Sharing the news

Now that we had made the decision to move, we wanted
to share it with our family and friends –but first, we wanted to tell the children.
This is a big change in their stable little lives and we believe that they need
to be part of it from the very beginning. They are going to need time to
process the news and how they feel about the move and what it means for them. Also,
on a practical matter, we needed to move fast with respect to
finding schools for them in Zurich and for that, they need to be “in the loop.”
 I was nervous about how they would react. I worried
about our eldest, who just went through a relatively challenging adjustment this
fall, when he started Gymnasium (the equivalent of Middle School). Although
Gymnasium is a big change for most kids – compared to primary school – it was
even more challenging for him, since he is significantly younger than the others.
It took him some time to feel comfortable in his new “situation.” Now we are
asking him to do it all over again. Also, only a couple of days before, he had he
said goodbye to his best friend, who was moving away from Vienna with his
family – another reason why our timing was not great. I wish we could have
waited with the news, but we did not have that luxury.

Our daughter is younger and more easygoing in
general. She’s extremely popular in her class and has no trouble making
friends. However, even for her it will be hard to leave all her friends and start
over. I’m not even mentioning our youngest son, as he is the only one who will
be cool about this move and won’t even remember his first year-and-half in Vienna.

On a school-free day, we sat down with the children in
their room and told them enthusiastically: “We have news! Daddy just got a new
job and this job is in Zurich, so we have to move there.” I was looking at them
while we were talking, trying to detect the first signs – facial expressions,
body language – that would indicate how they felt about this. Our oldest son
bent his head and looked away. He was doing this thing where he squeezes his
lips together to stop himself from bursting into tears. I tried to put myself
in his position and imagine how I would feel if someone announced to me a (relatively)
life-changing decision over which I had no control. Not great.

Our girl had a different reaction – she was almost
excited about the move: “Can we find a house with a garden?,” “Can we find a
place to live next to our friends? (my best childhood friend lives in Zurich
with his family),” “Can we…?” Although I know this initial reaction may change
soon, I have a feeling that with her extrovertness, energy and natural charm, she
will be fine. She is the politician in our
family.

Still, this is a big thing for both of them. Vienna
is the only place they have called home. As sad and guilty as I feel for
uprooting them, taking them away from their familiar environment and friends, in
a way I am also grateful that they can embark on this adventure; that they get
a taste of living in a different environment and another culture; that they
don’t become “culturally lazy.” It will be an eye-opener for them to learn to
cope with different people, attitudes and mentalities.

It was an absolute priority for us to involve the
children (at least the older ones) in all phases of the move. They are old
enough to understand why we are doing this and to be part of the decision-making, in
the matters that concern them. The more involved they are in the process of the
move, the more likely they are to “own” it and the higher the chances that adjustment
will be smoother. That said, there is a delicate balance to be struck between keeping
them informed and involved in major choices and making sure it is clear to them
that, ultimately, we as parents are the ones making the final decisions. There
is a lot of potential for tension and conflict if those terms are not well-defined.

What is most important right now is to make sure that
this move “works” for our children. Are there things I can do now to make sure
that happens? And how important is it to involve children in the process of an
international move? I look forward to your comments.

Have a productive week!

7 Comments

  1. Culturaly lazy? Are you kiding me? Your children are growing up between two cultures and three languages. They have been lucky to follow a school system, in our little Vienna, that made them deal with children from many different countries and continents, races,cultural backgrounds, religions and classes.Compare that with your incredible openmindnes as parents and you have Philip and Alexia who are already more culturaly aware than most people in this country! Keeping in mind that you are actually moving to Zürich and not to Africa do you really thing that this is a good argument for the move? (Or just a little something to sedate your guild?). Please don't take this personaly. It's just food for thought.

  2. Katia, I'm with you on this "culturally lazy" bit. Seeing as we just moved from NYC – an arguably very diverse, "culturally aware" city and circumstances, I feel the same. It may be a question of semantics, but I respect your effort to help your children really live, engage, learn something new, grow – no matter where they came from, where they're going and as hard as that sometimes may be to do. Is this a way to sedate our guilt? Maybe. Maybe not. Who's to know? I find only the most courageous people admit the many, many decisions made that are laced with fear, doubt. That doesn't change the important fact that the intent is good and commitment real. I don't know if it will ever be fully clear whether or not what you currently believe (about the move and its impact) will ultimately prove to be true. But it doesn't matter. I believe it is your intent and commitment to create an environment in which your family will thrive that will make this journey exciting, and ultimately, worthwhile.

  3. Anonymous

    I actually do agree with Stam about Zurich not being culturally that different from Vienna and you and Veit being also somehow international (;-), but of curse it's a big move, I moved myself from Vienna to Helsinki when I was 11 (and it was the second time I moved)and I can tell you that it was a minor shock to me than to my mother. (who had also informed me about our having to move to Finland in a very direct manner…like you did…poor kids! shame on you! 😉 I'kidding. And you know that. It will be fine, give the kids time and tranquillity to digest the news, to be angry to you, to feel disappointed…to elaborate it all. You'll pack together, look together for schools, a house…and internet gives you a big insight into all of these things…they'll be fine.
    I'd say the only risk is danger of you all (especially Veit) becoming an even worse chocaholic!
    Ciao, Aglaia

  4. …oh the garden, there has got to be a garden!! Bless her! – How I recognise that, it was most important criteria with my girls when we were discussing our possible move back to England!
    And I agree with all of the above, they will be fine, as will you.Its a new experience, enjoy!
    Thoroughly enjoying your posts though, so feel free to continue feeling guilty and nervous 😉 x

    1. Yes, a garden…How do you reconcile garden-ing with living in the proximity of civilization (i.e. at least Starbucks) so that one does not go crazy as a (partly) single mom of three? Something to explore in one of my next posts!
      Keep reading 🙂

  5. Dear moving mothers, you don't need to defend yourselves for doing so. People move for whatever reasons and their children must follow and that's life. Sometimes the move involves big cultural leaps, sometimes not. Some children adjust quickly and some need more time. Its move involves all sorts of challenges and dynamics depending on the difference of environment that it requires , on the personalities of the individuals in each family and their relationship with each other. My objection was only against the cultural laziness issue that Katia brought up. I don't think that a move from Vienna to Zürich involves a cultural leap. Of course there are differences but these are mostly of the kind that the grown-ups in the family will have to deal with. Not to mention that a private Swiss school will provide most likely less cultural diversity(rich kids from western countries) to the one they are getting now at their present school. All in all I don't thing that there will be a significant improvement in their already high level of cultural awareness. Plus, with Katia and Veit as parents I don't thing these kids stand a chance of becoming culturaly lazy, even if they wanted to…

  6. I’m glad to see that this has sparked a discussion. I’ll try to add my two cents.

    First, referring to Stam’s first comment, the cultural awareness from which I believe my children will benefit is not meant to be an argument in favour of moving, neither is it meant to make me feel less guilty. Having gone through the pros and cons of the move in my mind, I saw this as one of the pros. There are obviously many more arguments on either side, but we decided to “go for it” because we believe that the pros outweigh the cons.

    Anonymous (and Stam): it’s not just about cultural diversity – although Switzerland and Austria are quite different, just maybe not as much as Austria and Japan are :). My children do indeed get plenty of diversity here in Vienna, so maybe cultural laziness is not the right term. What I am referring to is my desire for them to see new things and become curious; to accept change and learn to adapt and adjust; to get used to appreciate the opportunities and deal with the challenges that come with that change. All that builds character – though that alone is not a sufficient argument for moving.

    Anonymous, I like what you say about giving kids time to digest, to work through their emotions and also to be angry at us. Also, I absolutely agree with Stam that how smooth or challenging the adjustment is for each child depends on a variety of factors, including environment, personality and relationships. To these factors I would add pmkennedy9999’s reference to the importance of our own intent and commitment (to a decision, a move), which is critical, not only in terms of helping our children along the way of adjustment, but also in terms of strengthening their confidence and providing them with a role model.

    Finally, yes, I think guilt is a familiar feeling – for mothers in general, not just the ones moving. I am embracing it wholeheartedly. And when all else fails, I’m counting on having lots of amazingly good chocolate around.

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