Helping Your Kids Transition
About the Guest
In seasons of major life change, parents need to help their kids process the difficult things in healthy ways. Meg Robbins talks about walking with her kids through a major, cross-country move. Sabrina McDonald tells how she coached her kids through the process of becoming a blended family.
In seasons of change, parents need to help their kids process. Meg Robbins talks about walking with her kids through a major move. Sabrina McDonald tells how she coached her kids through becoming a blended family.
Michelle: When it comes to your kids, Ron Deal compares blending a family to changing countries.
Ron: Not only is a piece of you back in the old country, but a piece of the children is back in the old country. They’re having to learn new rituals, and customs, and language, and norms. And there’s a part of them that’s grieving; there’s some challenges there. Typically, what happens with children is that they let us know that through behavior.
Michelle: Whether your kids are changing countries, or just changing cities, we’re going to talk about how to help your kids move through transitions on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. If you’ve ever moved from one home to another, you probably know the stressors involved: the packing, and the unpacking, the leaving behind old memories, and the trying to make some new ones. A friend of mine recently moved several hours away. For her kids, there was this excitement at first. Then, quickly came the fears of the unknown, and the loss of friends, and the wondering if there were going to be new friends that were waiting for them in this new place. I watched her and her husband have conversations with their kids as they walked them through the process, and it’s still hard.
Have you helped your kids process through a move and the loss of all that they know? Meg Robbins joins me today to help us navigate that question and offer some advice on what she’s done to help her kids through their latest transition. She has two big jobs: she is the wife of the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins; she’s also a mom to four very cute kids. [Laughter] Welcome, Meg.
Meg: Thanks so much; it’s good to be here.
Michelle: It’s great to have you on. I’m curious, because I don’t know you that well; and I know our listeners are [curious], too. We already know that you have two big jobs that you do, but “Who is Meg Robbins?”
Meg: I grew up in the South; I’m from Memphis. I’m the youngest of five kids, so I grew up in a big family myself. I loved it; it was a blast. My family pointed me to the Lord, and I had a great background—just had a walk with the Lord and knew Jesus—I’m thankful for that.
When I went to college at the University of Mississippi, that’s where I met David. We got to know each other through Cru®, actually. He was a Bible study leader. They had tried out co-ed Bible studies; and lucky for me, I landed in his Bible study. [Laughter] I was thankful co-ed Bible studies started up! I started walking with the Lord more in college, and we were both growing a lot. We got married after I graduated. Our journey’s taken us a lot of different places. We’ve been on staff with Cru since we graduated and lived in several different places.
But here I am, the mom of four kids. It’s funny how easily, as a mom, your identity can begin to be wrapped around your children. It’s a challenge to continue to establish yourself: it’s who you are. It’s a good question you asked; it’s like, “Huh! That’s a challenging question to answer.”
Michelle: Tell me about your kids.
Meg: Ford is 11—wants to do things right and make sure everyone else is falling in line and doing things right. He’s also, though, tender-hearted toward people and their needs. Even in our family, I feel like he’s on the lookout for what people need.
Mim is our daughter, who—
Meg: —yes; she just turned 10. She’s our only girl, so there’s much delight in that for us. She naturally wants to serve, so that’s such a gift in our family.
Then, Roe is our eight-year-old, who is full of joy and constantly making us laugh. He’s probably the one who’s most like David when I hear stories of what David was like as a kid. We always laugh. He’s a sweetheart.
Then, Mac; he’s only one-and-a-half. He makes us all laugh, and he loves to make us laugh. I think he’s learning, “Oh! If I do this, it’s funny.” It can be anything silly, from burping to making a silly face.
Michelle: Your family has gone through a couple transitions in the last few years. You went from Atlanta/suburban Atlanta, all of a sudden, to New York City. How long were you in New York City?
Meg: We were in New York for five years; we moved there in 2012, and then we just moved here.
Michelle: How did you break the news to your kids?
Meg: We, actually, took them out for dessert—just sat down with everybody and started out by talking about our family, who live/we have family who live here in Little Rock—we talked about it from that angle: “How would you like to live in the same town as your cousins? What if we move here?”
They were really excited at first. The first question Mim asked was, “Do we get to have a dog?”; because in our apartment in New York, we couldn’t have dogs. We had had a dog before in Atlanta.
Honestly, after it started sinking in, within about a minute, the first tears started to come; because they really loved life in New York and had really good friends there. That was what they knew; because when we moved to New York, Ford was six, and Mim was almost five, and Roe was turning three. For them, life in New York was their total memory. I think Ford could certainly remember back to Atlanta. Other than that, that was their friends/their livelihood. It was a big conversation, for sure, when we first broke the news to them.
Michelle: You mentioned, at first, there was excitement; then, slowly, some of the sadness or some of the grief started settling in. How did you help them process through that as they’re going through their last: “This is the last time I’m going to go to [this] school.” Or they’re heading through their last…how did you help them process?
Meg: One of the things that someone told us to do was to make sure you have good good-byes with people, and places, and things that are special to you there. We made a bucket list with the kids of all the things we wanted to make sure we did before we left, and checked those off. When we’d go and do that thing, we’d not try to make it too or really emotional—but just take a moment and say: “This is so fun! Aren’t we so thankful that we got to do this?”—being grateful for the experiences we had and the places we got to see.
Most of all the friends—when you get right down to it, the places are fun/the things of daily life are kind of what you know, so it was important to say goodbye to those things—I think, really, in the end, it was getting really good time with people who are special in our lives. They each had a different want they wanted to do that.
Michelle: Of course, with baby Mac—
Meg: Actually, our next-door neighbor in New York—the apartment right next door to us—was his best little buddy. She was one of my best friends, and we had babies a week apart. They were super close; so we, actually, did spend a lot of time with them. It’s hard, because he didn’t even know what that means; but we tried to get some time with James, our little friend.
Michelle: It sounds like your kids have processed this really healthy. Were there times that one or two of them, you were like, “Oh, man; what do I do? How do I help them?”
Meg: It was definitely a roller coaster. They knew that they’d be moving for a few months: there were days, where they’d be excited, and days, where they would be sad. Probably the hardest thing was helping them to realize: “If you were feeling really sad about something, or someone in particular, that you’d be leaving, and you weren’t really talking about that or crying about that, it’s like you were stuffing down.”
This really/we talked to them about it as if it was a building or a tall block—it might be really tall; it might be two-feet tall of emotions—if you’re stuffing that down, then when something happens that upsets you—it’s like even though it might be a tiny, little thing, like not having what you wanted for breakfast or something; and you put that on top of all these other emotions—it might only be an inch big, but it’s carrying with it those two feet of emotions that you’re hiding or you’re putting down. That’s where the breakdowns were coming from.
There were definitely days where we could see our whole family felt like we were all a mess. At the end of the day, we were like, “I think this is the grief coming out very sideways.” You just, “Okay, let’s pray over this,” and hope that tomorrow we can keep that in the forefront of our minds, and love each other through it, and be patient. It’s easy to forget that that’s where it’s coming from.
Michelle: In a mom’s heart, this stuff weighs heavy on you—not that it wouldn’t on David—but it weighs heavier on a woman, especially as we were just talking about the emotions. David was actually moved ahead of you for a little bit.
Meg: He did.
Michelle: That left some of that weightiness on your shoulders. How was that during that time?
Meg: Honestly, I think I didn’t really realize, probably, the weight that I was carrying; because it was just kind of survival. When he was gone five days of the week, and would come home on weekends—it was just a few weeks or about a month, I guess—it was tough, being in New York and still trying to manage packing. I actually had a kidney stone in the middle of all that. [Laughter]
Michelle: Oh, no!
Meg: There were lots of crazy things happening. I think I probably was, without realizing it, in survival mode, like, “Let’s all try to survive and get through it.”
I do think, though, that there were nights, where we were putting the kids to bed—I feel like that’s sometimes where that can be the most challenging time of day—but can also surface some of the real emotions. I tried to take those bedtimes, at the end of the day, and ask, “How are you doing?” Sometimes, [they would respond] in a tender way, where they could pinpoint what they’re feeling/who they’re going to miss. Sometimes, they would be angry and not know what’s bothering them.
That can be hard, as parents, when you’re trying to help your kids process; but they don’t process the same way adults do. You have to wait, and ask—more than just, “What are you feeling?”—just trying to ask more pinpointed questions.
Michelle: You are helping your kids work through this transition; you’re also processing yourself. How are you investing in your marriage at this point?
Meg: The biggest thing for us is commitment, and continuing to talk and communicate—whatever feelings are there/whatever emotions—loss, whatever it is. I think it’s easy, just like you said—when you’re trying to help the kids process, and I see their emotions, and it’s easy to take those emotions on—it’s easy for our conversation to become about them and how they’re doing, which is important, for sure, for us to keep a pulse on them—but I think to step back and say: “How are you doing?” and “How are we doing?” and just being honest about that and not moving on too quickly.
Michelle: As you’re a mom, helping your kids—and obviously, as a wife, helping David—have you had a chance to grieve the loss of moving from a place that you had made a home?
Meg: I have certainly shed lots of tears through this process. I had very dear friends—still have them; they’re not gone—it’s different when they’re not your neighbors.
Michelle: You don’t see them.
Meg: Yes, exactly. I have definitely had lots of emotions, and journaling, and sad times, and talking things out. I think, at the same time, there are moments where I realize I’m probably shelving my emotions, and trying to help the kids process or be present for David. But David is really great about pulling things out of me and helping me realize where I am, too. I really appreciate that about him. I have some dear friends, who continue to call, and reach out to me, and ask the hard questions. I think that’s really helped me in the grief.
Grief is so important. I think, a lot of times, we think of grief as a bad thing—and it’s hard and messy—but in order to move through a transition well, and to come out of it with a grateful heart—truly, grief is important, I think. I probably tend to push it aside a little bit.
Michelle: Right; move on.
Meg: Yes; it’s just, “Okay, we’re here now. Let’s be here.”
What happens for me, when I do that, is that it just bubbles up in other ways. I realize later, down the road, “Oh, this is coming from that I’m still sad that I don’t have this friend in my life on a regular basis.” Just trying to take that to the Lord, and pray about it, and be grateful.
There’s that quote in Winnie the Pooh that says—
Michelle: I love Winnie!!
Meg: I know; the quote is, “How lucky I am to have something so great that makes saying goodbye so hard,”—something close to that. It’s so true. When I remember to look at it that way, and help our kids to process it that way: that God has given us such great things in New York that it is hard to say goodbye, and such wonderful friends and relationships.
It also has challenged us and encouraged us, as a family, to look back and say: “Remember when we moved to New York?—and we had left behind our friends, and we had to start over. The Lord built all these things that were so sad to leave. Now, here we are—we’re moving again—and let’s trust that the Lord will do that again. It may look different, and the timing might be different; but let’s trust that God has brought us here, and He has already hand-picked dear friends and things that you’re going to love about Little Rock that, one day, if you have to leave, it’ll be hard to say goodbye again.”
I think that’s all brought us to a place of depending on the Lord in each thing that we’re missing or hoping for, and just knowing: “The Lord is worth trusting, of course! He’s faithful and He’s good.” That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, and it is hard a lot of days. But we can keep our eyes fixed on Him, and know that He sees us, and He loves us, and He’s with us.
Michelle: Thank you for sharing about hard stuff today. I really appreciate this.
Meg: Sure; thanks for having me.
Michelle: You’re welcome.
Meg: We’re still in the middle of it.
Michelle: We’ll probably have to have you on again in maybe six months and say, “Okay; so—
Meg: We can do a check in!—see how it’s going. [Laughter]
Michelle: —“who’s handling this well?” and “Who’s, maybe, not so well?”
Meg: Thanks for having me on. You can be praying for all of us.
Michelle: Yes, most definitely we will.
Michelle: We will definitely be praying, especially as they continue to transition to Little Rock from Manhattan. That’s quite a hard transition to make.
We need to take a break; but when we come back, we’re going to hear from Ron Deal and, also, Sabrina McDonald. Sabrina has recently made a transition of her own, actually, into a blended family. She’s going to talk about how she navigated those waters with her two children. That’s coming up after this break.
[Radio Station Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. As Christians, we are charged to walk alongside others, who are suffering. Right now, I have a friend, who’s going through a divorce; and she needs someone just to sit with her, and hold her hand, and remind her who God is. That’s true for our friends and family members, but it’s also true for our children. When our children are in pain, they need us to walk with them through that pain. It’s hard, if you’re a parent; you probably know this well.
Sabrina McDonald also knows this well as she had to walk a child through a very hard transition. Sabrina has two children, and she remarried after her first husband died in a tragic car accident. There’s always that fine dance in blending a family. As Ron Deal puts it, it’s almost like you’ve moved to a new country, and a piece of your child is still in the old country. They’re having to replace rituals, and customs, and language, and all the norms that they trusted. Ron, of course, is an expert on stepfamilies; and he gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended®.
Recently, Ron sat down with Sabrina and discussed what it was like to lose her first husband and then, in particular, what it was like for Sabrina to walk through this trauma with her oldest son, Benjamin. Here’s Sabrina.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Sabrina: I think he seriously had a post-traumatic stress disorder experience with the whole transition. Within four years, he lost a father that revolved the world around him, and had a baby sister, and then the father died. Then, he had a crazy single mother; I mean, when you’re grieving, you just aren’t yourself. A very peaceful household went to a very chaotic household; and then, we moved to a new house. There was just so much going on.
Then, all of a sudden, I bring a man into his life. As much as my intentions were good to get Robby into our home, I think I rushed it too much. It went from, “Who is this stranger?” to “Now, this is a person you call Daddy.” He really had a lot of behavioral problems—it showed up at school and home—major fits and things like that. He was very, very disturbed.
Ron: How did you move forward and help Benjamin?
Sabrina: A lot of it—you have to take time with your kids—even though Benjamin was very, very young, I still took the time to talk with him. I spend time with the children before bed every night and pray with them. I said to Ben, “What is it that you want me to pray for?” He said, “Well, I want you to pray that my old daddy would come back.” He said that to me several times. I would say, “Why do you say that to me? It hurts my feelings that you say that.” He’d say, “Well, I miss him,” or whatever. I’d say, “Well, he’s in heaven; he can’t come back.” He really couldn’t express to me why he was saying this.
Just a few months ago, he said it again: “I wish my old daddy would come back.” I was thinking, “Wow; I thought we had finally gotten to a place where he was happy.” I said, “Ben, are you not happy with your daddy?” “No, I like Daddy.” I said, “Why do you say this?” He said, “Well, because sometimes I will ask you if I can do something; and you’ll say, ‘Yes.’ And Daddy will turn around and say, ‘No.’ And then you say, ‘Well, no, you can’t do it; because Daddy said.’”
What happened in my mind was—I was doing the same thing my mother did—which, when we were kids, she was establishing my father as the authority of the household. We would ask her, “Can we do such-and-such?” She said, “Well, let me ask your father.” If he said, “Yes,” or “No,” we knew that that was black and white—whatever Dad said—he was the authority.
I was trying to do the same thing with my kids, teaching them about Robby’s authority. The problem is that a blended family is not the same as a first-time family. I was trying to parent my son the way you do with his biological father and not with a stepfather. He was translating that in a different way—taking it to mean: “Well, it used to be that you were the boss, and now you’re not anymore; now, he’s the boss,”—he had this first grade/kindergarten mindset of how he was trying to logically figure that out.
The point is that he knew Robby wasn’t his dad, and that David was his real dad. He was trying to figure out how that authority figure worked. If I hadn’t taken the time with him to explain: “This is why it is the way it is,” he wouldn’t have understood. He was using his little mind to figure it out. I was taking it for granted that he understood: “Dad is the authority figure in the home.”
That’s how I think you have to do it. I think you have to take time with the kids, even if they’re little—and you don’t think they really know what’s going on—they really, really do.
Ron: There’s so many takeaways from that. One simply is that children experience the blended family, oftentimes, differently than the adults do. The adults have an agenda, always, and that is bringing people together and letting everyone feel like it’s family. But sometimes kids, because they’re holding on to previous relationships—and those are appropriate for them to hold onto those relationships—don’t have the same motivation to be happy with the way things go.
Your Benjamin is now six. The beautiful thing, which you just shared with us, I think, is that you engaged him in a conversation: you opened the door; you asked; you listened. It created an opportunity then for you to help explain some things to him. But I think the big thing there is just comforting him in his sadness, and knowing that he feels differently about it, and he misses his dad.
Michelle: That’s Ron Deal talking with Sabrina McDonald about how she helped walk her son, Benjamin, through the loss of his father and then accepting a new father. Just listening to Sabrina tell her story, my heart broke for Benjamin—I mean, to have so many changes in his young life—it’s got to be hard for that little guy. I haven’t walked in Ben’s shoes, but I’m sure it would be hard to know just who to trust.
As a parent, I know it’s hard to draw out your child. As Ron said: “Listen to them; communicate what’s happening; help them understand.” They’re young, and they need your help—not just your discipline—but your help and your understanding.
I was reading an article this week on helping the hurting ones in our life. The points were so good I just wanted to share them with you, especially as we help our kids through these tough times: “Be there; enter their suffering, like Job’s friends.” I know—Job’s friends—they get a bad rap most of the time. But if you remember, at the beginning of Job’s suffering, they sat with him; they were there to listen to him.
Another great point from this article was: “Speak the truth in love, and show love through your actions.” It can be as simple as—remember I talked about a friend of mine, who’s walking through a divorce?—she just wants somebody to sit with her. Just something to think about as you walk this journey with your kids.
Thanks for joining me today. Next week, I’m going to sit down and talk with Bob Lepine. I’m going to put him in the hot seat and grill him about parenting and how he raised his kids. We’ll find out if he did it right. That’s next week on FamilyLife This Week. I hope you can join us for that.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch; and our producers, Phil Krauss and Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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