As a military spouse, I have moved
a handful of times with and without kids.
In the last year and a half alone, we have relocated three different times… with kids.
It is not always easy and sometimes it doesn’t go as smoothly as we’d like, but it is possible to do while maintaining a tiny bit of your sanity.
I know you might be thinking that moving across the country or to a new neighborhood can seem stressful and make you crazy, but it really doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to make moving with your kids stress-free and a fun family memory for you. I promise! What I share won’t take a lot of time to do and anyone can use these tips to help them have a calm move.
Here are 7 things that have helped us when we’ve had to move with kids:
1) Lists Are Your Friend. Maybe I’m just a “list person” but lists keep me sane and organized. Even if you don’t consider yourself to particularly rely on lists in your daily life, moving with children in tow may just be the perfect time to start!
Set aside a notebook, folder, or even a binder for your moving prep. In it, you can keep your lists, paperwork, important documents, and anything else you may need in one spot.
Lists help me sort out the overwhelm and break things down into what I have to do right now, what can wait, or what I will have to do in the future. I make lists for each car if we’re driving, the plane if we’re flying, snack lists, packing lists for each person or pet, and to-do lists. Things to grab or do the morning of is another helpful one!
Repeat after me: “To combat extra frazzled moving-mom-brain, lists are your friend.”
2) Join Facebook Groups Before Getting to the Area. Yes, Facebook groups can be a lot, but using it as a research tool when you’re moving is one of the most beneficial things I’ve learned after relocating with the military so many times.
There is basically a Facebook group for everything these days, but some of the more beneficial ones I’ve joined were local town or mom groups. These are awesome for anything from pediatrician recommendations to which park is in the safest area or places to avoid for various reasons. Many areas have stroller and fitness groups or organize community playdates and other activities. I’ve also met some of my best mom friends because of these groups!
3) Even Though You Can’t Prepare for Everything… Try to Prepare for Everything. If you’re driving long distances, don’t forget to have some sort of “car sick” or cleanup bag – Lysol wipes, a roll of paper towels, and plenty of grocery bags.
If your baby relies on a sound machine to sleep, be sure to have a battery backup, plus some extra batteries. Extra clothes for everyone. Lots of sanitizer for hotels and gas station potty breaks, and more diapers than you could ever need.
On an eight or fifteen-hour trip where anything can happen, it doesn’t hurt to plan for anything that can happen! Or at least try to. We also invested in the Velcro pockets that hang on the back of the front seats. They are perfect for sticking spare diapers, wipes, a change of clothing, a burp cloth/rag, small toys or teethers, and anything else you may or may not need!
4) The Magic Hotel/First Night Bag. This will help eliminate shuffling through your trunk and other bags when you’re exhausted after driving. We’ve driven for 12, 16, and even 18 hours while moving across a few states. With two littles, two cars, and pets, it made sense to stop for the night and break up the drive into two days. This was overwhelming because it added another challenge with kiddos: a hotel stay.
I don’t know about your kids, but mine require certain things when they sleep, whether it’s in a house or hotel — a sound machine, sleep sack, overnight pull-ups, etc. Rather than tearing through each person’s individual bag in the hotel parking lot at 7 p.m. or lugging multiple bags into the hotel for just one night, we pack one bag with everything.
We use zipper packing cubes for each person, and inside each cube, we have a pair of pajamas (and often a spare), a change or two of clothing, socks, toothbrushes, etc. Anything that person needs for one night.
This concept can also be applied to a First Night Bag if you’re not stopping at a hotel! Anything anyone will need to initially survive and be somewhat comfortable the first night at your new home. With the first night bag or box at your house, you could also include things like toilet paper, a flashlight, and a first aid kit.
5) Special Toys and New Toys. We are not an “excessive-toy” family and tend to lean more toward minimalism, but this is where I have a bit of grace. In the long run, it saves my sanity and, while moving, that is so very important.
When driving long distances, we usually grab a few new toys. Sometimes it’s simple things like a small fidget-type toy or activity, sometimes it’s a few cheap toys for the baby from the dollar store that I can toss back while driving when he starts freaking out. On our last move, we got our almost-four-year-old a play toolset so she could “help” my husband put our furniture together at our new home. It’s one of my favorite memories, seeing them sitting on the floor together with all the parts. My husband read the instructions while she sat patiently until he would ask her to use her plastic hammer while wearing her pretend safety goggles.
While on the topic of toys, think carefully about what you’re giving them in the car. Stickers are okay for a four-year-old, but I wouldn’t want to peel them off my car windows from my two-year-old. For littles, use pacifier clips for smaller teethers so they don’t throw them two minutes into the trip. Does it make a mess? Is it safe? Can they swallow, break it (so it becomes sharp), or otherwise hurt themselves with it?
Obviously, we cannot control everything that happens, but I’m going to opt to give my kid Water Wow pens instead of real markers on a twelve-hour road trip. Even if they’re washable. For most, this is probably a bit of a “pick your battles” scenario.
6) Make the Kids Feel Comfortable as Soon as Possible. When we moved into our last house, my husband went to my daughter’s room and told her to stand in her doorway. He then talked loudly down the hall to show her we could easily hear her if she needed anything from her room (especially at night).
Since our things were on a moving truck and didn’t come until the following week or so, we made sure to have our kids’ special sheets/bedding with us in the car. The very first thing we did was set up their bed/space. Even though they were on air mattresses and makeshift bedding the first night, we wanted it to be as familiar and comfortable as possible for them to help with the adjustment.
We treated our oldest like one of the adults, showing her around the house and letting her know where things would be going, making as many connections from our last house as possible.
7) Snacks, Screens, and a Whole Lot of Grace. While we try to limit screens normally, we have a lot of grace during traveling and getting into a new residence. Sometimes the kids need to be out of the way while I’m unpacking breakables or when there are a lot of people in and out of the house. One of my best sanity-saving tips is giving my daughter movie time while I listen to my own podcast upfront while driving, and the youngest naps. Be intentional when possible. Plan your screens and use them as a tool and don’t show your cards right away. Save screens for when you need them!
Rather than a screen for littles, we usually get a new brightly colored music or light-up toy. Super annoying, but does the job of keeping their attention.
Snacks and more snacks while driving, of course. New or special snacks are great too. For older kiddos, the big lollipops that last forever are a special reward.
Overall, moving is stressful for both parents and kids. Try to do things that make it special and memorable, but also give yourself and your kids tons of flexibility and forgiveness. The transition phase isn’t forever and you’ll find your groove soon enough!
Kailyn is a wife and mama to two wild, blond babes, currently living where the military sends us. With an Early Childhood Education and Psychology degree, she is a Kindergarten teacher-turned-mama turned-freelance writer.