My family moved across the country without me, and make me feel guilty about not joining them.
October 15, 2009 4:23 PM   Subscribe

My whole family moved and they want me to join them. But I hate where they live. How can I get them to respect my decision to stay?

I'm in my mid-20s, grew up and live on the East Coast and have a close relationship with my parents, sister, and brother. We don't have much extended family, so we've really only had each other.

About five years ago, my sister chose to attend college on the West Coast - a decision we all supported. She loved it so much she never came back. After spending lots of time visiting my sister and growing tired of their life here, my parents decided to sell our house of 20+ years and move West as well. When they moved they told me that their new house was my house, too, and that I could come live with them anytime. At the time of their move, I was in the middle of an intense graduate program, had an apartment, a job commitment, and a serious boyfriend. Moving just wasn't an option. My parents, brother and sister are now living out there and don't plan to ever return. I am here, sans family.

Soon I will graduate from said program, embark on a new career, get a better job, and move into a new place. I have since parted ways with boyfriend. My parents would like for me to join them on the West Coast and start my new life there so the whole family can be closer together. Of course, I miss them all terribly and am often deeply saddened by the distance. But I hate where they live and have no interest in ever settling down there. It's very pretty and laid back and it's a perfectly lovely place to visit a few times a year, but I just don't see myself living there at all and know I'd be miserable and bored. I have always envisioned my life here. I feel connected to this place. My closest friends are here. I like my life here.

My parents lay on the guilt pretty thick when I say this, often in an attacking, resentful tone. Some examples:
"You'll never have a good quality of life where you live now, with the salary you're going to make. You're always going to struggle! You could save so much money here." (I'd only save money if I moved in with them which, while financially beneficial, would be far from ideal.)

"I guess you don't care about being near your family. You're not thinking long term. You have no one here but "friends." Well, your friends won't be there for you the way your family is. You're choosing friends over family!" (I value my friendships here, several of which have spanned a decade. I have no friends where they live. They have no friends either.)

"I guess we won't be close by when you get married and have kids someday..." (Should've thought about that before you moved, guys... and who's getting married?)

And the kicker...
"What's going to happen to your brother when we aren't around to take care of him anymore? Don't you think about how he's going to need you someday? You're selfish and only thinking about yourself." (My brother is disabled, will never be able to live alone, and requires a lot of attention and care. I am always thinking of him. But can I plan my life around what he's going to need when my parents die?)

It's extremely hurtful, especially since I was not a factor in their decision at all. They chose a new life in a new place very far away from me and assumed they'd be able to convince me to follow, and my decision not to angers them. I feel it is very unfair of them to judge me negatively or assume I only care about myself simply because I have no desire to uproot my life (however trivial and empty that life may seem to them) and move across the country to a place I don't like. I've never expressed any desire to relocate. I never tried to guilt them into staying. I respected their choice. They should respect mine.

I'm at a loss as to how to address their comments without lashing out and getting upset. It starts off very calm and reasoned but they push me to anger and defensiveness, and that doesn't go anywhere good. I've started to opt for silence. I understand where they're coming from, that they love me, miss me, would like for the family to be together, and worry about growing old apart from one another... but they have no right to make me feel guilty about choosing to stay in the city I grew up in, the place I feel most at home. How can I get them to see that what they're doing is unfair? How can I get them to stop?
posted by blackcatcuriouser to Human Relations (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered moving somewhere within a couple of hours of where they live? If you're a long car-ride away, they might not complain as much as when you're a plane-flight away. I'm glad to be a couple of hours from my family, but it's also nice to be able to visit for a random weekend.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:36 PM on October 15, 2009

How can I get them to stop?

"This constant badgering hurts and affecting our relationship. Please stop, because it's driving me away from you and making me less eager to keep the lines of communication open."

If they persist, tell them you are walking around from the conversation and if they still persist, walk away from the conversation.

The bottom line is that you can't make them do anything they don't or are not willing to do. You have to set your own boundaries and be wiling to cease contact if they don't respect them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:36 PM on October 15, 2009 [22 favorites]

You can't get them to stop. The only player in this scenario that you can control is yourself, and your response to their behavior. They were fully entitled to up and move to wherever they wanted, just as you are fully entitled to live where you choose. Everyone is an adult, and while you all love each other, each of you has to do what makes you happy in your one shot at life. T

heir laying guilt on you is being driven by selfishness, which is exactly what you need to provide in return. Because there's nothing wrong with selfishness when it comes to making yourself happy.

You need to let go of trying to make them see anything, and absorb what I said above completely and fully in your brain, so that when their comments start up you KNOW what you are doing is right for yourself, and that is what ultimately matters. Then their comments will become more of an annoyance and less of an emotional attack.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:37 PM on October 15, 2009

Set the boundaries. Demand they be respected. Ask them to stop. If they don't, that means they don't respect your boundaries. You'll have to remind them.

If you need to find a little strength, remind yourself: Do I want to live in that house with these people for the rest of my life?

To find a little peace, remind yourself that they are entitled to their feelings, no matter what they are. Even if they are wrong. Their feelings are not your responsibility, not your choice, and you have no control over them. That may help you remain calm when discussing the matter.

They chose to move. They assumed you'd comply. They were wrong. Tough for them.

From a debate standpoint - if you want to take it there - every reason they have given for you to come is a reason for them to stay. Just turn it around, but stay calm. For every, "you should..." is a "you should.." for them. Caution, though. This will frustrate them and anger them.

They are not reasonable - and it's their prerogative not to be, so don't sweat it. You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into.

Your anger comes from being hurt. It sounds like they are picking away at you, trying to undermine you, and that hurts. They are not supporting your decision. They are trying to manipulate you. They are implying that you are not a capable adult. It's insulting, demeaning, disrespectful, manipulative, and on and on.

Be an adult. Be calm. Stand strong and remember that their foibles are theirs, and theirs alone. You don't own their faults.

In the short term, it may help to move out immediately, if you can. Don't stay there, unless they stop badgering you.
posted by Xoebe at 4:40 PM on October 15, 2009

i just kept repeating to my parents "but you live in missouri/ohio! it's not that i don't love you (because i do love you immensely) - i don't love missouri/ohio."
posted by nadawi at 4:48 PM on October 15, 2009

+1 Brandon Blatcher. Rehearse that so you can say it calmly, if you need to. Also, if you haven't made your position absolutely clear, you should do that—tell them what you told us. Tell them that you miss being around them, but don't want to live there.

Also, they may take your dislike of their new digs as some kind of personal criticism. Not much you can do about that.
posted by adamrice at 4:55 PM on October 15, 2009

They are being extremely unfair (they were the ones who moved!) and hurtful and it's totally ok to tell them that, in those words: "you are being extremely unfair and hurtful. I love you guys, and I'm happy you love living in California [or wherever], but I won't be joining you."
posted by lunasol at 4:57 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

You graduate, get a job in East coast, say, and tell them that your job is important and good and you are staying with it. Do your parents expect a grown son and grown daughter to live in their house, or down the block from them forever? You or your brother (or both) marry: do they expect the newly marrieds to stay close by too? They are thinking of themselves and not your needs.
posted by Postroad at 4:59 PM on October 15, 2009

How about "Well mum, you raised me to be honest, independent and resourceful, so here I am being all three. I, too, wish we could be closer together geographically, but it will only happen if one of us gives up her dream. We each love where we are. I've always seen my life here and was dismayed when you decided to move so far away." or something along that line. A mixture of what you told us and a little guilt thrown back at her just for good measure. I'm sure you'll know how to do this given you've had enough of an example. From long, bloodied experience, I say, put your foot down now and keep it down or you will be dealing with this every few weeks, in one form or another, for the rest of your parents' lives. Parents must let children go just as children must separate from their parents. Usually it's easier for the child.

As for the "I guess you don't care about being near your family." stuff, well, sorry it's your mother, but really, how dare she say that? Who moved?
posted by x46 at 4:59 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The chief determinant of your future residence is, very simply, where you get a job. You need to make this abundantly clear. In spite of your desire to be nearer your family (or not), you're bound to the sticky realities of making a living in order to make a life.

Surely they can grok this.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:03 PM on October 15, 2009

What a hard question! I agree they are being unfair, and I have no idea how to get them to stop. Maybe they will never stop, and I guess the question then should be how to handle that.
If you move West, that probably will get them off your back for this one, but what else might they bully you about when you are moved?
In my opinion, as you are an adult and educated, you should do what you want, which is to stay. The young are supposed to leave the nest (excepting those so unfortunate as your brother), and even though the nest left you, the next period in your life should be about you. This is the time to develop your career/enjoy the fruits of your labor/party your ass off/etc.
If you don't move they will probably harangue you further. I think you will have to decide to literally hold your ground or give in, whichever causes you the least discomfort.
I also think it is wrong to strong-arm you about your brother. Has it been decided that when they die, you will be his caregiver? Has anyone discussed what will happen to your brother when they die if your death precedes theirs?
Of course you love your family and want to visit when you can, but come on! Be true to yourself, I say.
Good luck.
posted by bebrave! at 5:06 PM on October 15, 2009

you may never get them to accept your decision. i don't know them but it sounds like they are unfair and manipulative people who do not have your best interests at heart.

stick to your plan. nthing brandon blatcher. if they persist in their hateful accusations, hang up.

also, honestly, don't be afraid to lash out. this is one of those things that it's worth losing your temper over once or twice (but not all the time--that gets counterproductive). for one thing, they are your parents. one of the benefits of family is that you can afford to be less than polite when the stakes are high.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:21 PM on October 15, 2009

Good suggestions above for setting and maintaining boundaries in conversation with your parents. They may never like or understand your choice, but you're not obligated to have the same conversation with them over and over again, and it's reasonable to set expectations for the minimum level of respect they need to show you in order to have a relationship with them. I just wanted to add that in your own head, remember that if there comes a time when your parents and sister are no longer able to provide care for your brother, it would not be cruel or wrong to move him from the West Coast to your chosen city to live with you (or near you, depending on his needs) and receive medical and/or mental health care with your support and under your supervision.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:31 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with most of the above and setting boundries, telling them straight out what you think, but I also agree with your parents somewhat regarding your disabled brother. Yes, they up and moved, he is their responsibility, etc. but when your parents are unable to care for him, you and your other sibling are going to need to step up to the plate and contribute. You don't have to give up your life for him, but be a part of his life. I suspect that part of your reluctance to move near them is that you don't want to be sucked down that rabbit hole of perpetual care. I appreciate that, but there is a reasonable middle ground.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:46 PM on October 15, 2009

Your parents are trying to manipulate you and you are right to resist and be pissed. Don't argue, most of the time. Recognize their feelings. Redirect the conversation to another topic. Use gentle humor. Once in a while, show sharp hurt.

"You'll never have a good quality of life where you live now, with the salary you're going to make. You're always going to struggle! You could save so much money here." I know you miss me. I miss you, too, ya big sweeties.

"I guess you don't care about being near your family. You're not thinking long term. You have no one here but "friends." Well, your friends won't be there for you the way your family is. You're choosing friends over family!" Just make sure there's a bed for me when I visit. And remember I like soft pillows. Don't forget the little chocolate on the pillow.

"I guess we won't be close by when you get married and have kids someday..." We should all buy airline stock. Hey, Dad, why don't you take flying lessons? Remember when we all got sick on that plane trip to Chicago?

"What's going to happen to your brother when we aren't around to take care of him anymore? Don't you think about how he's going to need you someday? You're selfish and only thinking about yourself."
Mom, Dad, I love my Baby Bro. Let's talk about what you've done to plan for him.

Rarely: Some mean comment. Mom, Dad, that's really hurtful. More nagging. I want you to respect my decision. I don't want to discuss this any further. Still more nagging. I have to get off the phone now. *click*

I moved 1,000 miles away, and not by accident. I got the same treatment. I have a disabled younger brother, too. It took me years to learn the redirection trick. Have a prepared list of topics. Nag, blah. Hey, remember Mrs. Jones from the neighborhood. I saw her at the store; she got a major facelift. Once, in a tense moment when my Mom was starting to blow, I randomly asked "What did you decide to do about curtains in here?" My siblings looked at me like I had gone bonkers, but my Mom proceeded to start discussing curtains and the crisis was diverted.

Remember, they love you.
posted by theora55 at 5:52 PM on October 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

"This constant badgering hurts and affecting our relationship. Please stop, because it's driving me away from you and making me less eager to keep the lines of communication open."

This. If you know that moving to where your parents are will seriously impede your happiness, you can't go. Tell them this, or some version of this and don't back down. Eventually, they will stop asking and while their reservations might remain, they will bear them inwardly.
posted by honeybee413 at 5:54 PM on October 15, 2009

I know how you feel. You were obviously loving and accepting of their decision to move away from you. It must be a bit disappointing to be nagged about your decision not to follow them. Though I am sure their nagging is out of love and a fantasy of having all their family close together, even though they made the decision to move.

It may work to suggest to them that your decisions now don't have to be 'forever' and that you can always change your mind later if you want to decrease your cost of living, move closer to family, move to take care of your brother etc etc. Even if in your heart you don't think this is true.

Just say that you can always reconsider if the need arises or if things don't work out. Deal with it when it happens.
posted by AnnaRat at 6:05 PM on October 15, 2009

It starts off very calm and reasoned but they push me to anger and defensiveness, and that doesn't go anywhere good. I've started to opt for silence.

I've gotten into this whirlpool of a trap with my parents. Stop arguing with them. You'll frustrate the hell out of yourself because they will not acknowledge logic, and they'll come up with more outrageous rationales and then fall back on guilt again. In fact, they'll probably be much crueler than they ever thought they intended to be, out of impotent frustration. It's poison all 'round.

I would stop them and say, mostly-gently, "Mom/Dad, my life is here. I love you, but I'm not moving, and I'm not going to argue with you about this." I like x46's "Well mum, you raised me to be honest, independent and resourceful, so here I am being all three" too.
posted by desuetude at 6:34 PM on October 15, 2009

How can I get them to see that what they're doing is unfair? How can I get them to stop?

I think it's important to recognize that these are two different questions, with different answers.

You may not be able to ever get them to see that what they're doing is unfair. Changing other people's minds is hard.

But you can get them to stop by refusing to communicate with them unless they get off your back about moving. This just has to happen with a little behavior reinforcement.

Your parents are lucky that you are compassionate enough to even make this post. Mine can't even get me to come home for Thanksgiving.
posted by bingo at 6:37 PM on October 15, 2009

Ahhh parents and the guilts. I moved nearly 2000km away from my parents when I was 17, you should have heard the outrage! (never mind the fact my dad moved to another country when I was in school)

They may not be quite the gorgons other posters are making out. Mine aren't, they just missed me and wanted me around as much as possible.

The answer? Tell em to fuck off, seriously. They are seeing you through the paradigm of parent/child, where bluster, threatening and guilt trips are enough to accomplish their goals. Call the bluff and watch them wilt to the occasional grumble, then nothing.

Just say "This is giving me the shits. I call you because I like hearing your news, and sharing mine, and I love you. My choice is a perfectly reasonable one that thousands of people make every day, and I have made it. If you can't respect it, tough, and if this is all you can talk about when you call up, don't bother calling."

Give it two weeks, plus a few "Your father/mother is very upset with you" from the more chillaxed parent. They'll come around, the beautiful thing is they have no choice. Don't be peer-pressured into doing something you don't like.
posted by smoke at 7:30 PM on October 15, 2009

My mother stopped giving me crap about my weight about 3 months after I started leaving rooms and hanging up on her whenever she brought up the topic. This was preceded by a request to drop the topic, which wasn't heeded.
posted by mollymayhem at 7:53 PM on October 15, 2009

I have the exact same conversation with my parents on a monthly basis. "It sounds great, Mom, but I'm really happy here. Maybe someday!" works well for me, as well as just accepting the fact that they're my parents and they're going to want me to be close by, preferably with grandchildren. It's ok that they want that, as long as they don't expect it.

Hell, they still want me to become a pharmacist.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:01 PM on October 15, 2009

Can't you just accept that they will guilt you and ignore it? I had to deal with this sort of thing for a decade while I lived overseas. Eventually I moved back "home" (but not for the guilt, but for other reasons). I realized that my parents had no clue about what made me tick - why I would want to live in a particular place, and didn't really understand the conflicting emotions they were forcing on me.

I'm still a little resentful, because their behaviour was so selfish, but I also accept the fact that I made the choice to return.

The best thing to do is to ignore it, and just change the subject.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:17 PM on October 15, 2009

Brandon Blatcher has it, but I wanted to address the disabled brother thing. I have a blind, but completely independent parent who is thankfully supportive of my decisions to go live my life however I so choose, even if it's thousands of miles away. Other people, however, are not always so understanding (which eff 'em, but sometimes you want to explain your position). My approach is to explain that my Mom and I only have a limited time to be separate because when she becomes older and needs assistance/care, obviously I'll be stepping up and taking care of her like she did when she was raising me. We both want me to make the most of my time that is independent and unencumbered so I can grow as a person, and there won't be resentment complicating the dynamic when we are living together again. People seem to get this and dial back the judgmental crap when they see that clearly, we've both given this issue a lot of thought. and no one is going to be left in the lurch.

With that in mind, perhaps you might want to try saying something to your parents like, "Of course, I am concerned about brother's welfare when you're gone, and you can be reassured that sister and I will be there for him when the time comes. In the meantime, however, I need to take my opportunity to live my life as I see fit, so I will be prepared, both practically and emotionally, to take care of brother in the future. I hope that you can understand why I want to take full advantage of this finite period of time, and anytime you want to talk about future arrangements, I am happy to do so." Your parents had their time to make their choices and live their lives as they wanted, and they should understand why you want that same chance. Also, knowing that you have given this some thought and accept it as a given that you will be caring for your brother in the future may ease any fears that may be festering. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 10:28 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tell your parents exactly how you feel about the situation and then refuse to take part in any more of these guilt trip conversations. When one of your parents starts to lay on the guilt say "I told you why I find this upsetting. Can we talk about something else?" If they carry on tell them you need to get off the phone and hope to speak to them again soon. Hang up. Continue to do this every single time they start to guilt trip you about moving.

You are giving them a choice, they can speak to you civilly or they can not speak to you at all. If they want to have any sort of communication with you they will stop it. Don't be rude, just politely refuse to engage.
posted by feelingcold at 1:59 AM on October 16, 2009

Hmm, I have a brother and about once every three months I'll drop him a text message about sitting on my patio in short sleeves and how's he liking that snow and when IS he moving to California anyway. I doubt it upsets him, because he jokes right back. But supposing his jokes were covering over a bunch of anger that left him unable to even express himself, I would want to know, maybe through an email or note (or a phone conversation) that said "I don't know if you know, but I actually feel upset when you try to convince me to move there. Of course, I miss you terribly and am often saddened by the distance. But I have no interest in ever settling down there. I just don't see myself living there at all. I have always envisioned my life here. I feel connected to this place. My closest friends are here. I like my life here. I would really like it if you would respect that. It would mean a lot to me to know that you respected my decision to live here." Or something like that.
posted by salvia at 1:48 AM on October 17, 2009

This sounds like such a rough situation. The advice Brandon Blatcher and others have given is certainly dead on. If it helps, I faced a somewhat similar situation in the past with my family, and it didn't get better until I started to enforce some boundaries about what sorts of conversations I would and would not put up with. Initially, those boundaries needed to be rather strict and enforcement quite severe. Over time, I was able to relax a bit and be a bit more gentle in my response as my family learned to respect my feelings better.

One of the tactics that worked especially well in the beginning was rationing contact if they argued, berated or tried to make me feel guilty for my decisions. When a parent would begin down that path, I'd interrupt, tell them that I loved them, but let them know I was going to end the conversation now. Then I would either hang up or leave. But before doing so, I would let them know that I wouldn't talk to them again for a few days. I kept that promise. The next time we spoke, if they picked up the dispute again, I would repeat the pattern, but the few days of silence became a week. Then two. Then a month, and so on. If they were able to be reasonable and loving for an entire conversation/visit, the "penalty period" for the next violation would be reduced.

I won't lie - it was upsetting for me to cut off my parents in this way. At one point, I didn't speak to my parents for close to three months. But they learned that I was serious. The guilt trips and arguing ended almost completely in a little over a year. A decade hence, I have a very wonderful and close relationship with my parents. I firmly believe that standing up for myself in this way was crucial to making that possible.
posted by centerweight at 10:16 PM on October 17, 2009

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