Plan ahead - Don't let these expenses catch you offguard
Plan ahead - Don't let these expenses catch you offguard

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The trailing family

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You’ve accepted a new job, one that requires relocating. You were wined, dined, and signed, and before you knew it, you were immersed in a new practice. Meanwhile, your spouse or partner has been tending to the details of moving and is now immersed in unpacking, putting the house in order, getting the family settled, connecting to the new community, and possibly starting a new job of his or her own. It can all be a bit much. Moving is stressful and if isn’t handled with careful thought, attention to detail, and a sense of perspective, it can take a toll on the entire family. Whether you’re relocating across town or across the country, there are issues to consider and steps to take that can make the move easier on everyone.

Relocation is a family decision

When you were single—footloose and fancy-free, as they say—the decision to relocate and how to go about it was easy. Do you want to go or not? Rent a truck or hire a moving company? Start socializing the moment you unpack, or get settled in first? When you have a family to consider, it’s an entirely different ballgame. Moving is a family decision.

David Miller, M.D.
David Miller, MD, along with his wife, Inge, and their two small daughters moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Santa Monica, California in 2006 for David to complete a urologic oncology fellowship at UCLA.

David Miller, MD, along with his wife, Inge, and their two small daughters moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Santa Monica, California in 2006 for David to complete a urologic oncology fellowship at UCLA. David experienced what he calls ” a twinge of guilt” about extending his training after a six-year residency and moving his young family across the country. Recognizing the challenges associated with being in a new community and away from familiar support systems, David says he’s doing everything he can to make these two years work—for him professionally and for his family. “I’m busy at work and then when I’m home I’m focused on Inge and the kids,” says David. “My wife has been extraordinarily supportive and I’ve redoubled my commitment to the family, which has been great.”

Asked what advice he might offer other young couples about to make a move, David doesn’t hesitate. “Before you make the decision, think clearly about the implications for both you and your spouse. Explore whether there are substantial reservations on your spouse’s part,” he says. “Choose your next step so you’ll be personally comfortable and where your family will be happy. It’s difficult to achieve professional success if things aren’t happy at home,” says David.

Orthopedic surgeon Chris Hanosh, MD, of Durango, Colorado, has a similar philosophy. He and his wife, DeAnna, and their young daughter moved to Durango from Silver City, New Mexico in 2005. “The stay-at-home person needs to be happy,” he says. “I could do my job anywhere, but DeAnna and Abigail need to be happy in the community.” DeAnna chimes in with the flip side of her husband’s point. “If we loved the community but he hated his job, that wouldn’t work either,” she says.

Moving is an emotional time

According to counselors, moving is not something to take lightly. “Relocation is one of the bigger stressors that individuals and families experience,” says marriage and family therapist Greg Miller of Austin, Texas. “You take a new job, you’re moving, changing kids’ schools—it’s a tremendous amount of change all at once.” Miller says it’s not uncommon for adults to experience anxiety or depression during this sort of transition. Symptoms to be on the lookout for include irritability, fighting or arguing with your spouse, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, engaging in addictive behaviors such as gambling or Internet pornography, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, or neglecting healthy activities like exercise.

Unique to moving is the stress caused by leaving your support system behind. “We tell ourselves we’re getting a new job, more money, a new house, and we expect that everything will be wonderful. It’s not part of our expectation that this move is going to be really difficult. People don’t prepare for it,” says Miller. Make moving less emotionally taxing by setting up a support system in advance. “Connect with a therapist, support group, church, or the local version of whatever group you were connected with back home,” says Miller. “Approach moving with the expectation that it will probably be difficult, and that you should set up a support system as soon as possible.”

Moving can also put a strain on relationships. “When external stressors increase, it puts more pressure on marriages. It’s tougher to get along when you’re moving into a new house, starting a new job, and have lost your support system. The stress of relocating does cause relationships to end; it’s that big,” says therapist Miller. He recommends that couples schedule a few counseling sessions at their new location just in case—unless they’re moving to a place where they have an extensive support system in place. “It’s normal for relocating to be hard and it’s okay to get help and support,” he says. He reminds physicians that there is no shame in reaching out for help. “Doctors are healers and tend to be a lot better at taking care of other people than at caring for themselves,” he says, noting that he sees a number of physicians in his private therapy practice.

Reduce the emotional upheaval that so often accompanies moving by staying aware of what’s happening around you. If you find yourself over-reacting to small annoyances, try to catch yourself, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that moving is temporary—that this too shall pass. Soon you’ll be unpacked and settled into your new community.

Every move is different

Whether you’ve moved a dozen times or this is your first major upheaval, “every move is different,” says Carolyn Lockhart, the owner of Moving Matters, LLC in New London, New Hampshire. If you’re not the most structured person on the planet, engaging someone like Lockhart could be a smart move. She’s a professional organizer who moved 25 times in 32 years while her husband was a career Navy man. “No matter where I am, when I tell someone what I do, it gets a conversation going,” says Lockhart. “Everyone has a moving mishap story to share.” Careful planning—and a sense of humor—can keep your move from turning into one of those stories.

There are a variety of resources on the Internet that offer comprehensive moving checklists, timelines, and helpful hints and tips to make moving easier. Visit moving.com, Move Advocate, Mayflower, Van Lines, and UHaul.

Since most practices pay for moving expenses, you’ll likely be using a professional moving company. Lockhart says the key is to be proactive. “Don’t let movers walk all over you,” she says. “It took me a long time to get up the courage to be assertive.” One example she gives is asking movers to wash their hands between dismantling the barbeque grill and moving the mattress. Balance getting your needs met with being pleasant, however. “If you treat movers well, have refreshments for them, and see how they’re going about their business, you can relax a little bit,” says Lockhart.

Plan ahead - Don't let these expenses catch you offguard

Keep the phone number for the company handy so that you can call in to track your shipment if anything goes awry. Lockhart remembers having to call a moving company once when an employee arrived to load her furniture had alcohol on his breath and was argumentative. “Don’t try to deal with it yourself; ask them to wait in the truck while you call the company,” says Lockhart.

Don’t underestimate the physical toll moving can take. Lockhart says it’s easy to slip into doing “one more thing, then one more thing, and before you know it, it’s 1:00 in the morning.” Pace yourself as you plan and pack and make self-care a priority. As tempting as it may be to grab fast food on the run, try not to slip into unhealthy eating habits while you’re moving. Get enough sleep, take stretch breaks, and breathe.

Whether you’re moving yourself or hiring professionals, make sure you have what you need to function for the first 24 hours in your new home. Clearly label one or two boxes “Unpack First” and don’t let them get lost in the moving shuffle. In these boxes you’ll be happy you have the following: a change of clothes, medications, sheets, pillows, towels, alarm clock, telephone, coffee pot and coffee, paper plates and cups, a roll of paper towels, all-purpose cleaning supplies and rags, trash bags, toilet paper, personal care items, bottled water, snacks, pet food/dish, a small lamp, and if you have children, a few toys or games they can play anywhere.

Getting connected in your new home

Establishing connections in a new city can be more challenging than you might imagine, but it’s worth the effort. “Socially, I think moving to a new place with children is easier,” says Inge Miller. She and David have made friends with other parents at their daughter’s pre-school as well as with a young couple in their apartment complex. “They just had their first baby and he’s from the Midwest,” says Inge, explaining their common interests.

David and Inge also made a conscious decision to take full advantage of their two-year stay on the West Coast. “We try not to let a weekend pass without doing something,” says Inge. The family spends time at the beach and riding their bikes. They’ve driven up the coast to Santa Barbara and wine country, toured the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, and have taken the children to Disneyland and Lego Land.

Breast surgeon Robin Skrine, MD, moved with her two daughters from Pennsylvania, where she’d practiced for 10 years, to Waco, Texas in 2006. Her husband stayed behind temporarily to sell their house. Skrine says the family has adjusted nicely, in part because they share the values of the people in the area and they have discovered Waco to be a friendly community. “We found a church and made friends there,” says Skrine. “My real estate agent became a friend and has introduced me to people.” On the ability to connect socially, Skrine says that it’s important to know yourself, know your family, know what you’re looking for, and go to an area that will be a good fit. “That’s really what made a difference for us. We fit in here,” she says.

Chris and DeAnna Hanosh had honeymooned in the Durango area and had a few friends and family members nearby. Once they made the move to the area, DeAnna became involved with the local family center where she met other young mothers. “Having a physician as a husband, you do spend a lot of time by yourself with your children, so you need to find that bond with other women and create a foundation for your children,” says DeAnna.

No matter how quickly you get settled into your new abode, it still takes a while to feel at home in a new community. David Miller recommends patience. “It takes at least six months until you really start feeling like a place is home. When I got to stop thinking about the route I was taking home . . . not until that time did I starting seeing the great things about where I live,” he says. “The first six months are just getting your feet on the ground and not feeling like the ‘new person.’”

For all the stress and anxiety that relocating can cause, it also creates an opening to change your activities, your routine, and even your point of view. “Moving can be very liberating,” says Lockhart. “It gives you the opportunity to get out of a rut.” If there is something you’ve always wanted to try or get involved in, as soon as you’re semi-settled, get out and explore. Join a tennis league or hiking group to meet new people. Volunteer at your children’s school or at the local animal shelter. Become a member of a networking group or book club. Find something that suits you, something that will energize and restore you after the rigors of moving. One caveat, however: Be selective about saying yes. It’s easy to become overcommitted when you’re the new person on the block.

Consider the children

Just as every move is different, every child is unique in how they’ll respond to relocating. Some children take it in stride, others view moving as an adventure, and some go kicking and screaming. Parents can make moving easier on children of all ages by talking to them. Seattle child psychologist Doni Kwak, PhD encourages parents to share details of the move with children as soon as those details are known. “More information decreases anxiety,” says Kwak. “The idea is to prepare the children, taking into account their developmental age.”

Dawn Northup, with West USA Realty in Scottsdale, Arizona, suggests that physician families with children consider moving as early in the summer as possible. This, says Northup, allows time for the little ones to get involved in summer school or recreational programs and meet children their own age before the first day of school.

Once you’ve committed to a new job, a visit to the community with children in tow prior to the actual move can relieve a lot of anxiety. Northup recommends taking children to visit their new school at some point during the school year prior to a summer move. This lets them begin to anticipate what it will be like. It’s hard for kids to think outside their little community,” says Northup. “Get them excited about moving somewhere new, make it an adventure.” If you can’t visit the new community, at a minimum, take photographs of their new house, school, nearby parks, and other child-friendly amenities.

If a child or teenager appears anxious before, during, or after the move, parents would be well advised to try to find out exactly what the youngster is feeling. “They may be angry,” says Kwak, “possibly at you.” If you have an idea of what a child’s feelings are—anxiety, fear, anger, dread—you have something to work with should they withdraw, regress, or act out. Let the children have their feelings, “but keep the rules and values you’ve always kept,” says Kwak. “They need routine and predictability, especially when they’re under stress. During a transitional time, children need even more structure.”

Children are flexible and most will adapt in due time to their new home, neighborhood, and school. That doesn’t mean, however, that saying goodbye to old friends and familiar surroundings is easy on them. Kwak suggests engaging children in a positive transitional activity such as making a DVD of their old neighborhood, helping them make their own address book so they can keep in touch with friends, or collecting a box of keepsakes to take with them.

If your children don’t settle into their new surroundings, establish a routine, and connect with peers within a reasonable time, they may require professional support to help them cope. But Kwak says parents should remember that negative behavior exhibited by children during the course of a move is probably temporary and will likely pass. “Assuming you had a good family life before the move, it will get back to that point. If there were stressors present that weren’t dealt with, then a move could exacerbate things,” says Kwak.

Attitude and perspective

Moving is no picnic in the park, but it doesn’t have to be a traumatic event. You’ll be tired, but you don’t have to experience debilitating fatigue. You’ll be overwhelmed occasionally (okay, a good deal of the time), but you don’t have to slip into a full-blown emotional meltdown. Be kind to yourself throughout the moving process. Be gentle with your children. Cut your spouse—and yourself—some extra slack. You’ll survive moving by maintaining a positive attitude, laughing at all the little glitches that will surely occur, and keeping things in perspective.

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Karen Childress

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