Helping kids adjust to a house that isn’t yet furnished

>>How have your kids responded to the time it has taken to set up a “homey home”?>>

When you’re just a couple, you can enjoy the adventure of living with nothing, being in a new country, and soak up all the new experiences.  But for a family with children, it’s very disconcerting and unsettling to be living out of boxes, not have ready meals, etc, and that affects their ability to positively perceive all the new encounters they have in the course of a day.  The more children you have, the more difficult this aspect of things can be, and their unhappiness can quickly dominate the home environment.  Kids need to have the security of home being home before being able to more fully embrace other aspects of their new lives.

Our priority was to get the most important things into place quickly so the kids would feel like we were living here, not like we were having a bad camping trip.  Part of why we elected to buy things at a second hand store that were overpriced and not exactly the quality we wanted was because we could get it quickly and we wanted the kids to have a sense of being settled.  It’s not a coincidence that the only furniture I haven’t yet purchased is what dh and I need; we don’t love not having beds or a place to store things, but we can manage without losing our bearings.

Having said that, I’ll share what we did in advance to make this aspect of things a bit easier.  Before coming, we spoke to the kids about the reality of different things we’d be facing as soon as we got here.  I know that most people focus on the excitement and privilege of making aliyah, and that’s wonderful.  But there can be a huge disconnect and letdown when those people arrive and see that there are very real challenges in living here.

I knew that an empty apartment would not be a welcoming place to live, and wanted our children to be aware of this in advance so they wouldn’t be disappointed by the difference between their expectations and reality.  I really tried to make sure they would have an accurate sense of the challenges we’d immediately have, and at the time I wondered if I might have been playing down the excitement of the move too much.  One time, ds12 said, “If everything is going to be so bad when we get there, why are we going???”  But I now see their amazingly smooth transition, and feel it was in large part because they were emotionally prepared for all of this, even though the time frame from the decision to move and the move itself were relatively short.

One of the issues I knew we’d face immediately was that we would have no furniture or appliances, and explained what that would mean.  I told them that meals would be very, very simple – that we’d be buying bread, yogurts, and vegetables daily for very basic meals until we got a fridge and stove.  I stressed this meant no hot or cooked food, and told them that there are no takeout places in Karmiel (with what we consider a reliable kosher supervision) so we wouldn’t be able to go out for a change of pace.

We used a large part of our precious luggage allotment (:)) to bring sleeping bags, to have a place for us to sleep until we got beds.  This wasn’t comfortable at all, but it was still a place to lay down, and we were able to tell the kids in advance that this is what would be happening so when they got here they were ready for that.

Another thing that I did that was to anticipate how we would keep things organized in the absence of closets.  It’s very hard to live out of suitcases for an extended period of time, and not being able to organize your things and find what you need makes a move to a new place much harder.  In order to offset this, I chose to bring 18 gallon Rubbermaid storage containers.

In the past, I had used these to organize clothing storage in the attic, and as I emptied the storage and gave things away, I stacked the emptied containers in a pile for use in our packing.  We filled each storage container with clothing or whatever else we were packing, then put each container inside a large box, and then packed things like sleeping bags or larger clothing in the space between the box and the container.  Almost every standard sized box that I packed was done in this way.

When we got here, I unpacked everything the first night, sorting everything into personal containers for each person. Everyone was then given his box, and these were lined up along the wall in the room their sleeping bags were in.  It was definitely squished, with sleeping bags almost totally lining the floors, but instead of the general chaos you might expect, each of them then had a way to keep their stuff relatively contained until we bought freestanding clothing closets.

This was a huge help in the house staying neat, and for all of us to find what we needed each morning.  As we’ve purchased closets for the kids, the emptied containers have been transferred to other uses around the house, so bringing them was helpful in the short and long term.

When we did get furniture, the kids were so appreciative for each item.  They knew what it was like not having it, and saw how much effort I put into getting it.

So emotional preparation was an important step for us.  The second aspect wasn’t about what we did in advance, but what we did when we got here.   Kids take their cues from us to a large degree, and we tried to focus on the positives of being here and not complain about the difficulties.  When things would happen that could have been very frustrating, I would think about how we were weaving a quilt of our aliyah memories that one day we’d enjoy reminiscing about!


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