Q: My husband and I are both unemployed and we and our nine children — ages 7 to 2 — are about to become homeless.
Fortunately, family and friends are stepping up, so this is not as dire as it might seem. The two oldest children will be moving in with high school friends and my husband and I will live separately but nearby, each with two of the younger children. Three of our children, however, ages 12, 9 and 8, have no place to go.
Some wealthy relatives, who live on farms in Canada, have offered to take them in, which would have some advantages. Our children love their cousins and their lives would probably be better than those of us who are left behind, but the thought of their moving 2,500 miles away makes my heart hurt. I’d prefer to tuck them in nearby but am not sure that this is an option.
We’re hoping to be back on our feet soon but that may or may not happen. Until then, what should we do?
A: We admire our brave forebears for immigrating to America but we should probably admire their parents even more.
Letting go of children is the hardest job that you’ll ever have, even if the children are grown and they’re just moving across town. To let school-age children cross a continent — and cross a border too — has to hurt much more.
And yet sometimes we have to do things we never wanted to do — or thought we’d have the courage to do — and it looks like this may be one of those times. If it is, so be it. Life is full of tests and each one we pass makes the next test that much easier.
If three of your children must go to Canada, the whole family will be unspeakably sad, but send them off with your blessing and as much good cheer as you can muster. If you and your husband handle this transition well, you can give these children bigger, broader horizons; turn them into problem-solvers for the rest of their lives and make your family even stronger.
To do that, make sure that the children know that the move is temporary and that a season — or even a year or two — away from home will enrich their lives, not weaken it, because every fresh experience will be another culture shock to them and the more culture shocks they get, the more they will appreciate differences in people and places and the more curious and empathic they will be.
Even the chores they do will help them grow — and they will do chores because everybody on a farm does chores, no matter how rich the farmer or how much help is hired. Feel grateful for that. The chores your children do will make them more competent and competence is a child’s greatest need between six and 12.
Although many of their experiences will be different from yours, you can keep your family together as long as everyone tries hard to strengthen the connection. If your children keep a journal about their lives in Canada, for instance, they can occasionally scan in some pages and email them to you, and then you and their siblings can understand their new lives better. You’ll not only find out what they’re doing in more detail but you’ll see how differently each child reacts to new traditions, new cultures and new ideas. This, in turn, will let you jump across any gulf that might lie between you when they do come home.
You, your husband and your stateside children should also email to the children in Canada as often as you can, because the family is a team and every player needs to know what’s going on. Even fragmentary notes, silly pictures and the family’s latest money-making ideas will be appreciated, but handwritten letters will be read over and over again because your loops and dashes will make these children feel closer to you than any typescript you could choose.
And, of course, the whole family should Skype regularly because Skype is the best way to keep a separated family in touch — and it’s free. Even if someone has to borrow a friend’s laptop, it will be worth it just to hear a voice that’s changing; to listen to the 9-year-old’s book report and to see if a Canadian haircut looks the same as a cut that they might get in the U.S.
There are many ways for a family to be together, even when it’s apart.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.