“Moving is sad,” my ten-year-old told me. “We have so many memories in that house.”
It was true. We did. And it was.
Four years ago, when we moved into the home we recently said goodbye to, both she and her twelve-year-old sister could stand under the bar-height countertop in our kitchen without bumping their heads. Not so when we left. Now they’re both taller than it. Our third grader learned how to read, write, and spell there. And our youngest, who’s now five, mastered the art of walking and talking.
As adults, most of us know from experience how hard it is to say goodbye to something we love. We’ve all had to grieve the traumatic death of a person, the leaving of a place, or the losing of a thing. As much as we’d prefer to shield our kids from the sting of it, we can’t. Loss is an unavoidable part of life.
So how can you and I help our kids process grief in a healthy way? Here are three things we do at our house that may prove helpful to you too.
1. Model “the how” for them
Think back to how you learned to ride a bike or do a cartwheel. Someone modeled it for you, right? They showed you how. While kids don’t need to be taught to feel sadness, they do need to be shown how to process it in a way that helps them work through it.
For us, this means grieving openly and vulnerably as parents. Today I woke up longing to feel at home – to have a sense of belonging – in our new house. It’s something I don’t yet have. Instead of internalizing this, I shared it with my kids. It provided them with the opportunity to express similar sentiments. We then unpacked the magnetic fridge alphabet letters and the girls begin to spell out the words “our family” and all of our names on the fridge. Together, we sought to take one step closer to making this new house feel like home.
2. Allow them to express sad feelings
Six years ago, we lost a preborn baby to miscarriage. We actively involved the kids in the grieving process. One way we encouraged them to express their sad feelings was to draw pictures. It helped them express emotions they may not have been able to verbalize well at their young ages.
With this move, our kids are a bit older. They can better use words to express what they’re feeling – and we encourage them to do so. We allow them to say, “I miss our old house,” and respond with a “I do too. What do you miss the most?” We also attempt to be patient with the up-and-down emotions that come with loss and the stress of moving.
3. Remind them who’s writing their story
Much of our family culture is centered on stories, both real-life ones and made-up ones. Our girls have learned that a good story has drama. A protagonist worth cheering on always faces challenges and setbacks. Without them, a story lacks interest.
When it comes to their lives, we remind our kids (and ourselves) that God is the Author of our personal stories. In the good, we can trust Him. We can also trust Him in the painful and the unwanted. No matter what happens, we can be confident that God is writing a narrative that is for our betterment and for His glory.
There is no bar-height countertop in the kitchen of our new house for our five year old to grow taller than. Even so, there are memories to be made here. Memories that will one day be just as precious as those we’ve left behind. And someday, we may leave these memories behind too, but as we do, we can confidently trust that the One who writes the next chapter of our stories is good.