21 Ways to Help Your Family Thrive Through Transition

transitionOne of the unique qualities of our family is this:



In not-quite 14 years of marriage, we’ve lived in 13 primary residences, and in 8 temporary living situations (each 1-2 months). 5 of those residences were overseas, and almost all of those moves were with children.

A number of you have asked me to write about how we’ve stayed sane and content through so many changes, especially with children. So here’s my list:


  1. Keep sleep and nutritious food a top priority for everyone. I’ve tacked up sheets over windows, used Benadryl, left my husband at the airport gate with all the kids to run to a nearby restaurant to grab lunch, taken naps with babies in airports, and packed an entire backpack of food to keep these things going well. Do whatever you need to do to get good sleep & food for everyone. These two things will contribute MASSIVELY to good attitudes and flexibility.
  2. That includes you. Don’t work on unpacking late into the night instead of sleeping. Sleep. If mama ain’t sane, ain’t nobody sane. Keep mama sane.
  3. Consistently discipline your children. You will be tempted to let behavior things go, but some things are never OK, no matter if you’re in the midst of transition. Screaming at mommy, hitting, pitching a fit, kicking the back of an airplane seat… these things are never OK. Take the time to discipline well. You’ll be glad you did.
  4. Forgive before it’s asked for. (This will happen a LOT.) You will be happier, and avoid unnecessary bitterness, by generously forgiving your family. Your nerves are all high. Everyone’s tired. Everyone’s operating on less than a full tank. Forgive.
  5. Ask forgiveness anytime there’s a hint you might need to. (You will be asking a LOT.) You’ll snap, be grumpy, lose your patience, whatever… what a great opportunity to exhibit humility and repentance to your children!
  6. Start a “God list.” Write out the ways you see God at work (big and small!) and keep the list in front of your face.
  7. Let non-eternal things be small. Dirty or broken dishes are still just dishes. Don’t scream over them. A spilled Sprite on the flight is frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world. Let it roll off your back.
  8. Hold “normal” loosely. Don’t make an idol out of how things used to be, or how things “should” be.
  9. Find a “new normal” as soon as possible, even if that “normal” shifts every few days or weeks at first. The neighborhood park you visit everyday for the first week may be one you rarely visit after you’ve lived there for a year. That’s OK. The sunshine and stress relief may be just the right thing for the early feeling of “normal.”
  10. Say “yes” to opportunities for exploration. Keeping sleep and food as the top priority, take opportunities to explore new places & get to know new people.
  11. Say “no” to new commitments. Don’t make any long-term promises aside from those dictated by necessity (job, keep schooling going, etc.).
  12. Don’t go overboard on this one, but allow yourself & your crew to enjoy treats. (But keep sugar levels in mind for little ones… choose filling foods over sweets, and long-term satisfaction over quick-carbs).
  13. Snuggle a lot. That goes for hugs. Kisses. Zurburts. Giggles. Hand-holding while you walk. Et cetera.
  14. Use electronics judiciously. That is, if you use TV/electronics, be intentional about it. Some people may enjoy “zoning out” a little, but don’t let electronics be what makes you/your kids/your family “get through” this time of transition. Use devices on purpose, and turn devices off on purpose.
  15. Express gratitude to God regularly. Over dinner, or on the bus ride, or while waiting for the plane, have everyone in the family list one or more things they’re thankful for. God is always at work, always pouring out His mercy on us; be sure to look for His activity!
  16. Talk, talk, talk about EXPECTATIONS. Setting realistic (or even, ever-so-slightly pessimistic expectations) is a great way to set your family up for enjoyable travel and adjustment to new things. “We’ll be on the airplane for a whole day, from breakfast past bedtime! We’ll take a nap and want to get up and walk around but we won’t be able to.” — “Remember the bus windows are dirty; I don’t want you to touch them.” — “We’ll get to the hotel and figure out a spot where you can take a nap right away. You’ll lay down and go to sleep just like you do at home.” — “Everyone will be tired when we get into the taxi, but we won’t fuss or grump. It won’t be long until we get there.” Et cetera.
  17. Ask good questions. Help your family verbally process through the transition.What do you think of our new apartment?” — “Did you have fun riding the airport shuttle?” — “What was your favorite part of living in Texas?” — “What’s one thing you miss most from our old home?” — “What’s one thing you enjoy most about our new home?” Et cetera.
  18. Talk about the adventure of life God has you in during this season. Not every season includes opportunities to see new things, meet new friends, etc., so take this chance to purposefully frame this as part of the adventure God custom-designed for your family.
  19. Thoughtfully share what you’re feeling, but don’t complain and grump. Your children will (largely) mirror your attitude about the changes you’re facing. It helps your children to hear your favorite things in the new place, or about the people you miss from the old home. Be judicious, though. Don’t focus on criticism or complaints; but it’s OK to share genuine difficulties you’re facing (“I sure miss Nana.” — “It’s hard not being able to go outside because of the snow, isn’t it?”). The older the kids are, the more openness and transparency (hard things) they are capable of hearing. This is a chance for you to model the kind of healthy, God-honoring attitude in the midst of transition that you desire for them to have as they face challenges in life.
  20. PRAY. Express yourself openly to God. Even if it’s one-sentence expressions, keep talking to God. “I’m tired. Help me,” may be all you can muster, but it’s enough, and it keeps your soul turning to the One who can truly help you through the transition.
  21. Remember, “It won’t always be this way.” It truly won’t. A new normal will come. Give yourself grace. Press on. Don’t be discouraged by crummy days. They come to us all. Do what you can do and keep plodding along.

transitionIf you’ve got more ideas for thriving through transition, especially to help children adjust well, PLEASE ADD THEM IN THE COMMENTS!


Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon/freedigitalphotos.net

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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15 Responses

  1. Madelyn Lang says:

    I posted this to Facebook, saying that it was good advice anytime! When are we not in some kind of transition or under stress?

    • Jess Connell says:

      It’s true, Madelyn. I had someone else on Facebook say the same thing- that this is a good LIFE advice. Very true. In my experience these are the “little” things that we tend to overlook unless we make them a priority.

  2. Very good! I’ve seen you guys through these changes, and being honest with each other as a family is so true!

  3. Audrey says:

    Tweeted! This is a great list…Such seemingly normal advice, but so often forgotten! Also…WOW on all the things you have done WITH kids, lol! God bless!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yeah, Audrey. It was a little bit crazy. Glad, now, to be settling into a wonderful community for (Lord willing) the long haul. However long He lets us stay, we hope to be here. But all the travel and opportunities to see (and be a part of) different cultures was incredibly valuable during the time we had the opportunity to experience it.

  4. Charisa says:

    Thank you! My husband was just hired as pastor of a little church in Northern BC, Canada…and now we’re headed into packing, sorting, moving with three little ones. While there are no plane rides or international travel involved, it will still be a long drive and big transition for us all, so I’m thankful for the tips!

  5. Erica T says:

    Our family has done a fair bit of transition as well, though not quite as much as you have. You’ve got a great list. I have noticed patterns in myself every time I have a big transition. I tend to go into survival/bare minimum mode in the days following transition. I cut back on a lot of stuff that I typically expect of myself and kind of concentrate on putting out the major fires and making sure there’s food. I can tell I’m getting over transition when housework starts becoming more regular, when I start dealing more directly with things that stress me out, etc. Sometimes it means I give a bit more care to appearance or the creative projects start coming again. It’s also helpful to know that there are stages of transition (honeymoon, honeymoon’s over, etc) and I have seen myself come through to the other side in the past and know it will happen again. A thought that has helped me in the past few years is remembering the idea of Ebenezer from 1 Sam. 7–Thus far the Lord has helped us (implying that He will therefore continue to be faithful to me now and in the future). That has sustained through many difficult days.

    • Jess Connell says:

      GREAT additions, Erica! You’re absolutely right– those “extra” things returning are definitely a signal that normal is coming back.

      I love the Ebenezer reminder. It’s been on my mind a lot lately– God continually brings us “this far,” and it DOES give strength for future battles.

      Thanks so much for adding your thoughts!

  6. Jenny says:

    I always let food go and everyone eats junk. Going to have to keep an eye on this in the future. Great advice here!

    • Jess Connell says:

      You know, once I read your comment, I thought, “well, I do too.” But I have to watch it because I can let it go too far and then everyone’s sugared up & acting crazy, or crashing hard after meals of all-carbs (hello, donuts-for-breakfast, I’m looking at you.)

      So yeah, I do let meals go at the peak stress moments, but I keep it as a constant “window” up in my brain, reminding me to do cut up veggies-and-fruit, or an easy roast in the crock pot, or whatever, as soon as I can, so that we get nutritious meals & more steady blood-sugar for all of us ASAP. :)

      Thanks for chiming in!

  7. Kondwani says:

    I think a key thing is how we talk about things in front of our children. You make an important point about the need for transparency, and for the children to see how you work through things that you find difficult. But at the same time, I think positivity goes a long way. I call it a ‘gratitude attitude) http://homeeducationnovice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/cultivate-gratitude-attitude.html

    I knew some missionary families who would tell their children how much they disliked home assignment, that they didn’t like England because of this, this or this. I knew that because the children (too young to have remembered their previous trip to England) were using such phrases. It really challenged me! So what we try to do is really be thankful for the things that we have. In England, that might be cheese, running water whenever we want it, reasonable public transport, libraries, museums and plenty of parks to explore. In Africa, it might be abundant tropical fruit, markets, dust, different trees, flowers, birds and insects, new languages and multi-cultural friends. In Scotland, it could be magnificent mountains and lochs, seafood, fresh air and close family friends. And so forth. We try to live for today and embrace what we currently have rather than lament what we miss.

    (But I appreciate that we need to be sensitive and not dismissive when a child is very sad because of a loss of something. My eldest is five, and so this has not yet been a big issue as we move around)

    • Jess Connell says:

      GREAT point about being content and finding the good no matter where you are. Once you’ve lived in more than one place, there’s always something you love better in a different place (just thinking back through our homes– AR: natural beauty, DC: free museums/activities, TX: BBQ & steak, plus family, China: cheap eating out & wonderfully warm people, Turkey: lamb!!! plus our friends there). Everywhere a person can live… at least the places we’ve lived… has wonderful things about it, and hard things about it. We all can choose to grump or choose to be content, and the choice is ours.

      Good reminders, Kondwani!

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