Q: My aging parents live in a retirement community three states away from me. They’ve been having significant health problems lately, and I can’t keep traveling to help them. I want them to move closer to me, how can I bring that up?
I see this challenge becoming more and more common, as more adult children move far away from their aging parents. You care about them and want to help, but you also have a life. What happens when you are trapped between that rock and hard place? Worry and, of course, guilt. Nobody should live like that.
A tough discussion is tough because of the content, not the way you say it. You recognize that you can’t change the content, so you end up obsessing about how to bring it up. Because there’s really no smooth way to position a tough topic like this, the usual result is that the more you obsess, the more you talk yourself out of it. I can see that’s where you are stuck.
I suggest you bring it up exactly the way you have here. Tell your parents that you respect their needs and wishes, but you can’t fully meet those. Unless you are both able to come up with a solution, you will feel like your parents are constantly disappointed, and that creates the tug of guilt.
Choose a time that’s appropriate – when your parents are together and not stressed or distracted over another issue. Talk face to face. No texting, calls or email. Express your love and concern, and what you want to do about it.
Now, it’s important to realize that your solution is what you want – for them to move closer. But your parents may not want that. Perhaps they have close friends where they are, or they prefer the weather. Relocating is stressful, and whatever objections they may raise are valid. Don’t shame or minimize their opinions. Don’t use the beloved grandkids to tempt them!
Also, recognize that their immediate response isn’t necessarily a final decision. You’re opening a dialogue by formally inviting this conversation to happen. And the best thing that happens in any tough conversation is reflection. Give them time to think.
What if they conclude that no, they really don’t want to move? Then you discuss a middle ground, something between your solution and their solution.
For example, what are the options for additional support for aging parents in their town, and are there means to make that happen? Can you redirect finances toward someone who can assist when you can’t?
I feel for you because I know what a tough conversation this is to have. But the reality is if you keep putting it off, this can fester. You’ll become victim to your parents because you’re always being called there to help. And your parents become victims also because you aren’t there enough to help.
The only way to create non-victim situations is to remove the rescuer. You can’t rescue them. You can support them, but you can’t be their only plan. And whether or not you reach a workable solution (on this or any contentious discussion), don’t ever stop sending pictures of the grandkids.