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When Home Base Changes: Loving Guidance in a Time of Change

Meg Sondey
Torreon Coahuila Mexico
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 6, December 2004 - January 2005, pp. 126-27.

When our babies were born, nothing comforted them more than being held securely in our arms, surrounded by the smells and physical sensations of our bodies, satisfied by our milk, and confident in the knowledge that this "home base" would be there forever. But, as our babies and toddlers grow older, this concept of "home" grows beyond our arms. "Home" begins to refer to a physical location where the family eats and sleeps; it means a neighborhood of friends and neighbors with whom they play and talk; it means a familiar school, familiar stores, and familiar routines. But what happens when this "home" needs to change? What happens when family circumstances mean a move across state, across the country, or even across the world, perhaps to a different culture?

Recently, my family made the move from the United States to Mexico—a country we had never visited with a language that none of us knew. In thinking about this move and how our family accomplished it, I realize that some of the most useful concepts that I brought to this transition stemmed from the idea of loving guidance—the acceptance of capabilities and sensitivity to feelings—as well as the skills I had practiced in Communication Skills training. Some of us will experience a family move that affects both our personal lives and our LLL work or we may meet mothers and families who have moved. In either case, some of what I experienced and learned in this transition may help others.

"Accepting capabilities" of the members of my family was crucial when many of us felt that our world was changing in ways we could not control, or in ways with which we disagreed. At first, I had difficulty understanding why my children were insistent on bringing so many of their personal possessions. Yet, when I thought about it further, I recognized that this was their way of making their new living spaces "home." If they couldn’t remain in Mentor, Ohio, USA, they could at least bring the items from their rooms there! Although I had the capacity to leave some (but not all!) of my personal items in storage, they were not yet capable of that. Once I understood why they were so insistent, it was much easier for me to have more fruitful discussions with them about their new home.

Equally important was an acceptance of the capabilities of my spouse and other family members. My spouse, for instance, was involved in the construction and management of a new production facility, a very difficult task, so I had to undertake much of the detail work for the move. Had I not recognized the incredible pressure being placed upon his shoulders, I might have insisted that he take more responsibility in areas for which he actually had little time.

Most critical, however, was accepting my own capabilities. I needed to accept that I could not control everything about this move, that I would not accomplish it all without some difficulty and challenges, and that I was still a fine Leader and person, even if every detail did not work out to my initial satisfaction.

As Leaders, we may meet mothers in our Groups who need to be reminded at these times that they are doing a fine job during a difficult time of their lives. Sometimes these mothers may not only need personal reassurance and support, but also assistance in very practical ways. Depending upon the nature of the move and the degree of change, Leaders can offer mothers everything from a sympathetic ear using the compassionate listening skills learned during Communication Skills sessions to practical information about local stores and neighborhoods. After a big move, one of the first things that Leaders often do is search for an LLL Group in the new location. In my case, it was with great joy that I met Doralee and Lourdes, the Leaders of the local Group in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. Just making their acquaintance and knowing that there would be a group of women who also appreciated LLL philosophy near me made my transition to our new residence so much easier!

Besides understanding the capabilities of family members, it is critical to accept the feelings of each of them. Depending upon the age and nature of the children involved, these feelings may be expressed in a number of ways, some of which may be initially shocking because they may seem out of character, or even counter family values or expectations. Remaining calm and focused as these situations occur is critical. Once again, recalling the skills used during Communication Skills sessions can be helpful.

"I hate you!" my daughter once said as we had yet another discussion about our upcoming move. I could have been shocked and could have reacted. Instead, I chose to reflect her feelings.

"You are really angry that we have to leave our house in Ohio, leave your friends, and move to a place you have never seen."

"Yes, I am," she replied, and the conversation continued.

Other children may not use words at all. In the case of my son, he has some communication challenges and often cannot find the words to express himself, or is unable to express himself in words. Behavior can change, sleeplessness can become chronic, bickering among siblings may increase—all of which may just be ways that the child is reacting to feelings or distress. In those instances, we may need to help the child find the words or express the feelings so that we can come up with resolutions to whatever difficulties are bothering them.

Again, as Leaders, it may be helpful to remind mothers in our Groups who are in these situations that much of our communication is nonverbal. It helps to pay attention to such behaviors and try to determine what it is the child is having difficulty communicating. Recalling "feeling words" and thinking about various emotions that are felt during these times can often assist both the mother and children to begin discussions to acknowledge these feelings and then develop more appropriate ways to handle them.

Finally, it is important that we acknowledge our own feelings about the situation. Sometimes we may feel excited, exhilarated, and thrilled about a family move. Other times we may be frightened, resentful, and even angry. Often these feelings can occur in the same person and about the same transition. Our own feelings may change from hour to hour, or day to day. There may be times that we can’t believe that we are on such a wonderful adventure, yet there might be times when we find ourselves sobbing quietly by ourselves. Acknowledging that this is normal and then finding appropriate ways to handle this complex mixture of feelings in ourselves is critical.

Sharing feelings with compassionate friends and family members often helps. Leaders supporting co-Leaders or Group mothers in this situation may find that active listening skills are key. Brainstorming possible solutions is helpful, and some families may find that family meetings or discussions about the move may be important at this time.

Once the physical move is accomplished, the work is not over. Settling into a new location involves another set of challenges and feelings. However, if we have honed our communication skills during the initial transition time and worked to recognize the capabilities and feelings of all those involved, we now have improved tools to use as we meet new challenges and new adventures and create a new "home base" for our families.

And soon we may once again find that our new "home base" is filled with smells and sounds that comfort us, with people whom we love, and we are surrounded by new friends who are there to listen and to share as we explore our new home base. And through it all, loving guidance has been the key!

Meg Sondey and her husband of 17 years have two children, Evangeline (13) and Jacob (12). Having spent most of her life in Ohio, USA, she and her family have recently moved to Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico for the next three to five years. Meg is an LLL Communications Skill Development facilitator and works actively with the Alumnae Association as well as being a Leader with her local Group. Nan Vollette is the Contributing Editor for "Helping Mothers."

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