Kris’ Corner – When Siblings Move Out

September 13, 2023

So now I want to piggyback on my last post about older siblings going to college…but now I want to talk about those older kiddos moving out completely.

Obviously, this may happen right after high school, thereby skipping the transition to college piece. Or it may be after college. Or it may be when the sibling is a little bit older and established and comfortable and ready to launch, at whatever age that is. But regardless of when it is, it will be a difficult transition for everyone, but especially any younger foster or adopted children who are still living at home.

Our current situation is slightly different than most, although I believe it has enough similarities that it can be relatable to many: our oldest is technically “moving out”, however a lot of his things are staying in our home; he’s moving overseas for at least the next one to two years…and clearly isn’t taking ALL his stuff. So we have the privilege of keeping all his treasured possessions here for a bit longer. Of course we are glad to do it, and it’s not in the way at all (although I must admit I do have big plans for his room when he does move out for good!) but honestly I fear that seeing his older brother’s things may make it more difficult for our youngest to emotionally process what’s happening, as they will be a consistent reminder of the loss.

Now, this might sound crazy, but I have somehow just known since my oldest son was about 12 years old that he would spread his wings far and wide. He would not just tentatively put a toe out into the big wide world, but take a flying leap. To be clear, this was not because of us, but just because of the wanderlust he has innately been given. He loves to travel, he loves to learn about other cultures, and he loves to help people. So he’s moving “across the pond” to work in a refugee camp. And I’m super excited for him, and I know his brothers are as well.

And excited though we are, I have to revisit all those things in my previous post about the anxiety our youngest feels with the comings and goings of his older brothers…and that said, I’m not 100% certain how this will play out with the distance and a much longer time apart from his brother.

To be sure, we’ve been talking for weeks and months about the fact that his brother is moving across the ocean and it will be “a while” before we see him in person again (thank goodness for FaceTime is all I have to say about that!). We honestly don’t talk in concrete times because we don’t know exactly how long he will be gone…and even though our youngest does better with concrete concepts, if we tell him it will be a year but it’s 15 months, he will be angry, frustrated and sad (understandably…we would all feel that say). But his anger especially would be over the top…so to avoid that, we just don’t talk about an “end date” to his time overseas. Plus, in another fun twist, our youngest sometimes struggles with the concept of time so to tell him it’s going to be a year might be too much for him to fathom and he would get overwhelmed. (Trauma and delays make life interesting, don’t they?)

But I have digressed to a point…most of you will not be in this exact kind of situation, although if an older sibling is moving across the country, or even to another state, it might be a minute until the siblings see one another again. And even if the one who moved out doesn’t live that far away, if they’ve got a busy schedule, it might still be a while before they’re together, so from that perspective it’s the same. Also, you might not always know when they will see one another again, so if the youngest one asks, you might not be able to tell them.

And I don’t know what exactly to tell you about all this because it’s new territory for us…but I do have something of a plan. First of all, we are going to do the best we can to maintain connection between the two. For starters, we are going to set up an email account for the youngest so he can email his brother and vice versa; he’s not quite ready to have a phone yet so he won’t be able to text.

And of course we will send letters and cards (the oldest more than likely won’t send them to us. Not because he doesn’t love us, but because it’s not going to be on his radar to do). And that’s ok…that’s not really what it’s about (although I’d admit that a card via airmail would be nice on occasion!) …it’s about the youngest making a connection effort with the oldest.

But regardless of what we do, I suspect on one level, there will be increased anxiety before, as well as in the days or weeks following. But I also believe that we will probably (read *hopefully*) settle into a routine and it won’t be too much of an issue on a daily basis. Until I absent-mindedly, say something about his brother, or his brother wants to FaceTime, or something like that.

These are all great things, but will also probably be triggering. But again, that’s the thing about triggers: you just never know when a child from hard places will be set off.

Even though I’m sure he is still already thinking about his brother, it just brings all the emotions rushing to the forefront and brings up those feelings of loss and hurt and pain, and those things that are woven in his being from his infancy. And so, as his mom, I will have to always keep that in mind, so that even when something seems out of the blue, like explosive anger, or extreme anxiety, it’s not out of the blue for our son. And he’s not able to fully (or sometimes even partially) put words to it because they are events and trauma that occurred in utero and as a young infant. But his body remembers and those triggers, as many of us know, can jump out at any time, often without warning.

One additional note: when a child moves out of your house it’s hard for everyone in the house. And it’s hard to comfort someone melting down from sadness when you’re in the midst of it yourself…so give yourself some grace as well.