I long to move to the seaside, but will it unsettle my children?

Annalisa Barbieri
·4 min read

Four years ago, we relocated at a time we thought least harmful to our children: the youngest was starting primary school, the eldest junior school. They are now nine and 13. They are of mixed ethnicity and we wanted to live somewhere more multicultural, in a larger house in a less urban area. Our close family live outside England, so we thought moving nearer to extended family might provide some roots. The children settled well but contact with the extended family didn’t really happen.

Last year, going through the menopause, I became depressed and sought counselling. I recognised I’d been so focused on what might be best for the children that I’d disregarded what was right for me. I’ve always wanted to live by the sea and have become increasingly despondent about having missed an opportunity to move there four years ago. During lockdown my husband and I had time to reflect; he thinks our family unit will be stronger if we move again, before the children are any older. We both want our eldest settled before GCSEs. She is very empathic, knows I am unhappy and constantly asks why.

My mother died when I was a young woman and I’ve had little family support (no siblings, an emotionally unavailable father). I feel desperate to put roots down somewhere and create a supportive network of friends. My dilemma is whether to force another move on my children when they are settled here. This place has positive features for them; the place we’ve thought of moving to is less multicultural. Maybe I should just suck it up until they leave home. Mothers are supposed to put their children’s interests first, after all.

The core to resolving your dilemma lies in working out what’s within you and what are external factors. Too many people seek to change their surroundings (work, or partner, or home), while the issue within them remains unchallenged. They then wonder why the new place (or partner, or job) hasn’t made them happier.

I talked to psychotherapist Dr Joyline Gozho, who immediately noted your upbringing: “You probably had a lot of unresolved and unmet needs in childhood, and now that you’re a mother, they’re coming to the fore.” When you add in the menopause, which can be a time of great reflection (“What happened to me? What about my needs?” are questions often asked), and Covid, which is making so many people reprioritise, it’s not surprising you are in a dilemma. But you don’t need to do anything just yet.

The first thing both Gozho and I felt you needed was time to explore your own feelings, without thinking about family and future. “You need to have considered therapy that looks at your individual needs,” Gozho said. You mention seeking counselling but not whether you addressed these issues in it. “Your mother dying and your emotionally unavailable father – those are huge losses that may have left you feeling emotionally deprived.”

You rhetorically ask if a mother is supposed to put her children’s interests first. Not always, and certainly not if it makes the mother unhappy to the point of the children knowing about it, because they will then blame themselves. Gozho and I were concerned that your eldest knows how unhappy you are and wonder what internal narrative she may be establishing for herself. She shouldn’t be worrying about you when she is about to enter the turbulent waters of adolescence.

Related: I want to move back to the UK. How can I convince my husband to give it a try? | Annalisa Barbieri

You talk about being “desperate” to put down roots, while also talking about pulling them up. This contradiction makes me wonder how much of this need is within you, yet you constantly search for it externally. You need to home in on what it is you feel you are missing, and whether living by the sea will give it to you. The seaside is lovely, but when people talk about moving there in a certain utopian way, it strikes me as running away. That’s never a good basis for stability and growth.

Have you spent any time in the place you’d like to move to, winter and summer? Talked to people who live there? I would do this as soon as possible.

Making a flow chart and asking, “What if we do this, and what then?” can give great clarity. If you find the only good reason for moving to the seaside is that you want to, I wonder about putting yourself under that sort of pressure to make it a success.

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