When You’re the Family Left Behind

We’d lived in a small town for six years, bought our first home, and started our family. Still, we were there for one reason; to coach football. And that meant that when God called us to move, we would go.

As soon as our head coach announced he was moving the questions started. Would we stay? Would we go with our head coach? The truth was we had no idea what would happen, but that was not a satisfactory response for our community.

I’d prepared my answers for my Bible Study carefully, knowing I couldn’t tell the full truth to these women I held dear. My husband was interviewing for jobs around the country as well as the now vacant job at our current college, but those were not details I could share. I had anticipated all but one statement, and I was confident I would get through the morning without tears regardless of current season living in limbo.

It took less than five minutes of questions before someone I’d considered a friend burst out in frustration. “I wish you were the one leaving and they were staying.” My stomach sunk a bit as a gasp went out, but I bit my tongue. I wanted to snap back, “Me too!” But that wouldn’t help the situation, so instead, I sat in stunned silence.

Transition is never easy. We’ve been the family that leaves, and we’ve been the family that is left behind. In my experience, staying behind is as hard of an adjustment as moving.

When you are the family that stays behind there are positives. Often, your husband gets a promotion or a raise or both. It’s less upheaval for everyone, and many things remain the same, especially for children who don’t have to change schools or churches or after school activities.

And while it is great when your husband receives that opportunity to step up the coaching ladder, when you are the family left behind there are still many changes to endure.

When our head coach left, he took most of the staff with him. We stayed behind, and my husband became the head coach of the team we’d served for six years. The team and parents were thrilled. Alumni voiced their support, and most of our community was happy to learn we’d be around another year.

And while all of that was great, our boys lost their best playmates, we lost our closest community, and everywhere we went we were reminded that some of our favorite people were off doing life together without us. Staying behind meant finding a new community in the town we’d already lived in for six years.

As my husband began to assemble his new staff, I realized I would also need to spend time discovering a new normal. Our previous staff included all families, and almost everyone had young children around our boys’ ages. Our new staff consisted almost completely of single coaches or married couples without kids.

Nothing would be the same, even in familiar spaces. Being left behind meant learning how to feel at home again, in a town we’d called home for years. That may sound odd, but when you’ve been in the coaching game long enough home becomes the people you do life with in addition to the community where you live.

While the first-time staff left without us was the hardest, it wasn’t the only time. When you are a head coach, the likelihood staff will move on without you increases, and while it’s sad, when staff leaves for a promotion it’s always a time to celebrate. Even in the happiest transitions it’s hard not to feel sad. Part of your football family is moving away; it’s okay to mourn, but remember it’s always great when our family members step towards achieving their dreams, and the same is true for our husbands.

While my instinct was to agree with the sentiment that it was time for our family to move on, staying meant that my husband received the job he’d prepared for for years. He took the helm and led the program successfully his entire tenure. He brought on great staff who, over time, felt just as much like family as the previous staff had.

So, while I won’t promise staying is going to be easy, I have a few tips to ease the transition.

First, focus on the positives.

Second, reach out to your current local community and tell them you are going to need their support now more than ever before.

Third, put on your welcoming committee hat and embrace the new staff members wholeheartedly. Remember, your new staff needs you. You guys will spend the next several months figuring out a new normal together. Embrace the opportunity to make their transition go as smoothly as possible. You know it’s what you hope others are doing for your family that has moved.

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