The bumpy road back: Five ways to support families during transition and re-entry

We’ve been deep in the throes of transition during the last two weeks. Just after Christmas last year we left Laos in a rush and headed for Australia so that my husband, Mike, could receive treatment for cancer. Now that he’s received the initial all-clear (hooray) we’re in the process of reassembling normal life. To get there, however, we had to relocate ourselves and two children under three back to Laos last weekend.

Much easier said than done.

It’s turning into a brutal re-entry. Three of the four of us left Australia already sick with colds. Thailand decided to stage a coup the day before we left, including instituting a 10 pm curfew. Scrambling to reach our hotel after our flight landed at 8:20 pm was a little stressful. Calming down two over-stimulated children enough for us to get any sleep was close to impossible. Arriving back in Laos at 2 pm the next day with everyone getting increasingly unwell, our car hemorrhaging oil, 99 degree heat, and no electricity for several hours was completely demoralizing. Being woken up by one or the other children every hour our first two nights home was beyond taxing. And having the electricity go out again during the loooooonnng sweltering afternoon of our second day back and being faced the possibility of an internal wiring problem in our house was the last straw.

I seriously entertained the idea of taking both kids back to Australia and telling Mike he could join us there when he was done here.

But we’re five days in now. One child, at least, has slept well the last two nights. After two days in the shop our car seems (mostly) fixed. The electricity has stayed on since Monday. No one is healthy again, yet, but my voice is pretty much back. Hopefully both kids are on the slow mend. I suspect I’ll stay (for now, at least :)).

We’ve been so touched by the support we’ve been offered in the last several weeks by friends and acquaintances both in Australia and in Laos. That support has made a huge difference to us practically and psychologically during this re-entry. So, this month, I thought I’d reflect on ways that people have helpful support us recently, and put together a post on things you can do to support those in the midst of challenging transitions:

Help during transition

1. Bring meals around

One lot of friends bought round kid-friendly food on Sunday night (As an extra bonus, they fed our eldest child and he actually ate). Another couple brought round a lovely dinner on Monday, complete with some baby food for Alex. Not having to wrap my head around cooking and making baby food during those first three days back when I felt so sick was so wonderful. While we were in Australia and Mike was in treatment, we also received numerous meals from my parents’ church community. Not having to cook a dinner for the family can really help ease the load. Cookies and other things you can give to kids as snacks are also very helpful.

2. Bring groceries

Two couples had stocked our house with some staples and groceries before we returned, including toilet paper, milk, cheese, bread, eggs, butter, peanut butter, cereal, apples, and coffee. This really helped deal with those initial breakfasts and lunches and meant we didn’t have to run right out and grocery shop – doubly helpful in light of our broken down car.

3. Lend needed items

When we arrived in Australia with a four month old and a two year old, friends and acquaintances from my parent’s church community there lent us all sorts of kid paraphernalia that really helped us out – including a high chair, a crib, a baby jumper, baby toys, toddler toys, children’s story books, and some hand-me-down clothes. Particularly if a family is traveling with young children, think about things they might find useful as part of their daily routine. Since we’ve been back here, another family has lent us their car this week while we’ve been trying to get ours fixed.

4. Watch children

This one can be hard, because it’s challenging for parents and kids to be separated in the midst of upheaval and change (particularly if the children don’t already know you). If you can make it work, however, it’s one of the most useful ways you can help out. Even if you come over to the new house and entertain older children or toddlers while parents unpack, sleep, or take care of life admin, it will be a huge help.

5. Give money

Just before we left Australia, generous friends there completely surprised us with money to help cover some of the extra expenses that have accrued this year.  That has turned out to be especially timely in light of our car problems.

I know I have just scratched the surface on this topic, but I need to go and do some of my own unpacking and sorting. We are a long way from settled. We will, however, get there.

Help out and add your thoughts in the comments section so that we can all benefit from your experiences.

What have others done to help you during challenging transitions?
What have you done to help others?

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Lisa McKay

Lisa McKay is a psychologist who specializes in stress, resilience, and humanitarian work. She is also the award-winning author of the memoir Love At The Speed Of Email, the novel My Hands Came Away Red, and the founder of the long distance relationship website, Modern Love Long Distance. She lives in Australia with her husband and their two sons. Find out more at

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