Question #160: I can think of no snappy title for this question.

O Captain,

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??

Signed,
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.

15 comments
  1. Stephanie said:

    Family doesn’t always get to live near each other. And if it’s an aging grandma we’re talking about, who needs taking care of, this decision of theirs to live far away doesn’t necessarily mean forever.

    Like the Captain says, there’s probably lots of backstory that drives the emotions here, but it strikes me that this decision wasn’t specifically done to hurt YOU by being far away from YOU. But I guess the only way you’ll find out is to have the discussion, right?

  2. Allison said:

    How much of this is actually about finances? That, to me, would be the big worry about parents who quit their jobs and give up their homes.

    If your concern is that someday your grandmother is going to pass away and your parents are going to come looking to their children to do the same for them as they did for her, you need to ask them about that. Do they have enough money to not go back to work again, ever? (They may intend to, but the grandparent age range has one of the highest unemployment rates right now, and that may not change in the foreseeable future.) Do they have a plan for their lives after your grandmother passes away? They may not have a plan, and that might even be OK, but it’s OK to ask them what’s the long game here. And if their long game is “the kids will take care of us,” it’s OK to be upfront about your feelings about that, whatever they may be.

    They don’t owe you an explanation of everything they’re thinking or planning, or a dollar amount they have in the bank, but if they’re counting on you to pull through for them the way they are for your grandmother, asking for advance notice is definitely all right.

  3. Sheelzebub said:

    What the Captain said. You either have to talk to them about it or let it go. You don’t have to fight with them about it, just tell them your fears, whatever they are.

    Also, I lived a good distance from both sets of grandparents for a large chunk of my childhood, rest assured, LW, that distance isn’t necessarily going to kill the relationship. As long as you and your parents always have some sort of contact and you make sure your kids do as well, it will be okay.

  4. LW said:

    Hi, LW here. Reading your response and the comments, I’m realizing that I framed my question badly, and have been framing it badly to myself. What it boils down to, less so than the physical distance, is something like: rocky past relationship, etc. etc., that has been slowly improving, and I have been slowly building up the nerve to trust my parents with some intimacy, when they made this decision to move (I’m skipping lots of details that don’t translate well to internet-comment-boxes and are boring besides, but that underscore the this-is-an-empirically-bad-ideaness) in such a way that really made it apparent that they are not people who are safe to trust with any kind of real intimacy. The distance is certainly a factor, but it’s only a piece of this; the bigger pieces are about my concern for them and disappointment at their making what looks to me like a very unwise decision, but mostly about my own hopes for having a solid relationship with them being dismantled. And that’s more about my own expectations than their actions, and something I need to work out on my own.

    So I guess what I need, for now, is a way to opt out of the moving-to-Nonna’s conversation for a while until my emotions have settled down and I can discuss things with them more constructively, and I can better assess what kind of risks I’m willing to take in our relationship. Is there a way to express to them that I need some space without inviting a confrontation?

    (And @Allison, you’re right that there’s an implied expectation from them that when they’re at the point of needing care, we, too, will drop everything to take care of them. That’s definitely among the things I need to discuss with them once I’m better equipped, emotionally, to do so.)

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m glad you clarified. What I got was that it was bringing up a bunch of feelings for you that you were trying to cast in terms of logic (everyone thinks this is a bad idea, it’s not just me and my feelings!) and sort of using “But what about the grandchildren?” in the same way they are using “It’s God’s plan that we do this”, and then you were looking for very passive-aggressive ways to punish them, like refusing tech support. In what world is that easier than saying “I think this whole moving to Nonna’s thing is crazy, mom and dad, but do what you have to do. I just want to make sure you and my kids stay close while you do it!”

      What is your definition of “confrontation”? I mean, can you change the subject when they bring it up? Can you say “Look, I’m having a hard time adjusting to this whole moving to Nonna’s thing, and need some time to get used to it. Let’s change the subject for now?” It doesn’t have to end in a big fight for you to say what you think and set a boundary. Or maybe it does? I get the feeling you don’t have a lot of practice speaking up for yourself around them, but trust me, hints and passive-aggressive behavior DO NOT WORK. They piss off emotionally healthy smart people and allow the oblivious to wallow in a sea of plausible deniability forever. You can grow old and die waiting for people to take “hints.”

      And when it comes down to it, after you’ve taken a break, what’s wrong with stating your worries in terms of:

      a) I want to be really sure that my kids know you and you know them, how can we make that happen?

      b) What are your plans for retirement and eldercare for yourselves? The way you are rushing to be with Nonna/quitting your jobs prematurely makes me worry that you expect that I will do the same for you when the time comes, which is NOT my expectation, and we (+siblings) need to have some frank talks about money and how that all will work long before it becomes necessary so that we can make sure you’ll be taken care of how you deserve without us resenting you.

      I mean, it could be that they feel fortunate that they get to make the choice to be with your grandmother, but that it does not imply that you will do exactly the same for them – it could be more about your anxiety than their expectations. The only way to deal with it is to ask.

      Those aren’t easy conversations, to be sure. But you have some time to have them, and taking a break to process your own emotions and separate anxieties from realities will help you.

      • Laggedy said:

        “trust me, hints and passive-aggressive behavior DO NOT WORK. They piss off emotionally healthy smart people and allow the oblivious to wallow in a sea of plausible deniability forever. You can grow old and die waiting for people to take “hints.'”

        This is why I cartoon-heart you.

  5. wondering said:

    Just to respond to the grandchildren thing – in a world with Skype, it is pretty easy to maintain (or create) a relationship with grandparents. For example, some friends of mine schedule a Skype call with the far-away grandparents 3 or 4 times a week.

    As for moving to care for the aging parent – if this is something that they strongly believe is the right thing to do, you are not going to change their minds. To many people, them giving up their current lives to care for an elder would be a noble thing to do, and there are probably many people in their lives who are giving them that type of feedback, even though you and your siblings are not. The only thing you can affect is how you personally respond to their decision. Are you going to ignore them (set them aside in your mind and work on your own life)? Are you going to continue working on your relationship with them? Or are you going to passive-aggressively undermine their decision with everyone left behind?

  6. commanderlogic said:

    Hm. I’m in a quandary here, and I don’t know if there’s advice to be gleaned from my situation, but here’s what’s up with me, and what I see in the information you’ve provided.

    My grandmother is deteriorating badly. She lives near my parents now, though she didn’t always. My brother, sis-in-law, and my nephews live in the same house as my parents now. HusbandLogic and I live hundreds of miles away. I love Gran, my parents, my brother, my nephews, all of them very dearly, but only see them when it is convenient for all parties. Usually for the holidays.

    We do not live hundreds of miles away AT any of the family. If my parents quit their jobs and moved with Gran to Florida to live out her remaining days somewhere that isn’t gray and cold, that would not be a choice they made at me or my nephews.

    I mean, our families are obviously different, but where we live is not something that the Logics do to inflict hurt or diminish intimacy. It may be a bad idea financially for your parents to move somewhere, but they are adults who are allowed to make bad decisions, just as you are allowed to decide how often you can afford (financially/emotionally/fatigueally) to visit them or help fund a trip for them to visit you.

    I can even see it from a cold logic standpoint; the grandkids (god willing, creek don’t rise and drown us all) will be around for years longer than Grandma’s got left. They aren’t being abandoned, especially in this fancy grand age of Skype and telephonery. Furthermore, the grandkids have responsible parents and aunts/uncles to look after them. Grandma’s got… her kids. I don’t know if she’s always lived in Florida, or is a recent retiree/transplant, but if it’s the latter, she’ll have NO social support network, and your parents may have moved to provide her with the support she needs. I also don’t know how spry Grandma is. My Gran was pretty with it for a while, but without my mom coming in semi-daily to fix her hair, do her nails, scold the nursing home staff, and gossip, Gran would probably have died of despair and bedsores a long time ago.

    I do know one true thing: family makes us all crazy.

    It’s hard to see family as human beings with agency of their own. Sometimes it feels like everything one family member does is meant to piss you off. Sometimes that’s even true. But based SOLELY on the details you’ve given here, I’m backing up the Captain and agreeing that the way forward is a deep breath (perhaps lasting a couple of weeks of not thinking/talking about it) followed by a true discussion of what worries you have. Not a diatribe about how “everyone agrees” that they made a bad decision. An acceptance of the situation as it now stands and how you’ll deal with it.

    Warmest wishes, and best of luck.

    • Ensign Perception said:

      These are really good points. I live on an entire other continent than my family, and one thing I’ve always appreciated is that they know I am not doing it AT them. It is tough for us to see each other, but we figure it out and do OK with it. It sounds like LW’s family could benefit from some new, distance-friendly traditions like a weekly / monthly Skype convo, and if the parents have been hosting holiday gatherings, maybe LW and her siblings could take over hosting duties for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. That way the parents could come to visit instead of the other way around, which would eliminate worries about the teensy house, etc.

      Basically I feel like with stuff like this, the parents are individuals who are making a choice for themselves, not the whole family unit. When it comes to stuff like this, I always hear Marlo Stanfield saying, “You want it to be one way… but it’s the other way”. LW completely has a right to say the same thing if it comes to “why aren’t you and the kids coming to visit us in our chaotic new housing situation?” or “so, you are going to risk financial ruin to provide eldercare to us in a few decades… right?” types of questions from the parents.

      In any case, good luck, LW. I understand the feeling that you finally had a good thing going with your parents and now you have to renegotiate every little thing, and that you find that exhausting and nerve-wracking. But in the end… you want it to be one way, but it’s the other way. So what now?

      • JenniferP said:

        :<3s you for Marlo Stanfield quotes, among other reasons:

    • Karinacinerina said:

      Commander Logic takes command of the crux. The grandparents are (one of) their parents, no less family than their own grandchildren, but certainly they would feel beholden to care for the immediate needs of an aged parent as compared to the well-cared for younger folks.
      And sometimes people make what seems to be a bad decision because for them, it is the best of several alternatives. I agree with all commenters that this isn’t about your newly rejuvenated relationship, not would it preclude developing that relationship further. Even before them internets came about, we had families who lived apart geographically but stayed emotionally close. I would work on developing your relationship with them as you have been doing and try and remember that they love their parents and want what relationship they can have with them in their age.
      And a kudos to you for already starting to rebuild bridges– don’t let your judgement of them poison the progress you have already made.
      Cartoon hearts all around!

  7. Beauzeaux said:

    “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.”

    I think it’s a terrible idea to take a poll on whether your parents are doing the right thing or not. You leave out too many details so it sounds like you’re just having a hissy over them moving without your approval. (Generally, looking after an aging parent is viewed as a virtue.)

    It’s totally unclear (to me, at least) why it’s a Very Bad Idea for them to pick up and move.

    • I always have a hard time with these, too. Often in these letters it seems that because of privacy/brevity concerns so much is left out that it distorts what’s really going on, and leads me to make judgments I probably wouldn’t make if I could see the full picture. As published this letter is very unflattering to the LW.

      • JenniferP said:

        That said, I don’t want all the details. I’m not a therapist that needs to know about all the years of everything. If working with imperfect info means an imperfect answer, hey, I can live with it.

        I think what happened is that the LW had a FEELINGSBOMB about her parents move that she tried to turn into logic, like “these are reasons it is a bad idea” and “what about the grandchildren?” and she sought validation here before she’d fully dealt with the feelings. The picture of the situation in the letter IS unflattering to the LW, but all is not lost, either in the relationship or for her to use this sounding board to figure out “Oh wait, some of this is solvable and the rest is out of my hands,” which it looks like she’s doing.

        • LW said:

          Hi, LW again. CA, your response (and the comments) have been tremendously helpful to me with figuring this whole situation out, and I truly appreciate your reaching past your initial reaction to my letter (which, rereading it now, you’re right, I wouldn’t think very highly of me either!) and responding anyway.

          FEELINGSBOMB is exactly right, and I’m able to start separating out the feelings from the things to address constructively (and no, not passive-aggressively) with my folks:

          – This move is a bad idea for my parents because of, well, (Reasons). There are of course a million details here that isn’t worth going into, but there are enormous repercussions for my parents’ financial and emotional well-being. But as Commander Logic very wisely pointed out, my parents are adults who can choose their own adventures.

          – This move presents what I believe are some compromises to my grandmother’s medical care, and I’m very concerned about her well-being. (Reasons) again, but these are things I need to concretely talk to my parents about (or my uncles, Nonna’s other children, who may be better heard by my parents since they are geographically closer plus being my parents’ peers), once I plow through my FEELINGSBOMB.

          – The FEELINGSBOMB goes roughly: My parents are in recovery from non-typical addictions. When they made a snap decision about a giant life change, it triggered a huge panic/fear/hurt/anger reaction in me because I associate that behavior with what life was like with them when they were actively pursuing their addictions. This is the part I take to my therapist.

          So, there’s The Rest of the Story. Thank you, all of you, for your help, truly.

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