My parents recently made a very bad life decision that’s really straining my relationship with them: a week before Christmas, they left their home in Tennessee, quit their jobs, and moved 700 miles to live with and care for my aging grandmother in Florida. There are an awful lot of reasons why this is a bad decision, too many to list – but my therapist, four out of five of my siblings, and some of my friends with very sound judgment all agree that it’s a terrible idea. In addition to all the reasons why this is not a good plan for them or for my grandmother, it’s a decision that is personally hurtful to me because it doubles their distance from their four grandchildren – my three sons, and my niece, who lives near me – and brings our ability to travel to visit them from difficult to pretty much impossible (due to finances, insanity of traveling 1400 miles with three little ones, and lack of room at my grandmother’s tiny house – even if we did manage to get there, we’d have to shell out more cash to stay in a hotel). I’m hurt and angry that they’re choosing this crazy, irresponsible situation over their ability to be more involved in my kids’ lives, and I’m pretty much resenting the hell out of my parents right now.
But I haven’t expressed any of this to my parents, because honestly, they’re so set in their thinking about this move that they would find a way to spin my dissent as being somehow indicative of MY poor judgment or selfishness or something. I’ve pulled way back on my relationship with them, but if they’ve noticed, they haven’t said anything, and I’m pretty sure they don’t even realize how negatively my siblings and I feel about this decision. None of us feel particularly inclined to talk to them about it, though.
Now my stepmom has started a blog to chronicle their “leap of faith” (they’re framing this decision as being about obeying God, rather than taking any responsibility for their choice, which, don’t get me started – my parents and I share the same basic religion, but our interpretation of the details is significantly different), to keep their (enabler) friends back home updated about all the ways “God is encouraging” them through this. I read the first few posts and then resolved never to go back there, because reading it just makes me angry and frustrated all over again. However, my stepmom has mentioned that she’s having trouble with the technical details of getting her blog set up, and that she plans to call me for help later this week because I write a blog on the same platform. I want no part of this, but I have no idea how to set a boundary around helping my stepmom with her blog without getting into a huge confrontation about how much I disagree with them. What do I do??
My Parents Are Crazy and I Want No Part of It
I feel like there is a lot of backstory here that I’m missing…and I’m okay with that, I don’t actually want to know.
Here are your choices right now:
1) Talk to your parents directly about what’s bothering you. Say ”I am confused by your decision to move. I can’t see how it’s a good thing for you, or for grandma because of (reasons). It seems very sudden and not well-thought-out, and it makes me sad that you will be so far away from me and my kids while they grow up. We don’t have the funds to travel to see you very often, if at all. I want to be supportive, but I’m feeling anxious and it might take me a little while to get used to this idea.” Say what your worry actually is. “I want you to be involved in your grandkids’ lives – how can we make sure we all stay close when you’re so far away and this constrains how and when we’ll get to see you?”
In other words, risk a confrontation. Give them a chance to respond and address your concerns. You say that “I’m pretty sure they don’t even realize how negatively my siblings and I feel about this decision. None of us feel particularly inclined to talk to them about it, though.” Well, are your parents supposed to read your minds? Hints don’t work. Are your parents framing this as a zero-sum game where taking care of grandma means that they are choosing her “over” their grandchildren? I doubt that very much.
Say what you have to say directly to them, like you are all grownups and can handle some dissent. Don’t invoke your therapist or your siblings, that’s the coward’s way out and just makes the other person defensive. Listen to what they have to say in return – they are adults who get to make their own decisions about where they will live and what they will do, even if that decision doesn’t look good from the outside.
You may end the conversation both not getting what you want, and with feelings a bit bruised, but if you’re honest you can move forward on a sounder footing and start solving the problem of that extra 700 miles.
2) Passive-aggressive avoidance. Choice 2 is to skip the “confrontation” but to let your anger and hurt at their decision infect every interaction you have with them. I mean, give your stepmom tech support or don’t, but if you’re looking to use that to “punish” her for her decision to move away, she’s not going to get the message that those two things are related and you will just feed your resentment. They aren’t going to reconsider their move just because they have to read the Blogger FAQ now. If you don’t to help with the blog, just say “Mom, I prefer not to help you with tech support, ok? You’re going to have better results if you work through it yourself via the online system, here’s the link.”
If you need to take a break from interacting with your parents or thinking about the situation while you yourself come to terms with your feelings about their move and get to the place you can actually discuss it with them, that’s not against the rules. In fact, I recommend it highly. But come back from that break ready to either talk it through or let it go. You’re right not to read the blog: It is super-annoying when people try to pretend their self-serving plans that they were going to do anyway are somehow divinely inspired, like that old SNL sketch where Phil Hartman-as-Jesus goes off on the lady for praying to him about the minutia of her day. It doesn’t. My younger brother is also a member of Jerks for Jesus, and I feel you on that one. Invoking God’s Plan doesn’t automatically win the argument any more than “But have you considered how this is affecting THE GRANDCHILDREN?” does.
But the blog/The Lord is not the real conflict. The real conflict is that you disagree with their decision, and that it makes you feel neglected and like they chose grandma over you and your kids. Deal with that – either by talking to them honestly or taking a lot of time and space to get yourself to the point where you can say “Whatever, it’s their decision, 700 miles or 1400, we’ll make it work somehow.” Passive-aggressive tech support refusal or getting mad that they can’t read your mind is not the way to solve this one.