The packing process begins as you plan to uproot and move to a new country. This is often the first time that the idea of leaving “home” and moving to a new country becomes a tangible reality for children. As parents, you have been planning for months and have likely had many “reality checks,” but your children may have not had the same experiences. Packing up their bedroom makes the reality of what is about to happen significantly more concrete. During this process, and a repeat of it during any subsequent moves, you may find that your children are suddenly incredibly sentimental and the toys that they haven’t played with in years, stuffed animals they haven’t touched since birth, and craft supplies they haven’t been interested in for months become their most prized possessions that they can’t possibly move to another country without. This can be frustrating for you, as you are trying to strategically pack six 50lb bags filled with everything that you need to start a life in a new country. It can be equally as frustrating for your child who is suddenly realizing that life is about to change drastically, and the toys, animals, and craft supplies in his/her room seem to be the only that he or she might be able to hold onto.
As I packed my room at 13 years old to move to Africa, everything became sentimental. I distinctly remember sitting on my bedroom floor in California, crying about having to throw away a tardy slip that I had been given for being late to my 6th grade science class. I begged my parents to let me keep it. I wouldn’t have been able to explain it then, but having to throw away that pink tardy slip was a physical representation of leaving that life, that school, to start over in a new place worlds away. It wasn’t “just trash”. My gracious parents realized this and held me as I cried; letting the reality sink in that I would never again receive another pink tardy slip from my Jr. High School.
During furlough my Sophomore year in high school, we went on a day trip to IKEA. On our way out, my mom spotted a string of battery-operated lights shaped like stars and bought them for me (which was pretty a-typical for her, and thus has always been a favorite memory of mine). Those star lights hung in my room in California, my room in two different cities in Tanzania, my college dorm room, and my first apartment. That silly string of lights signified “home” for me for years and created a sense of comfort during many moves and many hard nights all over the globe. They officially died after I married my husband and I simultaneously didn’t feel the need for them any longer.
As you’re packing your kid’s things, remember that it’s not “just stuff”. While they may not be able to take everything with them that they would like to, take the time to let them grieve over what they are loosing. The tears may not actually be about the tardy slip or the pillow case, but those are just tangible reminders of the bigger, deeper losses that are on the horizon. Let them keep something that signifies “home” for them or create something new, like star lights or a stuffed animal. While packing can be something that your productive-self just wants to “get done”, it is a significant part of the grieving process for most children and patience and understanding on your part can make a huge difference in how well that process is played out. It’s not “just stuff”.