“We have just moved from an immaculate flat to a decrepit house in order to have more space for our three children and cat as well as to make studio space for the two of us as we work from home. Although the house will look splendid none of our children share our faith and with the oldest T. (16) having summer exams, the middle in his last term of junior school D. (10) and the youngest E. (8) losing having her best friend in the next-door flat we are losing our enthusiasm. The cat also disappeared for 3 days - something she has never done before - and seems to be finding the garden rather frightening”.
Mr & Mrs H.I.
Insurance companies place moving house high on their list of stress points. Even when a move is made for a positive reason such as gaining more space or a garden it involves major disruption and initial loss for everyone involved. Whilst there can be concrete factors that make the disruption more significant - such as exams, the last period in a school before moving on, losing a close neighbour- the fact is that moving is always a disruption.
Whether people live in a hospital bed, a doorway, a flat or a house the place where we live is home. We invest it with our feelings and hopes. Moving involves separating the emotional meaning of a home from the concrete building structure we placed our feelings in- the flat or house. Professor Sheila Hollins has always tried to train medical staff in long-stay hospitals to realise that even a hospital bed itself can be someone’s home and moving a patient from one bed to another even in the same ward can cause stress.
Animals can feel the impact of change of territory as sharply, if not more sharply, than the humans they live with. Family therapist Dr John Byng Hall has often pointed out that the family pet should be observed as much as other members of the family when something important is happening because they are likely to provide some clue to the family’s feelings. When Nadia Poscotis, a Senior Clinical Lecturer in Social Work, moved from a flat to a house with garden she expected her cats to enjoy having such new territory. “ When I let my cats out into the open for the first time and they had never had that experience before they went out on their bellies they were so terrified. They kept low to the ground while exploring the space outside. The local cats had been used to coming across this garden and claimed it as their own territory so my cats had the terrible business of trying to claim territory for themselves. Some of the rougher local cats send them flying back. So they have had a tougher time than me. A short while later one of them went missing and I had to knock on neighbours’ doors. It certainly broke the ice for me in my new territory but it took them a while longer to settle”.
Moving into a new road, even in the same part of the country, is moving into new territory. No-one, human or pet, can gauge in advance how welcoming the new territory will be. Whilst humans, on the whole, can accept the legal right of the new neighbour to move into their area, animals do not accept rent-books or leases as proof of ownership! There are other differences too. Ms Poscotis, of course, chose to move. Her cats did not make that decision. Even though the choice of a home with a garden was made with them in mind they wee not party to the decision-making. Similarly, Mr and Mrs H.I came to a decision about the need to move. However much they discussed it or planned it with their children and however much they took their children’s needs into account the fact is that it was their decision. The fact that their parents were initially pleased about the decision does not mean they will be.
What is it like for the youngest? To lose having a friend who is also a next-door neighbour is a major loss. At 8 years of age children do not have a large area they can geographically explore without a parent’s presence. Where a young child enjoys a friendship with a child next-door there is the experience of a flat or house size being doubled. The neighbourhood is seen as a safe and trusted extension of the core family. However nice the new neighbours might be or the new garden a good friend as a neighbour is not replaceable. Indeed, E would not be a good friend to have if she thought getting a garden made up for missing a friend. How far is the distance between the two homes? Can the friend be invited to stay? Perhaps E fears she will not be able to see her friend so regularly and a speedy invitation might help with that worry. Even if the house is currently decrepit it is more likely to be experienced as interesting or fun if there is a friend there to share it.
D is in his last few months of Junior school and is probably preoccupied with the major move he will be making to secondary school in September. Will any of his current classmates be going to the same school as him? Facing a new home at a time of major change with the possibility of having to meet totally new secondary school boys and girls is clearly a more daunting task than knowing some friends will stay constant. If D does not know anyone going to his proposed new school perhaps the Head Teacher could be asked to suggest prospective pupils he could meet in advance.
It says a lot for T’s wish to work that he is preoccupied with exams at a time of moving. Some children can semi-delinquently enjoy the disruption to their studies that moving causes. However T remains focused on what is a priority to him at the moment, perhaps to help him over this important transition. Are there friends T will miss? A new neighbourhood might contain a better home but not better social after-school facilities.
However, Mr and Mrs H I needed the space to work at home and needed the garden. Whatever time parents decide to move will be difficult for both them and their children. Although T faces serious exams both D and E are moving at a less significant academic time.
Mr and Mrs H I clearly felt this new home had the potential they could enjoy. However, the combined depression of their children and pet have not surprisingly depleted their energy. Is it something about their wish to work together at home in a more spacious environment while the rest of the family are at school that inspires envy? For there to be such a totally united front against the new home- including even the pet - is noteworthy. Alternatively, is there something excluding in Mr and Mrs H I that hurts their children? Is it possible that Mr and Mrs H I are also uncertain about the move but cannot bear to admit it and the rest of their family are expressing it for them? Without further information it is not possible to know. However, if Mr and Mrs H I have made the right decision and can manage to hold on to their own pleasure without expecting it to be shared then as the house is put to rights perhaps their family’s feelings will be too.