The posts I have written this summer about the demands of a cross-country move have focused primarily on what a new job means for me professionally. Writing for other academics, I’ve found it easy to overlook the fact that this move has, in many ways, been more trying on my young family. New hires have the excitement and challenges of the fresh position to anticipate, but our families may find less to distract them from the difficulty of leaving their old life behind. Even after arrival, the adjustment can be more stressful without a regular work routine to structure the days. While I run the gantlet of new faculty orientations, my wife and toddler son are exploring a strange town with no guide to help them.
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking more deliberately these last few days about how I can make the move easier on my family. Here are a few of the suggestions I have come up with.
1) Look for opportunities to help your family plug in. Go ahead and register for that spousal ID card, sign the family up for membership at the recreation center, add your mate’s e-mail (with permission) to that mailing list about the local theater. Overhear talk of a spouse’s book club? Mention how much your husband enjoyed his last reading group. In short, be your family’s eyes and ears on campus. New hires are sure to be assaulted with dozens of programs and offerings they cannot possibly embrace right away, but that community swim team may be just thing to help your daughter feel at home. Remember, you are the family’s liaison to the university. You have access to opportunities you family members won’t know about if you are not diligent in passing that information along.
2) Spare no reasonable expense. The last time we moved, it was to a town of only a few hundred people, where my wife, a city girl, found herself 30 minutes from even the nearest Wal-Mart. One of our minor solutions was to splurge for a cable package that helped us feel a little more connected to the larger world. This time around, decent hotels and dining during the trip itself made a big difference. I’m the type who’s willing to drive all night and stop only for fast food in order to save money on the road. But with a 1-year-old in the back seat, that simply wasn’t an option this summer. When I asked my wife what I should put on this list, that more relaxed approach to travel was the first thing she thought of. Moving is hard and expensive. You cut corners at the expense of your family’s comfort.
3) Save significant time and energy for home. The temptation this past week has been to arrive at the office early and stay late. After all, in addition to the demanding orientation schedule, welcome luncheons, faculty workshops, etc., new hires want to set themselves up for a successful first semester by fine-tuning their courses and giving their research the attention it demands. It’s astonishing how quickly the pursuit of tenure or the book contract or the next grant can replace the job market on our list of professional worries. But while the new job seems to want so much, our uprooted families are likely more dependent on us than ever. Now is certainly not the time to put our most important relationships on autopilot. In fact, with routines unsettled, this might be a good opportunity to institute a regular date night.
What other strategies would you suggest for new hires who are concerned about their families’ adjustment? Tonight I’m going home early.