I can vividly remember my official first ‘big move’ to my university dorm when I was 18 years young. Not least was the excitement of shopping for the dorm room essentials; Blink 182 and TLC posters, a microwave for survival and a shower caddy to lug all my products to and from the bathroom. I was set for success, and I didn’t feel sad when I said my goodbyes as I knew I had several phone cards (or calling cards as they are known in the US) to jump on the payphone and get in touch with Mom and Dad.
Fast forward through the early 2000s and all the way up to 2016, I lived and breathed New York City and I moved all over the island without a care in the world. I was a master at moving. I have moved through a hurricane, moved through the most outrageous break-ups, went running quickly when I realised my roommate was an absolute maniac (that’s a funny story… now)! I have really been through it when it comes too mastering a ‘big move’. Even jumping the pond from NYC to London in 2016 with my husband to settle in his country was easy to navigate. To be honest, the hardest part was getting our two little dogs flown across. The paperwork is insane!
Since we have entered the wild world of parenting and have a glorious human to care for, I have simply been getting on with it, handling what I need to do and trying to be the best, present Mom possible. From the very early start of my daughter’s life, my partner would leave for East Africa (Uganda) for chunks of time while I was back in London, effectively solo parenting. Never did I think that we would be talking about making another big move, this time to Uganda for a stretch of time, nor did I think we would be doing this when our daughter was two and a half years old.
But here we are, all moved to Uganda. Even with one dog in tow.
When you become a parent and are navigating all the ‘firsts’ – those exciting milestones moments – it’s hard to fathom that a ‘big move’ could be in your near future and that you could make it go smoothly. I mean, your living room alone is filled with every baby bounce technology developed, along with a kitchen filled with baby bottles, special cleaning supplies for this tiny human and enough gentle laundry soap to keep a whole country’s army pristine. As a brand new parents, we never think we have enough to get the little one through the day but, eventually, reality dawns that the Amazon box is your child’s most prized possession and you now are, in fact, in a position to make the ‘big move’.
When we decided we were making the move, I realised firstly that I must be accountable for making this as stress-free and as positive an experience for our little one as possible. This does not have to be a doom and gloom process, even for someone who is moving under not-so-exciting circumstances. The important thing is to make the transition as smooth as it can be for a young child so they can adjust more quickly at the new location.
Here are some of my practical tips to help make that ‘big move’ a success. I can only speak of my own experience as a mom to a toddler. I imagine having an older child has greater layers of complexity involving friendship groups, school sports and even first loves which create a deeper element that I have yet to experience. What I do know and will always hold close to my heart is that whatever I project will bounce onto my daughter, so I have tried my best to stay positive and communicate properly to her. I wanted her to thrive in the moving process and to make her transition to Uganda as smooth as possible.
Travel with your kids young: Regardless of whether it’s a short flight, a long-haul flight or a car ride for 8 hours, do it! While I understand the fear that you are going to ‘disrupt’ others around you on a flight or in a restaurant you are not a regular at, introducing your child at a very young age to different environments really sets them up with feeling comfortable with travel and changing the setting. It is, of course, your responsibility to teach the child to treat others with respect and to be considerate of other traveler’s but they will achieve this much more quickly if they are exposed to new environments and taught how to behave in these places from a young age. Your child is allowed to take up space wherever they go and other passengers should be understanding if they can see you are allowing them to learn that.
Talk to your little one about the big move: Leading up to our big move from London to Uganda, we talked lots and lots about it, especially why we were doing the move and what to expect. Adiya had already been to Uganda a couple of times, so she was already pretty comfortable with the environment. We looked at all the photos we had taken on previous trips, and we talked about how we would be back at her favourite play area and that family members would be coming there to visit. Pictures were super helpful! Even if you haven’t been to your new location, get pictures of what to expect to experience. My daughter was super engaged in this, and I feel it made it easier to say goodbye to London and hello to Uganda.
Kids Call the Shots: Adiya was 2.5 years old for our first big move. Yes, very young but she is a very present, emotional child. She was very much a part of the packing process and I encouraged her to use her words or express what she wanted to keep and what went into storage. It truly is about empowering your child and making them feel as much a part of the process as possible. She had major attachment to certain toys and books, and even her army of animals that sleep with her at bedtime. I let her know what suitcase they were going in and that they would be there when we landed in Uganda. She may be 2.5 years old, but she knew exactly what suitcase her toys were in and was delighted to welcome them when we arrived.
Don’t Hide the Clear Out: Moving can be therapeutic and perhaps referred to as the ‘great clear-out’. I highly advise to not hide what you are donating to charities, giving to friends/family or simply taking to the rubbish bin. My daughter watched it all and I explained it all. I even asked her what she really didn’t like anymore so we could give that to another friend that would really love it. She was delighted to make that pile. We knew of a family that was expecting their third baby girl and they visited us one day and my daughter offered toys to the expecting Mom’s baby bump. It was super-cute, and my daughter was very pleased.
New Home Ready: My husband was in Uganda during the packing up process and clearing out of our London flat. We did lots of Face Timing to show our daughter what her new room would be like. She helped with picking out her wall stickers and her bed, and she was most excited about her table/chairs for her ‘painting station’ – it made her squeal! She was very present and aware of what was going on and it was good for us to feel her excitement and have her be a part of it all.
Travel Day Ready: Our daughter has done many long-haul flights and even loves long car journeys. We exposed her to this from day one. As mentioned before, we allowed her to always take up her space and we knew to never apologies for a cry here and a tantrum there. It’s a part of the parenting process. I had a calendar with Travel Day marked on it. We packed one bag plus laid out her travel day outfit a few days before so there were no surprises. In her travel bag, I am always equipped with washable crayons, drawing paper and the holy grail… STICKERS. We always travel with these easy-to-remove puffy stickers (found on Amazon) as she puts them all over the airplane seat and they are easy to peel off and place back on the cards. Let me tell you, it fills up so much travel time on the flight as if she puts up 100 stickers, she then must remove them all. It’s a fab game and keeps for calm engagement on the flight.
Overall, constant dialogue was key and, to be fair, I think it was helping me along the way. My entire adult life was city life. Yes, I found moving easy to navigate pre-Mom life but now adding a child; not to mention a country that is quite behind in terms of development; the constant dialogue was key for everyone involved to level out emotions and to make good decisions as a family unit. It all turned out to be a positive experience, but it could have gone completely the other way if it hadn’t been for a thorough game-plan and approaching this positively. Trust me when I say it’s not easy living in Uganda. Those once easy items to purchase, long walks in the park and a simple trip to your favorite store are out of the window. There has been a lot more adjusting for me, but I am making it work because my family unit is my number one priority. Our daughter’s transition was smooth as we stuck to a similar routine to that of London life. She was enrolled in a couple classes within the first week of arriving and she was busy making new friends and – more importantly – new memories.
Ashley is a mom, founder of the Bizzimumzi podcast, and Define London fitness studio. She is a former Broadway performer and celebrity trainer. Through Bizzimumzi Ashley has created a welcoming community to share the highs and lows of parenting, and inspire others to feel empowered in their journey. Ashely believes the most perfect picture of parenting is simply when you are trying your best. Bizzimumzi is a safe space that helps parents to inspire, educate and support each other to be the best parent they can be.