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“This MY House?”: Navigating Changes With My Toddler

Marlowe Martino in a green tunic and white frilled shorts sitting outdoors on a stone bench with striped pillows

If you’ve been anywhere near this blog in the past couple of weeks, you know that we just (operative word being JUST!) moved in to our new Connecticut home– after a pretty sudden move from Los Angeles, and six months in limbo and home renovations.  Kyle and I are so relieved and excited that the waiting is over and we finally get to be in a home that we can build memories in with our family for years to come!  Our two year old? Maybe not so excited.  The transition in to our new home for Marlowe was a bit different than I had expected.

Our “move in” was kind of a sh*tshow.  And by kind of, I mean totally.  Essentially everything went wrong with the move that could possibly go wrong, and we found ourselves having to really improvise when it came to planning how and where we were going to sleep that first night. We decided last minute that we would just stay at our new house (even though it was a disaster zone) so that we could put Lowie to bed in her crib and then make coffees and work late in to the night/early morning unpacking and moving furniture to make it a little bit less of a disaster.  Our rationale was that at least we would all be together– and her bed was already in her room, so why not just camp out for the night as a family and get a head start on things?

Well, because my child had a full on nervous breakdown that night– that’s why not.  Visiting the house? Totally exciting! Swimming in our new pool all Summer? That had been fun! Talking about the house ad nauseum and everything we would put in her room? So sweet and adorable! But sleeping at the house, like as if we were going to LIVE THERE? Terrifying and horrible.  From the moment I had begun to fill up the bath, she had started to worry.  Her usual bath toys weren’t unpacked, and she kept asking for them– getting increasingly distressed.   I had zero idea where they were so there was zero chance of her bathing with them that night.  I scrounged up a couple Tupperware containers, but she wasn’t buying it.  By the time I was getting her in to her Pajamas and she realized that she was going to sleep in this new place, she lost it.  “Mama! I no sleep now! I no sleep now, Ok?! Mama! Mama!” Her eyes looked scared and her voice was trembling.  She clung tight to me and wrapped her arms like a vice around my neck.  I could barely pull her off to put her pajamas on.  She asked me for one of her Lovey’s– the Horsey one– which was one of the only ones I didn’t have.  Of course.  Damn you, Universe! I had three with us, but not the Horsey one.  (Update: I will never not have The Horsey One ever again.  EVER AGAIN) Well, this is when things took a dark turn.  Sobbing.  Hysterical, sad, heartbreak-style sobbing.  Not tantrum-ish at all.  The kind of sobbing you do when you feel betrayed by life and like you don’t have a friend in the world.  This is when she looked up at me with tears cascading and said “Mama, everyone see me here? Honey and Mimi and Papa and Pappy T and Uncle Jack and Uncle Miles and my teachers and my friends– Mama, they find me in this house?”.  She felt so lost.  This house was Antarctica to her and she had no idea if she would ever see anyone she loved ever again.  In that moment, I would have sworn to you that I was the worst Mother alive.

And what had I expected, really?  At the time I just figured that my normally go-with-the-flow child would pick up what we were putting down and be excited to be in our new house just like Kyle and I were.  If I’m being really honest with myself, though, the truth is probably that I didn’t think much about what her reaction would be.  I think about her emotional well being and physical comfort about a zillion times a day, of course.  Everything from which diapers will be the least scratchy and most organic,  buying groceries to promote her balanced diet, to stimulating her imagination with field trips and new developmental toys– and everything in between.  You fellow parents know the feeling– when are we NOT thinking of how our kids will feel about something? But this one I totally blanked on.  Since I had a good emotional grasp on the situation, I assumed that my kid would just get it as well.  Of course we had talked with our Toddler about moving in to our new house, but had we actually prepared her for it? Evidently not.

Photo of Marlowe Martino on Happily Eva After blog wearing a green tunic and white ruffled shorts with a beige bow in her hair

I can barely describe to you how badly I felt that night.  I held it together at bedtime, of course.  I calmed her, and rocked her, and hugged her, and reassured her that everyone she knows in this world would, in fact, be able to find this house in Connecticut.  We sang around thirty songs, read endless books, dried tears, and said five goodnights with promises to check on her while she slept.  I have truly never seen anything like it.  This is a child that I have barely ever rocked to sleep as long as she has been alive.  She’s a champ at self-soothing and taking herself off to Dreamland.  As I looked down at her in my arms that night, though, there was a panic behind her eyes that really and truly broke my heart.  The second I snuck out of her room and shut the door, I barely made it three steps down the hall before I burst in to tears.  I just felt so awful– so guilty– and so worried that I had somehow done this whole transition wrong.  Would she ever recover from tonight? Would she EVER feel good sleeping here?  It basically spoke to every insecurity I had as her “Gatekeeper” that this major choice we had made for her life was somehow wrong.

I’m also eight months pregnant and more hormonal than a JV Sports team.  So, YAHTZEE.  As I sobbed to Kyle, I confessed how confused this made me.  Had we made the right choice? Would she feel this way forever?  He calmed me down and reminded me that the entire reason we made this move was so that Marlowe could have a better life– with BOTH her parents in the picture.  We would be together so much more as a family now, and that alone would make this house the best home possible for our little girl.  But now, it was about getting her used to it.  I vowed that night to put all my efforts in to making sure she understood everything that was happening and what our plans were for this new house so she would feel safe and secure.  So how did I do it? Two words: Structure and Routine.  They totally saved us, and made everything get back on track way faster than I would have imagined.

Marlowe Martino from the Happily Eva After Blog wearing a green tunic and ruffled white shorts and bow, walking on the grass at her home in Connecticut with a blue and white soccer ball

The next day, we talked about her bedroom during breakfast.  How did she sleep? Did she have any dreams? Wasn’t it so cool that her bed came and followed her from our last house in to this house like Aladdin’s magic carpet? I asked her all of her favorite things about her new room, and what else she thought we needed in there.  Then we went and found all of her normal routine things and set them up in her room together: Her sound machine, her Toddler alarm clock, her hamper, her monitor, the mermaids she sleeps with, her clothes and books.  In the midst of our moving disaster, unpacking Marlowe’s bedroom became top priority.  Next, I brought her around the house room by room and talked with her about them.  We discussed where all the furniture would go, and what we would do as a family in each room once everything was put away.  We talked about where the Christmas tree would go at Christmas time, where her little brother’s high chair would sit next to hers, where Honey and Pappy T and Mimi and Papa would sleep when they came to visit her, and where all of Mommy and Daddy’s shoes and clothes and coats would be for getting dressed every day.  I asked her to show me around and tell me all about her new house.  She was excited, leading me around the house and repeating all the fun things we had talked about.

That night, I made sure to make her bedtime routine as exact as possible.  I told her ahead of time exactly the order of what we were going to do, how many books we would read, which soap we would use to wash her hair and face, and which pajamas and sleep sack she would be putting on. I wanted her to remember that even though Mama and Daddy are in charge, that she gets to know what the plans are and be a part of the conversation.  She got to pick out her Lovey to sleep with, and chose the Horsey one! Surprise! Night Two was about a zillion times easier that day, and way less weepy.  She still got a bit clingy at bed time but nothing like that first night.  Every night since, I’ve made a point to stick closely to our routine so that Marlowe knows what’s coming and feels safe.  I had been a bit relaxed recently about exact bedtimes and routines since she’s older now– but this last week I cracked down again and made sure everything was running like clockwork.  It was so encouraging to watch her respond so positively to the structure and relax a little bit in to our new normal.  In the mornings, we’ve been letting her crawl in to bed with us and watch cartoons on our new TV (loving a TV in the bedroom, by the way– my first time ever having one in there!).  She gets excited for the special treat and how fun this new house is!  By day five, Marlowe was back to her old self.  I was so relieved to have my happy little girl back.

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This whole experience made me think so much about the expectations we have of our kids, though.  How much do we view our children as an extension of ourselves– both physically and emotionally? Just because we like (or dislike) something, do we expect their tastes to follow? And when we really think about it, how unfair is this? I’m glad I was given the opportunity to correct my behavior when it comes to setting unrealistic expectations for my daughter.  Even though I obviously didn’t mean to be, it’s nice to be reminded that Marlowe is her own person with her own experiences and ideas about the world around her.  I think sometimes it’s important to remember that children need reassurances and explanations just as much as we do.  Just because WE make the rules doesn’t mean that we should ignore how it must feel to be the ones without very much say in the matter.

I’m grateful that Marlowe is back to her old self, but even more grateful for this humbling parenting reminder.  I’m not perfect, I just do the best I can– and when I screw up, I try my best to make it right!

Have you lived through any major transitions with your kids? I’d love to know how you dealt with them in the comments below!

 

xoxo

EAM

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14 Comments

  1. Jessica says:

    You’re doing such a good job, Mama! I have a five month old, am not pregnant so have no hormonal excuse and still when she has a rough night with bedtime routine it breaks my heart so I can only imagine!

    08.31.16Reply
  2. Kendra says:

    Oh little Marlowe! That was a heartbreaking description of your first night. But this is what I love about your blog, that you don’t act like you’re perfect. So many bloggers act like they have all the answers and “aren’t you lucky they’re taking the time to share them with you?” Like their baby never cries, their house never gets messy, and they never make a mistake. Thank you for being human and relatable. Sharing the bad along with the good makes this place (your blog) feel like a community and like we’re all in this parenting thing together.

    08.31.16Reply
  3. Hélène Utz says:

    Dear Eva, reading about your major transition – moving in and trying to make your child feel at home from the first night on – reminds me of our own experience six month ago. With a 2.5 year old and a two month old baby we moved in our new dream house. Breastfeeding, unpacking, cooking lunch for my big boy while trying to make him feel at home from day one was so stressful. There were a few moments when I just wanted to sit down and cry. But with every night and day you spend in you new home, you start making memories… Wishing you all the very best, hélène

    08.31.16Reply
  4. Taylor says:

    This really resonated with me. My little family is potentially moving soon and even though plans are not even close to final, I am stressed at the mere thought of uprooting my daughter. I lived in the same house my entire childhood until I went to college, so the thought of my daughter *gasp* having a much different life than me growing up made me feel weird. Then, as you discussed, I realized that she does not need to live the same life as me, as she is in fact her own person. I think we mamas will be okay if we remind ourselves that children are incredibly adaptable and with mom & dad’s reassurance and familiar comforts, we can all thrive in our new places!

    08.31.16Reply
  5. Gabrielle says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. You’re a wonderful mother.

    08.31.16Reply
  6. Miranda says:

    I love your blog and I love the way you view motherhood, being a wife, and building a family! My little boy is only 7 months old and I feel like his whole life has been a transition – growth spurts, sleeping arrangements from our room to his room, sleep regressions, teething, crawling, etc… it is all coming in consistent waves, so we never have a time of feeling settled. Right now we are in the midst of sleep training him to waking up less at night and some nights I feel like its gonna defeat me. But I love the way you put everything on hold for the day to make sure Marlowe was settled in the house, because I feel like I am realizing that. As much as I wish I could carry on with life and my baby would go with the flow and adapt along with me, I realize sometimes I have to stop everything and focus on making sure he is ok… in this instance making sure he has a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine with minimal stimulus leading up to bed time. My boy is pretty chill and easy going, so it catches me off guard when he is thrown off and needs some extra help getting settled into life.
    Thank you so much for your honesty and perspective and encouraging words!

    08.31.16Reply
  7. Michelle says:

    I just went through the exact same experience with my (then) 11 month old. Our Mommy and Me instructor forewarned me the move may be difficult on him (and also instructed me to unpack his room first), but he’s such an easy going kid (not a great sleeper like Marlowe, but super chill) that I kind of wrote off the potential impact. Well, nearly 2 weeks of sleepless nights later I learned to never minimize how attune my son can be to such disruptions. When I really thought about it, overnight we changed the only environment he had ever known his entire life, so how could he not be upset?!

    Are you familiar with the RIE method of parenting? I’m not a strict follower, but I do wholly believe in its overarching philosophy of “respectful” parenting; acknowledging that your child is a fully aware and capable person. It’s very much in the vein of your third to last paragraph, and it changed my view of parenting and relationship with my son. Janet Lansbury is a current thought-leader in the space and her book Elevating Childcare: A Guide to Respectful Parenting contains some interesting notions…if you’re curious 🙂

    Thanks for always being such a thoughtful and honest voice!

    08.31.16Reply
  8. We are on the brink of a potential move and this was really eye opening to me. My son will be two in December so is relatively close in age to Marlowe and I never would have thought about the ways in which he might be thrown off by a new bedroom and orientation. Thanks for sharing.
    xx lydia @makinglamadre

    08.31.16Reply
  9. Averill says:

    I’ve been there and made that same mistake. Multiple times. In addition to being far less self evident than physical needs, emotional needs are moving targets, especially in young children who are developing so rapidly. One week something distresses them / the next week they take the same experience in stride.

    When we moved a few years back my elder son was nearing 3 and, save for a little stressing out when we packed up his room, was remarkably unphased (which surprised me as he was — and is — Mr. Type A/routine oriented/control freak). In fact, he never really talked about the old house again!

    One thing we did — and I do think this helped if there are other mamas out there gearing up for a move with a toddler, is that we unpacked his room first and got everything all set up (and much the same as his old room) before he spent the night. He was just so happy to see his old toys/bed again, that he forgot all about not being “home.”

    09.01.16Reply
  10. Eva, You are such a good mommy!! It is heart wrenching when our babies are truly upset like that. But the new day brought sunshine and beautiful thoughts your sweet daughters way. Much love and happiness in your new home. Look forward to reading more blog posts. You are truly the best!! Love, Robyn – Coffee Chat Girl

    09.01.16Reply
  11. Jori King says:

    I’m 12 weeks pregnant with our first and I’m not gonna lie, this post made me weep, I was weeping for you and for Marlowe, I feel like you really touched on some things I’m guessing a lot of moms have been through. Great post… Now to find the box of Kleenex. -Jori

    09.03.16Reply
  12. Courtney says:

    Had the same experience with our girl toddler. When we’ve travelled in the past with our twins they’ve always adapted very well. Then time had passed since we had stayed the night anywhere that wasn’t home and we went to stay with my parents the night before Mother’s Day and she was terrified. It was hard. Thankfully it seems like things are better again after taking a Labor Day vacation. ?? Glad the little miss has adapted to the new digs!

    09.06.16Reply
  13. Jen says:

    Welcome to CT! I moved to CT a little over 2 years ago from Westchester county not a far move but Was it stressful so I know how you felt. now when I moved my children were not toddlers like your daughter and I was not pregnant ( I don’t know how you did it) in fact they were 7th grade and 12th but we moved out of the only home they knew since we didn’t move far about 21 miles my son was able to commute to his Highschool to complete his senior year. My daughter however had to switch schools mid year and we lived in a small town in Westchester and moved to a city in CT. Oh boy what change! my daughter came home from school crying for a week that she had no friends no one to eat lunch with she wanted to move back to her house. The crying not only by her but me too I was a mess. I too questioned if I made the right decision to move. We went out that weekend And redecorated her bedroom and let her buy whatever she wanted to make her room her special place. Slowly as the weeks went on she made friends some of those friends are now her best friends and she says she never ever wants to leave CT. Change is hard on everyone. But after almost 3 years I know we are where we are supposed to be and we are together and that’s all that matters. I wish you and your family a lifetime of happiness in your new home.

    09.08.16Reply
  14. Monica Yourell says:

    Eva..just reading now as it popped up on link for Mexican Food on facebook….fascinating reading….i experienced the same with my son when he experienced some bullying (albeit quite mild.(…thankfully!!! My husband and i over the years since he was young had done role play with him, brought the subject up told him what to say, what to do, who to tell, etc….BUT we forgot to tell him how he would FEEL! !!!when it did happen! He was humiliated and embarassed and sad…….and i was devasted that i missed it !!!!!! He felt so bewildered. .he didnt tell us for days…..kills me now….great lesson learnt however. ..thanks for posting

    05.04.17Reply