and celebrity trainer.