Q My parents traveled a lot when I was small and although it was exciting to see all those new places, I see from the family photos that I wasn’t a happy little girl. I missed having friends around me. Now that I’m a mum myself I’m wondering if I should ensure that I stay rooted in one place so that my own daughter feels that she ‘belongs’ somewhere. I’m not sure how much this will be possible as I do still want to experience new places, and may have to move in future due to my husband’s work.
A There is no right or wrong answer – as both variety and predictability have their merits.
It doesn’t so much matter ‘where’ as ‘how’ you live. Security and stability are vital to a child, and these aren’t determined by your geographical location as much as by your parenting style, time, attention and consistent boundaries.
Understandably you don’t want to pass on your own old feelings of loneliness – from your sad inner child – to your own daughter. For that reason alone I don’t expect that you would lightly chose a travelling lifestyle for your own family.
Travelling doesn’t necessarily equate with loneliness and sadness – as long as the parents are aware of the child’s needs and feelings, and ensure that they respond to them well.
It’s about balance – and not letting the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction.
Your daughter won’t have clear memories of her playmates until the age of about 4-5 years anyway (maybe later) but she will be internalising happiness, being popular and that her life is good, safe and happy.
Moving her to several different locations and schools is never a good idea if it can be avoided because it can affect her ability and willingness to emotionally attach to her peers.
My suggestion would be for YOU to find where you are happy and feel settled enough; and what it is that you want from your environment, and where you can feel that you ‘belong’ – for the duration of her school years. She may have to change schools anyway over the years.
Changing house is one thing but changing schools, before a child has to, is best avoided, (unless there is a bullying or other issues that aren’t being resolved to your satisfaction).
I’ve worked with many people whose parents were in H.M.Forces, or they worked away and travelled on business taking the family with them. Almost all of them said that, like you, they enjoyed the adventure, but felt that it distanced them from their peers and their ability to form enduring friendships.
They were always the ‘new’ boy or girl and on a deeper level they never expected to be around for very long, and so the ‘investment’ wasn’t made in building and maintaining relationships. That pattern can continue into adulthood.
So, in answer to your question – maintain the stability and predictability as much as you can, and refrain from moving her unless it is in her best interests (as above, if due to a poor school environment or bad teaching standards).
If you have wanderlust then perhaps you could move only when your daughter would have to move up to the next level of schooling anyway – at which time most of the children are ‘new’ and finding their new peer groups.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)