Now is the time of year when the chatter in expat communities turns to who is moving and to where. It can be very unsettling for those who are leaving and those who are staying (more about the ones who are staying soon). If you’re leaving, life becomes focused on the logistics of moving to a new country or home, finding new schools for children, searching for housing, organising stuff for the move. Mentally you begin to check yourself out; to start the process of detaching yourself from friends and commitments. For me, this has always been part practical – I find that the demands of moving are so consuming that I simply have less time; and part self protection – it’s easier to say good bye when you’ve already begun the process of detaching from people and places. The other side of the coin is that as you pull back, you quickly become a short-timer in the eyes of others and your friends start the process of emotional detachment too. Or sometimes, it is a well-meaning step back to give you space to organise your move. Either way, invitations stop coming and, before you know it you are in solitary confinement. The same is true for our children who, in the brutal world of the playground, may find themselves being treated as short-timers even more quickly.
Having spent a few pre-move weeks feeling a bit left out and having seen the hurt on my children’s faces when they are not invited to a party because the host has placed them in the “moved” box, I’ve come up with a few tips for minimising short-timer syndrome:
- The onus is on you to maintain a presence in you your community, don’t wait for invitations.
- Prioritise your social activities – use your time for activities with the friends who mean the most to you; the ones with whom you will keep in touch.
- Try to continue to participate in some community and group activities so that the broader community knows you are still around. This will help you and your children.
- Schedule extra play dates for your younger children and make sure that you afford your older children the flexibility to invite friends over (who cares if the house is full of boxes) and to spend time with their friends outside your home. If you really don’t have the time or space to host extra kids, ask their friends parents if your children can come over.
- Ask your friends to help you with some of things you have to do to prepare for your move. It will be more fun if you have company and nine times out of ten your close friends will be glad you asked.
For those of you who are packing up to move this summer, I wish you the energy and strength you need to get through both the practical and emotional aspects of your move. If you have your own strategies for managing short-timer syndrome, and you can escape from your research and organisation for long enough to share them, please post them as comments here or on my Facebook Page.