what is "home" when it isn't a place?
April 10, 2008 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Define "home."

It's where the heart is, it's sweet, you can't go there again, etc. I can google the quotes. But what becomes "home" if you didn't grow up in only one place, or if your family isn't the Norman Rockwell kind of family one pictures when conjuring up an image of "home"?

I'm about to relocate my kids just as they begin high school. They spent their younger years in one state, their coming-of-age years in another, and they'll become adults in a third. I feel guilty but it can't be helped and it's a good move for all of us for a lot of reasons. Our extended family is quite limited so it's pretty much just us. We've got holiday traditions and all kinds of routines that don't/won't change, so there's that.

But their childhood "home" isn't a single place, and it isn't memories of big loud cheerful family gatherings. So what is it? What does it mean to have shallow roots & a peripatetic upbringing? And what will it mean for them when I'm dead & they don't have either a familiar place or a person to come home to?

I would love to hear from army brats, adult children of divorce, adults who were foster kids, children of overseas workers, etc. All comments are welcome and appreciated.
posted by headnsouth to Home & Garden (45 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Home could be objects - a set of plates or a piece of intimate furniture such a dresser or bed. These sorts of objects that you interact with regularly can step in when the physical space they inhabit changes. So, you might not be able to go home to the same house, but at least you can go home eat off the same plates and sleep in the same bed. Or sleep under the same quilt, and so on.
posted by gyusan at 11:40 AM on April 10, 2008

I always lived in the same place, until I hit 16. We moved the same week i did my final exams at school.

The physical reality of a home doesn't matter nearly as much as the emotional reality. Having parent's who love you is important. Where they love you doesn't mater so much.
posted by Solomon at 11:42 AM on April 10, 2008

It's different for different people, obviously.

I lived in one house from kindergarten to the end of high school, and my parents still live there. I went to college 300 miles away, and now live within a half-hour drive on the other side of the city.

Home, for me, has nothing to do with place. Roots aren't about physical locations. They're about people. My home is where my parents are, where my sister is; where my friends are. To an extent, my roots are also traditions - holidays together, that kind of thing. But, again, that's about the people; sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner with strangers wouldn't feel like home.

When I can walk through the door and immediately start hugging people... that's home.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:43 AM on April 10, 2008

my favorite description of home is something i saw, in all places, in a video game.
"home is where the heart is. Home is your rib cage"

now i guess that might sound kind of flippant. But i took it to mean that "home", (whether the narrowly defined nuclear family home, or the one bedroom apartment i share with my boyfriend, or the abandoned houseboat my friend squatted in for a year) is the place where you feel comfortable in your skin. and following that, family is who you feel comfortable with.

i moved cross country to live with my boyfriend, we're moving from florida to rhode island in a year for his job, and a short while after that, we may be moving to japan. But I don't feel like I have uprooted myself, because I am my own roots. I have the ability to make anywhere I am my home.

So, that's my two cents. Home is your rib cage.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 11:46 AM on April 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

As a child, I was born and raised in Ottawa. My father was a diplomat, and as a result we moved a handful of times in my childhood, between Canada and the US, and then within Canada.

And you know what? I feel richer for it. I know what different cities "feel" like to me, and I have learned a lot from living in different cities throughout my youth. It gave me a sense of independence that I don't know I would have had staying in one city.

As it stands, it's tough for me to define what's "home". "Home" in my head feels like the city I went to high school in, and where I still have the most friends. I live near by, but my parents now live 5 hours from what in my head pops up when I think of "home".
But there's also the element of me that, on thinking of the word home, just kinda conjures up wherever my parents are. When I go "home" for Christmas or Thanksgiving, it's driving for half a day to a city which I don't feel all that connected to, at all.

It's a tough question to answer, though.
posted by smitt at 11:50 AM on April 10, 2008

I always consider home in the present tense. That is, my "home" is wherever I've set myself up. So, right now my home is my apartment. I wouldn't count temporary situations, though. We lived in Germany for a couple years when I was a kid, and "home" during that time was New Jersey.

My parents moved while I was in college, and again shortly after I graduated. Neither of those places are "home" for me, because I never lived at either of them. I have regular arguments with my mother about this - she believes where they live is my home because, I suppose, you could consider their place the family homestead. It's not my home to me because I'm there only a limited number of days every year and when I visit (notice - visit, not "go home"), I have to sleep in the guest room.

Of course, when people ask me where I'm from I always answer "New Jersey". I imagine your kids will consider "home" wherever they had their deepest emotional attachment to. I did have a friend whose family moved about every two years, and she would always answer the above question with, "Well, I was born in...". So maybe they'll never be attached to a singular place. Then, I imagine they'll consider "home" wherever they happen to be, or if you're lucky, wherever you happen to be.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:50 AM on April 10, 2008

I grew up moving every year until I was 8, and several times thereafter. For a long time I didn't feel like I was "from" anywhere. In fact, it wasn't until I went away to college and realized I had lived in Dallas on and off for 10+ years that I started saying I was from there. But really it doesn't matter. Once I left college, where I grew up and where my parents lived weren't "home". When I lived in NYC it was home, and now I call Champaign-Urbana home, and when I move somewhere else I'll do the same. So don't worry about "someday". By the time you pass away your children will have their own homes, and that wouldn't be any less true if they had grown up in one house their entire childhood. As far as what they'll say to other people, they'll say that they're from whichever place they identified with most.
posted by MsMolly at 11:50 AM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

We moved a lot due to my dad getting new jobs and furthering his education. I lived in 11 houses and went to 7 different schools (3 high schools). Now the folks are retired and where they live now is their home, but home to me is the East Coast. I have many cousins and extended family out here, even if I don't see them a lot. My fondest memories are from times spent living here.

I also have a huge family tree book that helps me see who my ancestors were and where they lived. Most of them, if they moved, moved for better work opportunities.

When I moved back East, I drove by my old family home and was surprised at how small it was. I was a little kid when we moved away from there, and I always remembered it as being huge. I felt like a giant walking through the barn and there was a hitching post that I used to try and climb up that is now waist-high on me.

I didn't care where we lived as long as we had the traditions and the best memories I have of living with my folks is the times they took to do things with us. Or simple things like playing cards and games with my siblings. Dad walking in the kitchen and telling us stories as we played cards. Mom playing show tunes on the piano. Sounds like what you're doing is fine, and it taught me how to make friends easily.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:52 AM on April 10, 2008

Robin and Linda Williams say "Home is anywhere my love goes."

That's a thought that's helped me a lot through my traveling life.
posted by bluebird at 11:53 AM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I grew up a military brat. We moved a lot, though less than most. We weren't super-involved with the extended family, so it was pretty much just the four of us, too. (Tangentially, when I dream of "home" it tends to happen at my grandparents' house. It's the most constant house in my life, so I assume my brain substitutes it for a home setting in a pinch.)

I'm 26 now. My parents feel like home to me, still, more than anything. Also, there are household items that I treasure more than I might otherwise, because I can picture them in nine different houses, give or take. Our holiday traditions are important to me, and I definitely attribute my overall closeness with my parents and brother to the moving. It's important to say I've never felt displaced or weird for not having been from one place/home my whole life. Honestly, I've always considered myself fortunate for the experience. It's also made me a more adventurous adult than I think I might have been otherwise.

I moved right after my freshman year of high school and that totally sucked, I won't lie to you. It's a tough age to move. I made it through unscarred, happy, and relatively balanced nonetheless, and I don't think I had any worse a high school experience than most. I'm sure I was a nightmare to live with at the time, but what fourteen year old isn't? My parents gave me a lot of room to be angry, even with them, and that really, really helped a lot.

To avoid writing a novel in your comments, I'll stop here. If you'd like to hear anything else, please feel free to mefi mail me. I could go on for days. Good luck to you and your family.
posted by juliplease at 11:55 AM on April 10, 2008

We'd lived in three different countries, and six different houses, by the time I was a teenager. Never really made a big difference to me or to my brother, though each time the move was a bit challenging, especially when I was younger. What really matters is the family, love, support, all those things that you already know are important to kids. Bring your pets with you.

They'll make new friends, but make sure they're able to stay connected to old ones; with IM and cell phones it's all the easier today.

I always strongly felt that home was wherever my family was, not one particular house or town. The only exception I can think of is that I was very sad when my grandparents sold the house they'd lived in for my entire childhood. THAT sort of seemed like the loss of a piece of my past.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:56 AM on April 10, 2008

Honestly, moving your kids three times over the time frame you're talking about doesn't compare to the kids I know who were army brats -- changing home every six or twelve months is a wildly different experience than changing home every six years. So I would encourage you not to feel guilty.

Before I went away to college, I grew up in three home towns in two states (Colorado and Wyoming), and also lived in Europe twice; after college, my parents then moved away themselves from my last home town. So as an adult, there has never been a "family home" for me to come back to for Christmas. It's not a particularly big deal to me. Not having had one home town where my parents stayed after I went to college has meant that I haven't stayed in touch with many people from my younger days (and it may or may not be a coincidence that the ones I have stayed in touch are also people who left town), but it hasn't affected me much otherwise.

Having said that, when I think of a childhood home, I do think very fondly of my maternal grandparents' house in Laramie, Wyoming, and it does make me sad that it's no longer around (my mom sold it to the University of Wyoming after my grandparents died, and UW turned the block into a parking lot and turned the house into the parking administration office). I do wish my parents would have hung on to it, for both sentimental and practical reasons.

It also means that when somebody asks me where I'm "from," I can laugh and ask if they'd like the long version or the short version. Where I'm "from" is relative, anyway -- here in L.A., people often ask "where are you from" simply as "where did you live before you moved here," not so much as "where did you grow up". So for the former, I answer that I moved here from Chicago. For the latter, I answer that I grew up in Colorado and what I call only half-jokingly my "ancestral homeland" of Wyoming.

I do think it's kind of neat that my boyfriend can go home to the house he grew up in and that he's part of one circle of friends who've known each other for something like 30 years. But in the end, I don't think his experience is particularly better or worse than mine -- just different. I think in his own way he kind of envies that I had more of a varied experience growing up (especially having gotten to live in London and Vienna, which I wouldn't have traded for the world).
posted by scody at 11:58 AM on April 10, 2008

I was just talking about this with someone the other day. My parents are from different countries and by the time I finished high school I had lived in six different countries. There was no single location we kept coming back to and when people ask where I'm from I'll either rattle off the countries or say my parents now live in the US.

Home, in a simple way, was wherever I happened to be living at the time, but for a long time the place I considered home in a "where your heart is" sense was where I'd gone to elementary school. I was old enough to remember the place and the people, and five years was the longest (still) that I've ever been in one place continuously. Sometimes I think I missed out because I didn't grow up with childhood friends and wasn't close to my extended family. I don't know who I'd invite to a wedding. For me, home isn't just location, but it isn't other people either because there's no group that's followed me around.

Home, in a shallow sense, is where most of my wearable clothes are. But I've also decided that I don't have a home yet, and that someday, when I settle down, that's where home will be.
posted by loulou718 at 11:59 AM on April 10, 2008

Forgive me for the overly literal and straightforward answer, and I know this isn't exactly what you're driving at, but I have to take issue with the premise of your question considering that you've said "I feel guilty" about the situation.

Of course home does have to do with place. I don't understand the aversion to recognizing the importance of place. It's not shallow -- it's a rich part of life. Place shapes us -- that's what home is. (There's a whole book about it.)

You really have no problem to be solved. Your kids just happen to have three places they can call home instead of one, and they'll likely have more in the future. What will they think when you're dead? They'll appreciate that they had various homes rather than just one home and that this is just fine. You don't need to redefine words or experiences for them. (As you say, they're becoming adults.)

In the modern world, we're more and more able to have many homes. This is an upside of modernity, not a drawback. I wish I had had more homes and wasn't so rooted in the town I grew up in.

It's like asking: "I have a problem -- I don't have one true love of my life. I have many. How can I have just one true love?" Well, you don't -- you have many. Enjoy it.
posted by jejune at 12:02 PM on April 10, 2008

Home is where you keep your stuff.
posted by rokusan at 12:02 PM on April 10, 2008

I like the "rib cage" analogy. I'd say it's pretty accurate.

Similar story here - by the time I was in high school, I had lived in three different countries, two different states, and changed schools more times than I can remember. And my family was about as far from Norman Rockwell as one can imagine.

As an adult, "home" is several things: wherever I am in the present, as well as where I spent most of my early childhood (San Francisco) and where I went to high school (Seattle). Whenever I'm in either one of those places, I become instantly more at ease and relaxed than I am anywhere else - and that's "home" to me!

I think having a vagabond childhood can be both good and not so good. While my upbringing lacked the security that having a traditional "home" can provide, the flipside is that I became a person who can quickly make my surroundings "home."
posted by chez shoes at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2008

I lived in one house for almost half my life, between the age of 1 and the age of 21.
I don't think of that house as "home". Home is where I live now.
posted by rocket88 at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2008

I have been moving and traveling since the tender age of 3 weeks old. I am now a few months shy of 30. I've never spent more than 4 years in any one place. I think I've lived in 8 different states in this country.

And for me, "home" hasn't been any of the places I've lived. What has felt most like home to be was a city I visited for only a weekend. The feeling started as soon as I saw the skyline, and it only got stronger as I actually entered the city and began exploring it.

It felt like I belonged there. It was as if my whole life had been leading up to that one moment in time. In that moment, I didn't need friends or family or any material possessions to be happy. All I needed was to keep hearing and feeling the pulse of that beautiful city. I remember thinking nothing would ever compare to the joy I felt that whole weekend.

That was 6 years ago. I haven't yet returned to that particular city, but I've visited many others. In all this time, my feelings haven't faded in the slightest. And so far, I've been right. I haven't found that joy anywhere else, or with anyone else.

That joy is what makes it home to me.
posted by Zarya at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2008

I was moved around quite a bit when I was a kid and am not particularly close to my parents.

I'm not a very materialistic person, but to me home is where I keep my things.

My little brother is loved very much by his parents (we have the same father). Even though they moved him from LA to Tennessee half-way through high school I can see a confidence and self-assuredness in him that I have no experience of. I feel that if you provide a loving, supportive home for your children, they will find 'home' within themselves.
posted by Pecinpah at 12:11 PM on April 10, 2008

I think Loulou's right -- you don't have a home by default, you make one. I've always considered "home" to be where I have the strongest ties at any given time, typically where I'm living/working.
posted by Alterscape at 12:13 PM on April 10, 2008

I'll depart from the bulk of these answers and say that home is relative.

Where I live with my husband is what I refer to as "home" when speaking to most people most days. Home is wherever we happen to be living together.

Speaking to my husband, however, home is where my mother is. Which happens to be in a country in which I no longer reside, in a house I didn't grow up in. Doesn't matter. When speaking about going to the US to see my parents, I'm going home.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:20 PM on April 10, 2008

I moved around a lot as a kid, wasn't particularly close to my extended family, and my parents moved to another state after I had graduated from college. But it wouldn't have mattered, anyway, because none of the places that I lived in prior to moving to Chicago in 1988 felt like home to me. Within the first few months of living in this town, it just felt like home. I haven't lived in the same place here for more than 7 years, but the city itself is home and it is how I identify myself when others ask about home for me.

So, I made my own home after I graduated from college and it has nothing to do with my family of origin, for what that is worth.
posted by jeanmari at 12:23 PM on April 10, 2008

My family moved away from the Island of Lewis when I was a year old. I spent the next 16 years in another part of Scotland and then the latter 16 years in Glasgow. But Lewis has always and will always be my home.

I returned most summers as a child and travelled back once or twice yearly as an adult having always felt an inexplicable bond or tie to the island. My mother's side of the family has lived there for generations and I physically look like my maternal Grandfather and his Father, to the point that complete strangers will know who I am if I meet them on the streets there. I feel nothing for my Father's heritage and home though it is an equally rural and fascinating area.

Many people from the island profess this tie and I've been told that many islanders do indeed feel a pull when they leave. My mother's side of the family have always said when asking when I will be visiting "When are you coming home a'graidh?" even though I own a house, live and work hundreds of miles away.

The pull of "home" has become so strong I am making plans to quit my well-paid job and move back to the place of my birth within the next few years. When I am there, I am where I should be. The air I breathe there feels like my air, the hills and moors feel like my land, the people like my people. It's taken about ten years to get my head around this, previously I found the whole attachment more than a little perplexing. But it's as real as can be. I'd be very interested if there has been any research done or any link made between the psychology of genes and place.

Basically, home for me has nothing to do with where I was raised, grew up, had good times or bad times. It's not a building or my parents or where my happiest memory is. It's simply somewhere I, for whatever reason, feel fundamentally attached. For your kids this could be anywhere you've lived as family, the town they were born in or the country your Grandparents hail from or anywhere they are with their loved ones, secure and settled. And only they'll know where they'll lay their particular hat.
posted by brautigan at 12:31 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm an airforce brat. We didn't move as often as many, which I mark as being lucky. I can't really explain "home" but will tell you this story...

When I got married, we lived in another state from my family. Prior to my wedding ceremony, several people who were invited suddenly couldn't attend because they were shipped to Kosovo. There was a real chance my father wouldn't be there to walk me down the asile (but he was). When we got back from our honeymoon, we started to discuss buying a house and I had a breakdown - I needed to be "home." As much as I loved the place we were living at the time, and I miss it on a daily basis, it wasn't home. I didn't have a support network beyond my husband, and I wasn't _part_ of a support network. So my husband, who really could care less about where we live, agreed that we'd move "home."

When my father deployed for the current conflict in the Gulf, I can not express to you the importance to me, and my mother, that I be "home." I was able to physically be there when he boarded the plane, I was able to be at the base when he came back. I was there to when my mom needed me, and she was there for me. My husband is not a military person, so he really doesn't understand this life. Also, and perhaps more importantly, my husband does not come from a close family (sometimes, I think me being a military brat is completely irrelevant compared to just being a close loving family).

I've said several times that I'd move back to the other state in a blink of an eye, but only if I could take my support network. As an adult, I can say that my mother, even though she drives me nuts sometimes, is one of my best friends.

So - where is home to me? I say regularly that it doesn't matter where I am - stuck in an airport, lost on a country road somewhere, waiting for the car to be fixed - as long as I'm with my husband. He's home to me. But when I am in the depths of needing comfort and facing the fear of losing a loved one, I know that "home" is an extended support network of my parents and my brother, as well as the man I love.
posted by librarianamy at 12:41 PM on April 10, 2008

I lived in the same home from 2 - 18, and my folks lived there until a few years ago, when the house was sold (along with its acreage as well as lots of acreage from the family farm that was next door to it). The day they moved, the new house became "home" (when I'm not referring to the home I live in with my husband & furrkids). My parents make "home" for me, my husband and crew make "home" for me, and his family makes "home" for me. Good thing, too, because EVERYTHING from my childhood is gone. The house, most of the trees, the farm, pretty much everything but the pond. I can drive through there and not recognize ANYTHING.

"Home" for so many of us means a place where we are loved and welcome. So long as your kids feel loved by you, YOU will be "home." Location immaterial.
posted by tigerjade at 12:45 PM on April 10, 2008

Best answer: i grew up in the same house from age 3 to 18, and my parents still live there, but home to me is where i live, not where they live. that 's probably due to my family dynamic more than geography (i actually now live in the same city i grew up in, but for about 10 years lived elsewhere).

a good friend of mine grew up shuttling between divorced parents who constantly moved around and married around, and therefore grew up in several states with a rotating cast of stepparents, stepsiblings, and pets. for her, an ex-stepmother and her new husband are my friend's home (although her grandparents in ohio are sort of another home).

i wouldn't feel guilty about giving your children challenges. this won't ruin them. it won't even hurt them. it'll be hard on them--heck, it'll be hard on you--but give them a little credit. they'll manage, they'll grow, they'll thrive. i'm guessing you lived in one place for your entire childhood and are just having trouble imagining how your kids will cope, which is leading you to feel guilty. don't.

i think it boils down to this: if your family is strong, then home is wherever they are. if your family is not, then home is wherever -you- are. and that's about it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:46 PM on April 10, 2008

Air Force brat here. Moved roughly every 2-3 years, but this process sped up and wound up moving every single year in high school. When I imagine home, I don't ever really picture a house, I just picture my family. When people ask where I am from, I usually just name my birthplace, but quickly explain that I spent most of my youth out of the country.

I imagine school is going to be a different experience then mine though. Everyone in my high school was in the same boat, nobody knew anyone for more then a few years, so it was very easy to make friends. I did wind up in a civilian high school my junior year. I felt a little out of place there, as it was mostly non air force brats, more people that had lived there whole life at that place.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 12:47 PM on April 10, 2008

I am married and have three children. I live approximately 2500 miles from my parents. Recently, my parents built a house and moved. They now live about 45 minutes from where I spent most of my pre-teen and teen years. The new place where they live - that's what I call home. Like Tomorrowful said above - Roots aren't about physical locations. They're about people. My home is where my parents are, where my sister is. For me, wherever my parents are - that's home. And it's home no matter how dysfunctional we were and are. And it's home although I didn't grow up there. By the time they got into their new house I had two children and lived across the country. But that place is home.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2008

I moved quite a bit as a kid, a different apartment every year and completely new cities a few times.

Home, for me, is a sense of sanctuary with people I care about and rituals and objects that signal stability and safety. That's as close as I can come to describing it. It's a warm house from something cooking in the oven, people I can trust sitting around and chatting to one another.

Instinctively, it is just our safe haven where we know we can go back and lick our wounds no matter how rough life gets. That's why people get so upset when their folks sell the house they grew up in. I think moving around a lot has deprived me of it, but much like taking a security blanket away from a baby, it's part of growing up and being independent. Perhaps rooting home in ritual and people and emotion is a better coping mechanism than a fantasy of a house you only see at Christmas and Easter anyway once you're over 18.

One of the happiest moments in my life was when my husband subconsciously started referring to his parents' house as "their house" or the town's name rather than "home." And he had the raised-in-one-place childhood that I didn't.

If you can define something by the opposite of its absence, can home whatever you get homesick for if you're not there for long enough? (Except, of course, that makes Portillo's Hot Dogs in the Chicago suburbs my home. A frightening thought indeed.)
posted by Gucky at 1:15 PM on April 10, 2008

Home, for me, is a physical location. I have a very deeply attached sense of place to the geographic area I call "home". I actually don't live there anymore (I don't live far away though) but the word home = that area to me.
posted by hecho de la basura at 1:33 PM on April 10, 2008

I lived in five countries growing up and moved every few years. I wouldn't trade that experience for the world.

I do sometimes feel the lack of a "hometown" and I wonder what it must be like to live in one house from childhood on up, to have friends who knew me all my life. But it's an idle wondering thing, not an ache. I'm tremendously glad that instead I speak several languages, know many different kinds of people and generally feel perfectly comfortable in new situations.

And I know the big secret, that you can go reinvent yourself somewhere else if you fuck up your life. I sometimes wonder why certain people who commit suicide don't just move and start over.

Don't feel guilty: you are giving your kids a wonderful gift.

(By the way, just so you know, I whined and moaned endlessly at the time, but now am so grateful to my parents for all the moves.)

Quoting this comment because I could have written it word for word:

My parents feel like home to me, still, more than anything. Also, there are household items that I treasure more than I might otherwise, because I can picture them in nine different houses, give or take. Our holiday traditions are important to me, and I definitely attribute my overall closeness with my parents and brother to the moving. It's important to say I've never felt displaced or weird for not having been from one place/home my whole life. Honestly, I've always considered myself fortunate for the experience. It's also made me a more adventurous adult than I think I might have been otherwise.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:34 PM on April 10, 2008

I've always liked Robert Frost's definition from Death of the Hired Man:
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”

(Please note that this is a definition of "home", not a description. Just because you call a place "home" doesn't mean they have to take you in.)
posted by Netzapper at 1:46 PM on April 10, 2008

Listen to your guilt.

My parents moved me right before high school, and again in high school. At the time they said it couldn't be helped and would be "good for all of us", but it sure as hell wasn't any good for me. I hated every bit of it, and I hated them for doing it to me, and I was miserable. I couldn't seem to stop mourning the life I left behind in the original place where I grew up ... where I was convinced that all my friends were having a fun, special, pretty life without me. That community that I left (my father's family home for generations, and a small private school where I had been with the same kids since preschool) was "home" to me in a very real way, and being taken away from it was traumatic.

To this day I hate the places I was made to live during those years. Don't even like to visit there. Lest you think I am just a grump ... I have lived in many other places as an adult and have enjoyed them immensely, and I am fundamentally a happy person.

But moving around during those crucial teen years made me more miserable than I could ever have imagined. Do you really, really have to do that to your kids? If it's about a better job/more money ... could there be just as much value to the family in keeping them in a stable place where they will feel connected to a community and grow up with a sense of place?

Today I consider home to be where my parents live, in part because so much of my stuff makes its home in their basement. But I don't have any connection to the community there. I don't have any roots there or anywhere.

If there's absolutely no way to avoid doing this to your children ... be prepared for them to be miserable, and please start thinking about how you can help them deal with that.
posted by mccxxiii at 2:04 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

honestly, i'm not sure i get the problem (but this is probably the cynic in me).

people move around. your kids will have lived three places by the time they graduate. when they tell their friends they're heading "home" after band practice, they mean the house where you live.

when they're in college "home" will mean (if you're still in the same house then) going back to that. if you're not in the same house, they'll call it "going back to my parents' for the break."

my parents just moved out of the house that i lived in with them from 14-22 (except for college). i am now 28. from the time i left there until now, whenever i went back, i said i was going "home." now i'll say i'm going to "visit my parents" because my home is gone.

i've lived in philly for about 6 years now. a lot of people would call this my home now. but when i'm back in michigan, i say i'm going "back to philly" not "going home."

a sense of home is a sense of belonging. the first time i visited philly i felt "home" which is why i moved here. i felt like i belonged.

i think what you're really asking is "are my kids boned in the future when they're looking for a sense of stability and safety?"

maybe. i have no brothers or sisters and i'm not close to my extended family and i live 14 hours or more from my parents. so i don't have anyone to lean on. normal people make friends to fill the void of family and i'm sure your kids will do the same.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:14 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I moved around so tried to do less of it for my little guys, who did experience moves at similar times to your guys. I can tell you, that right now they think of where we live (where they did high school basically) as home. (On the other hand, high school here starts age 12 - year 8, so we might have a cultural thing going on). Home for my kids is about having a place where they feel safe, and can be adventurous (going commando, swearing, art projects, staying up all night), and of course, where they feel loved. It has been hard on them, particularly when they tell me about friends who have had friends since preschool, but they have turned into well adjusted, happy young adults, so, I don't feel so bad. I think one of the good things is that they have the opportunity to stay in touch with the old buddies via technology, which was much easier than being a penpal or calling long distance (the way it was in my youth). They will be fine, after an adjustment period. Don't let them get away with too much out of sympathy. They still need the boundaries, perhaps more than ever, while they adjust.
posted by b33j at 2:14 PM on April 10, 2008

I lived in 12 different states before 6th grade. Dad was a morning show DJ, and we moved where the jobs were.

To this day, when someone asks me where I'm from, I tell them "all over the place". It's a good conversation starter. If not that, I tell them where I went to HS or college, depending on the context.

You're not hurting your kids just because they have a more complicated answer to a simple, common, and benign question.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:30 PM on April 10, 2008

Funnily enough, this has been discussed before.
posted by jacalata at 2:55 PM on April 10, 2008

As one comedian said, "Home is the place that when you go there they have to let you in."

I lived my whole life in one place until high school, then I never lived very long in one place again. It bothered me for a while.

One day I realized that home is where ever I make it and whatever I make of it.

After that I was OK with moving around.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:58 PM on April 10, 2008

I grew up in Germany because my dad had a job there. My sisters left after they graduated high school, and most of my friends would leave after three years or so because their dads were in the military.

I think the constant turnover made me a person who makes friends quickly, but not so deeply.

On the other hand, it has made my horizons broader than some people I meet.

Home for me has become my friends, and now my wife.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:09 PM on April 10, 2008

Home, to me, is where I can be at rest.

I moved 5 times before I was 13 years old; mostly within the same city, but due to the way my parents are, our paths were totally different house-to-house.

Home, for me, was where I could rest. Now that I'm a young adult, and move houses about once every two years, home is where I rest. I don't feel like I'm rootless, or lacking in a home, or anything like that.

For perspective: I moved house on tuesday. This is already 'home' to me. I've moved across the city, to a place which is a couple of suburbs away from two houses I've lived in - but that was over a decade ago.
posted by ysabet at 5:29 PM on April 10, 2008

It's a place where I can go home and just relax sometimes. It's a place where I can get away from things, the outside world sometimes. It's a place now that's a little different with my dad passing away.

Home has had lots of memories for me. I've lived in this house all of my 21 years so far and enjoy being a part of it. Lucky enough to have what others don't.
posted by isoman2kx at 5:51 PM on April 10, 2008

People are much more transient than they used to be, so a lot of people are starting to re-define their expectations of life and home. Most of my friends move cities/state every few years, and consider 'home' wherever their parents are, even if they didn't grow up there.

For me, my real home is wherever my mum's favourite kitchen canisters are. I moved numerous times as a kid, and they were pretty much the most constant feature- it was never a home until they had been set out. Of course my own place is also 'home' but not as deeply, if that makes sense.

In my experience, if your kids move now, it may suck temporarily, but they will learn a lot, and fear of moving won't hold them back from taking up opportunities in farflung places which they might be otherwise to scared to accept. Surviving a big move will show them how adaptable they really are, and how facing the unknown can be exhilarating. Don't feel guilty about this at all.
posted by indienial at 6:14 PM on April 10, 2008

I travel pretty much constantly (thanks to an awesome job). For the last 8 months I've "lived" in South Africa but also worked and/or spent time in Denver, Los Angeles, London, and places in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Mauritius, and a number of other places I'm probably forgetting. My project here ends next Friday. I have a ticket back to California, where I plan to visit my family for a few days. After that I'll either be getting an apartment in NY or returning to Africa for more work, but the kicker is that I don't know where I'll be living or what I'll be doing in a month.

Some people can live with this uncertainty and total lack of "home." Others can't. And that's OK. In my early 20's I used to valiantly defend "Northern California" (where I was born and raised) as "home" - not specifically my hometown, or even my parent's house, but just that greater part of the states that they let us run all over as kids. That is home. San Fran, the state capitol building, our 6 acres of horse pasture, Yosemite, Mt.s Lassen and Shasta, the redwoods, Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz, wine country, Tahoe and the entire Sierra Nevada - that was my home. Was my home. Its not, anymore. I have family and friends there, but I lived in NYC for 5 years before moving to Africa. I've been in love with the city, and I've loved Africa as well, but neither of them have been my home. I just woke up one day and realized I didn't have a home, and I was strangely OK with that.

I don't know if any place ever will be, but I think I'll somehow know if and when it ever should happen. It might be back in NorCal, it might become my home again. But right now life is awesome, and I don't need a home. I just need a place to put my stuff while I'm busy living life.

Love your kids. Sit down with them and talk straight about why you need to move. Listen to their responses. Internalize, repeat back to them, and communicate that you understand. Work towards pro-active responses (getting them involved in clubs, the local culture, etc.).

Just keep being a good parent and they'll be fine. An inconvenience is merely an adventure wrongly considered - turn this into an adventure and encourage them to turn the rest of their lives into one.

(Also - I like the way the movie Garden State put it - emphasis mine:)

Andrew: You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some place where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew: You'll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day one day and it's just gone. And you can never get it back. It's like you get homesick for a place that doesn't exist. I mean it's like this rite of passage, you know. You won't have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

posted by allkindsoftime at 2:03 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for your responses. Reading them has made me a little bit weepy and a little more at peace about this move. I just love MeFi =)

I am fortunate enough to have a great relationship with my kids and we've talked a lot about the move & what it will mean for us individually and as a family. I can't predict all the consequences though, positive or negative --- that's what this question was about, I guess, trying to foresee & maybe prevent damaging whatever their sense is of their place in the world. They're pretty positive & open-minded people, I just have to trust that they'll define "home" for themselves in whatever way suits them best.
posted by headnsouth at 3:44 PM on April 11, 2008

Response by poster: Also I'd like to mark pretty much all of the responses as "best answer" but I marked thinkingwoman's as "best answer" because of what it said about me which it will be good to remind myself of from time to time:

i'm guessing you lived in one place for your entire childhood and are just having trouble imagining how your kids will cope, which is leading you to feel guilty. don't.

I only have my own experience to go on, and although it was far from the most ideal upbringing, it's still the standard in my head. That my kids won't have my experience of living in one place really isn't a bad thing, just an unfamiliar thing.
posted by headnsouth at 3:53 PM on April 11, 2008

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