Should I try to convince my mother to move across the country so I can take care of her and improve our relationship?
April 3, 2009 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Due to years of my mother’s mental illness, dependency on prescription medication, and wildly varying levels lying leading to all sort of trust issues, I am a 30-year old woman with a very complicated relationship with my aging mom. I feel more than a little guilt and sadness about this, and authentically would like to improve our relationship. There are, of course complications.

I moved to the east coast about 6 years ago and am now happily engaged to a wonderful man who is from here and we have no plans to move to the west coast at any point in the near or foreseeable future. All of my family is in California, and we travel to visit them a few times a year. I do miss my family, but for the most part I feel good about my level of involvement with them as much as I can from a distance. My parents are divorced and my father has been remarried for over 10 years; my brother is a couple years older than I am. Basically, I feel like I have solid relationships with the two of them and though I’d like to see them more, I’m not worried about them in the same way that I am about my mother, because I know she is totally lacking a support system.

My mother has struggled with physical problems, mental illness, and various addictions (primarily to pain medication) for years. Our relationship is not what I would describe as close, but I do love her and care for her and it’s becoming very worrisome for me to think about what will happen to her during the course of the next few years. She does not work (she lives off of alimony and has tried over and over to be accepted for some sort of disability as well) and is constantly in and out of the hospital for her various medical ailments. She lives with her sister currently, but they have a very volatile relationship and I don’t think it’s healthy for her to remain there indefinitely. She recently inherited some money when her own parents passed away, and she has been talking about using the money to buy a mobile home to live in by herself. I do not think this is safe, and I am considering trying to talk her into moving near me.

If I lived in California, I have no doubt that I would be working harder on my relationship with her. Due to the geographic distance between us now, I speak with her occasionally, but my level of involvement in her life is limited. This is both because it is difficult for me to talk to her and hear about her problems over and over, and also because she purposely distances herself from me at times. She knows it upsets me to hear about her medical problems over and over, so when she is going through difficult times she just won’t be in touch. Several times over the past six years when I have been in California visiting family, something has come up with her health where she has said, “I don’t want you to see me like this, don’t come see me.” So, I won’t see her, and then I won’t have opportunity again for several months, and then I feel guilty, etc. etc. I do think that if we lived geographically closer, it would be a little easier to work through these issues.

I know that a lot of the issues between us are very long-standing and would not be solved simply by being closer geographically; however, on a very practical level I also just want to know that someone will be taking care of my mother as she gets older, and I don’t think anyone else is going to tackle this. She has burned a lot of bridges over the years, but now it seems that she is in a place where the addictions are gone and she truly is suffering from physical ailments and mental illness. I know I can’t fix her, but I would like to be able to spend time with her and try to improve our relationship while she’s still here.

Since I know that I will not be moving anytime soon, is it completely crazy to broach the idea of her moving here? Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Since I know that I will not be moving anytime soon, is it completely crazy to broach the idea of her moving here?

Ask yourself these questions:

Is this a realistic idea? Where would she stay? Who would be her support network? What does your husband think of this? Does she even want to do this? How much money will it cost for her to move and how much will it cost for her to live on the east coast? What will occupy her time?

Frankly, moving sounds stressful for her, possibly driving her back to addictive behaviors. Couple that with the lack of support networks and it does sound pretty crazy.

I think you need to somehow get over the fact that your mom has a lot of issues and that they seem to occupy her so that they dont' get in the way of you spending time with her when you do visit Cali. It's hard to watch loved ones grow older and decay, knowing we can't fix it, but it is life, even under the best of conditions. All we can do is be there for them and not let life and the past get in the way of the relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:03 AM on April 3, 2009

I think it's very loving to consider this, and I understand the fear of "oh my god, if I don't take care of mom, who will?" In that regard, it wouldn't be the craziest thing in the world to bring up the concept casually just to feel her out. "That last hospital stay sounds rough, mom. Have you ever thought about moving out here so that we could be closer to help you?"

But the key is: you have to really listen to her response. Your question can't be the opening salvo in your 8-Point Agenda to Talk Mom Into to Moving East; it really must be a genuine question, and you must be prepared to genuinely consider and respect her answer. If her response is an emphatic no, just leave it (either for the time being, or for good). If it's a more ambiguous no ("mmm, I don't know, maybe I'd just be a burden"), then maybe you can pursue the conversation a little further, if not at that point then down the road. And if she says "yes!" -- well, there you go.

Before you do any of this, though, please give all of Brandon's questions some long, hard thought -- and of course, your husband has to be an equal team member in exploring these questions, given that the move would also inevitably affect your marriage. Also, what does your brother think?

You say that "I know I can’t fix her, but I would like to be able to spend time with her and try to improve our relationship while she’s still here" -- but what you're proposing is a lot more than just "spending time" together. From the sounds of it, she will have no other support system out there, so you are essentially volunteering to coordinate the move, get her settled, help her establish her medical care, and occupy at least some of her spare time in her new and completely unfamiliar home, where she knows no one, isn't familiar with how to navigate around town, and -- and don't discount this, given her age and ailments -- may find the weather unbearable after all these years of being acclimatized to California. What do you do if she gets out there, hates it, and blames you?

What I guess I'm getting at is that the act of moving her out East would itself alter your relationship significantly; you wouldn't be "working on" the relationship you have now, you'd have whole new layers to your relationship, on top of all the old baggage. It's entirely possible that it may in fact be a great change, and that the two of you reconnect in a way that's very rewarding, even with all the hard work that will come with it. But make no mistake: it is extremely hard work taking care of an aging parent (especially one with physical and mental illness, as well as addiction issues), and given the complicated relationship that already exists it's also just as possible that it may spell years (even decades) of stress and heartache without much reward for either of you.

So no, I don't necessarily think the idea is completely crazy, but I do think you need to understand that it would be a life-changing decision that requires careful consideration and total agreement from all parties involved. In the meantime, there are other ways for you to get involved, even from a distance, to help make sure she's getting the care she needs.
posted by scody at 11:13 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Listen to Brandon and scody.

I persuaded my mom to move closer to me. I thought it would help us avoid some of the pitfalls that we fell into because of distance, not talking on the phone enough, etc.

The thing is, it didn't. We were still the same people whether we lived 1,000 miles apart or next door. We still had some pretty bitter fights. And my mom had no support system, except me.

Are you willing and able to be her sole support? To help her find new community, new medical help, etc.? Right now, it might be very frustrating for you to listen to her talk about how difficult it is to get X, Y, or Z (get to the store, the doctor, the vacuum cleaner's broken again, whatever). Please think about how much more frustrating it's going to be when she talks about those things and, because you're only a mile away, she expects you to drive her to appointments or get the vacuum fixed. She'll expect that because that's what you've led her to expect by getting her to move closer to you.

Are you ready for that? Really, truly ready? Are you ready to be the sole support for someone you love - and who can also return you to your 16-year-old self with a word or a look?

What you (think you) want isn't bad or wrong. It's commendable, really. But while it may solve some problems, it will exacerbate others and create new ones, so take your time thinking about it, and definitely talk to your fiance about this.

Feel free to mefimail me, or use the email in my profile.
posted by rtha at 11:39 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

(rtha's post made me realize that I made reference to your husband when he's actually your fiance! The point still holds that he needs to be involved in this decision, of course. But I think it additionally means that you need to consider the timing of any potential move of your mom's very carefully -- not just how it might logistically coincide with your wedding, if you're having one, but also how it might emotionally coincide with your new marriage. The first year or two of marriage can be a big adjustment, even for really compatible, healthy, happy couples who might not expect an adjustment period. Adding the care of an elderly family member to the mix would have a serious impact on that process.)
posted by scody at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2009

Are you literally the ONLY PERSON on the earth who will care for her? If your relationship is already not good/stressful, I wouldn't take this on unless you were the only person on earth. It will not be happy for anybody, or your new marriage. And it takes away everything that she's used to in the world if she moves across the country.

In my experience, the kid nearest to her (sounds like your brother) will end up being the one in charge of her by default. Or possibly her sister, even if they don't get along.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:01 PM on April 3, 2009

I think you might find that guilt of not being close to your mother is easier to handle then actually having to look after an eldery sickly mother for hours on end each week. Once she moves you will have responsibility whether that is through arranging care or being there for her. In my personal opinion you need to be selfish as you are entering an important stage of your life and need to focus your energies on your future.
posted by lilyflower at 3:20 PM on April 3, 2009

Bringing Mother to live close to you risks losing friends and possibly fiance, worsening your relationship with Mother, and generally turning your life into a living hell. Are you familiar with the expression, an albatross around your neck?

You have your own life to live. Having this particular mother a continent's width away from you sounds to me like the ideal situation.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:28 PM on April 3, 2009

I have a very similar situation with my mother. She's disabled and lives in Ohio and doesn't have much of a support network there. But still there are ways that I can make her life easier without moving her to california (dear god!). I call her every other day to make sure she's doing okay (even if it's just 10 minutes, it's not a big chunk of my day, but it let's her know I care), I send her books and presents and things she needs (including some money that she can choose to spend however she likes). In the past I've helped her get more involved in her own community. I got her a cat (which helped with loneliness a lot).

So (a) let go of the guilt, it really isn't productive and (b) try doing things that will improve her life and your relationship from a far. Oh and no, you shouldn't move your mother to be near you. You can't fix the things that are wrong by proximity. It won't work and it will make you unhappy in the end. The urge to move her near you is the guilt speaking, which I said you should let go of.
posted by bananafish at 12:21 AM on April 4, 2009

Has she asked you to take care of her? A mobile home park might be a good community for her.

You perhaps have an idealized version of the relationship you wish you could have with your Mom. She's getting frailer, and you realize that your opportunity to have that relationship, or any relationship, is limited by her health. And you want to be a loving daughter.

You aren't going to have that ideal mother-daughter relationship, but you can have whatever relationship is possible. Get in the habit of sending cards, frequent, small but thoughtful gifts like cds, and short phone calls. My sister used to call my Mom lots of mornings on the drive to work. Just enough time to check in for a few minutes. Be positive about your life, and listen as much as possible to her medical woes. Encourage any healthy behavior.

Visit often, and when you do, check out any and all resources to help your Mom stay healthy and safe. In most communities, help for the elderly is a patchwork, and you have to spend time finding out what's available.

My Mom died a little over a year ago. She was likely bipolar, had many health problems that contributed to what became severe, shall we say, irritability. I'm grateful that we had the best relationship possible, and realistic about the fact that it wasn't the mother-daughter relationship I wanted. Probably not the one she wanted, fir that matter. But she knew I loved her and I knew she loved me.
posted by theora55 at 7:38 AM on April 6, 2009

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