Near, far, wherever you are: parental proximity
August 22, 2016 10:04 PM   Subscribe

Geographic distance from my parents will not be the only factor I'll weigh when deciding where next to live, but it will be one of them. How might distance affect my relationship with my parents? How has it, in your own experience? What changes as I zoom out from living in the same city, to the same metro area, or to merely the same coast?

I understand that much of this depends on the individual's relationship with their parents to begin with, but a sense of shared space can shape a relationship, too. Does distance make the heart grow fonder? Does it make the relationship more superficial or scant? Does being closer put pressure on you to visit more frequently than you would have otherwise? Did it impact your relationship with people other than just your parents (e.g., siblings)? What are some other surprises that you encountered when moving closer or further away from your parents, or when your adult children moved closer or further away from you?

I'm in my twenties. I care about my parents and appreciate their support, but visits that last beyond 72 hours have me questioning why I ever thought it would be a good idea to go home. I obviously don't learn from my mistakes, because I keep visiting home every holiday I get.

Going to school that is an expensive plane ride away from home has been at times isolating, but also helpful in keeping a healthy distance from my parents. My thinking was that moving to the same metro area that my parents currently reside in would allow me to visit my parents without having to camp out at their place overnight, thereby maintaining my space.

My parents live together and are well, so I'm not anticipating that I'll be taking on a caregiver role in the near future, knock on wood. I also don't have kids for them to help out with. I'm the eldest daughter, so something something something familial responsibilities, but every relationship consists of two separate parties, so I want to figure out my end of the deal here.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You're overthinking this. I infer from a previous question that your parents are in their fifties, healthy and presumably perfectly capable of looking after themselves.

Geographical distance has no bearing on how close you feel to your parents. But if I were you, I'd explore why you feel the need to "show" your parents that you love them, rather than simply loving them.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:16 PM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

I live 90 minutes away from my parents (and my brother who stayed in town), and it's a good distance for me. Before I moved away for college, our relationship was strained because I was 18 and really ready to get out of their house. The distance has really helped me establish my boundaries and have a relationship with them that is less like it was when I was at home, kind of more mature? I probably could be OK being a bit further away and not seeing them that often. We had often only seen each other a few times a year, but that's changed since my nephew came on the scene a couple of years ago.

One thing I like about not being in the same metro area is that when I do visit, it's often kind of deliberative. They used to get mad I wouldn't show up to the Sunday family dinner each week, but I made it clear that I couldn't do that since I had stuff to do at home just like they did. I also love being close enough to easily drive home each visit and sleep in my own bed. I know people who really love spending the night at their parents', but haven't really done it since I was in college (more than a decade ago).

My brother, who lives in their metro area, does make it to the family dinners (and did long before his son was born). He's also much more into familial obligations than I am. It does mean we have different relationships with our parents from one another, but I think that's always been the case. While I know my brother is a much more integrated part of my parents' day-to-day life, I know they love me and we have a relationship that works for us (well, especially me).

What works for you depends on a lot of things, but I don't think distance is a bad thing if you're looking for some boundaries. I'd also say it's not totally necessary. It really depends on what you want as a relationship with everybody. For me, I needed to move away to help figure that out but I know people who are able to have similar attitudes without moving away.
posted by kendrak at 10:22 PM on August 22, 2016

I live on the other coast from my parents and I think I'd be a lot closer if I learned to (really) use WeChat. I mean, that's a little facetious, but also true; if I were living 10 minutes away, the main contact points of our lives would still probably be text.

I trust absolutely that they'd help me if I needed it, and vice versa, but otherwise, there's no harm in keeping the day-to-day to ourselves. It keeps anxiety levels down, and you can report the important bits when you call.

My parents give me a pass from visiting during the holidays, as they don't like doing airport pickups with snow. (I have sometimes visit in the fall because it is mid-autumn festival, both my parents' birthdays, and the New England Sacred Harp Convention.) Sometimes we take vacations together, which is nice for me, who otherwise would never go anywhere. It is also a finite-time visit: I think it's fair to find parents cloying, even while we love / respect them.

I can also tell you that my cousin, who lives close to my parents (and grew up living with us), got engaged recently, and being far away absolves me from being Maid of Honor. Jackpot!
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:51 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's my opinion for whatever it's worth, informed in part by the fact that I've been in your position and know the territory of your career path a bit.

- Live on the other coast: you're only going to be able to get home once every six months or year. Your relationship with your parents will be based on email and video chat.
- Live on the same coast (but a plane flight away): honestly not much different than other coast, except that it will be easier to coordinate times for chats. Easier to pop home in case of an emergency, though, without totally screwing up your internal clock and having to use one entire day of travel due to time zone changes.
- Live on the same coast (but a car ride away): major change, because you could likely go home every couple of months or even every month if you really wanted to. Birthdays, anniversaries, helping folks move, any significant event that families tend to be there to support each other for, you might be able to hack if if your schedule permits (a big if, in your case).
- Live in the same metro area: another game changer. You could visit them weekly. Maybe have a set date with them for Sunday night dinner or something (that you'll have to miss, regularly, of course, due to work obligations). You can go to the theater with your mom. Go hiking with your dad. Just casual hang out stuff that is not very possible when you're doing a major trip for some kind of event scenario. Personally I really like having this level of interaction with my parents. Then again, I have super supportive and nice parents who will do things like plant a huge garden with me, or teach me to cook and knit, or let me borrow their kayaks or tents, or basically anything. It's just really cool to have access to people to whom you are the top priority and they will help you out in any way that they can, and you do the same for them. You can make friends like these, but in a new location where you're just meeting folks in a stressful environment, that will take time.

In my mind, same city is the same deal as the same metro area, but then again I am coming from a home area where I live about 20 miles from my parents and it's still easy for me to pop over there or have them come visit for a meal any time I want.

Personally, I think since you're headed into a potentially stressful new life experience during which you might need a bunch of moral/emotional support, having family not terribly far away if you like them in small doses would be a plus. I did my EM training about an hour from my parents and the rest of my family, and it was great for me. I still missed out on some holidays and events because of the nature of residency, but I also had the option to use short breaks in time between work obligations to pop home and celebrate at alternate times (for example, we'd do Thanksgiving dinner at noon so I could get to an evening shift on time, or we'd celebrate on Christmas Eve when I had to work Christmas Day). We honestly still do this now that I live even closer. And considering that not infrequently, you might want to stay and work more long term wherever you end up, if you're considering having kids and your parents are able bodied and willing babysitters, let me tell you that is INVALUABLE. Can't even number all the times I've gotten called in for emergency backup, or had a nanny get sick, or whatever, and my parents came and covered for me in a pinch. Our jobs don't allow for much flexibility in terms of inclement weather or childcare mishaps.

I hope that is helpful and best of luck through the process!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:19 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live cross coast, and my folks prefer Skype to visits! And I quote, "Your father feels closer to you that way."

Travel freaks them out, and none of us like sharing a roof for more than 48 hours. Now we see each other twice a year. They fly out and stay at an AirBNB; when I go home, I rent a cheap car and crash at a friend's house. SO MUCH BETTER. Our relationship has improved greatly since they stepped back and I started acting with more autonomy. We can talk freely about the real, deep, rich stuff now that there's less stress.

My sister has an entirely different relationship with my folks, and is in constant communication. But we're all happy with the balance we've struck. The whole fam keeps up via videochat, text and email, and then we have our individual quirks:

+ My sister and I talk on the phone
+ Mums and I exchange letters & gifts by mail
+ Dad sends me mixtapes and political articles

If I could change anything, I'd see my sister more. But that's about $. Daily humdrum isn't important to us, so even a thousand miles away, we're as close as ever.
posted by fritillary at 11:33 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live at least 1000 miles away from all of my family and I think we're all better for it.

There's nothing wrong with my parents, but we're ideologically just different people, and we've never had the easy relationship with each other that my brother (who lives a couple hours/easy drive away) does. I wish I lived closer to my brother, but we have a far better relationship now than we ever did as kids, and it might have a lot to do with the fact that we don't have to see each other.

I suspect my parents and I are as close now as we would be if I lived next door, just with none of the resentment that would come from having to spend more time together than we actually can handle.

As I remind them often, they are in a much better position in terms of work flexibility and financial resources to come and visit me than I am to go and visit them. Do they visit? They do not.

Also I get to live in a wonderful city they're scared of and they get to live in crappy Georgia which they love. Wins all around.
posted by phunniemee at 2:56 AM on August 23, 2016

One of my brothers lived in the same town as my mother for several years after college, and then moved to the opposite coast. She misses him and worries about him, as parents do, but she's also immensely proud of him for making such a huge move on his own. I think in a healthy parent-child relationship, the parents want you to be yourself more than they want you to be theirs, know what I mean? Distance can be covered with email, phone calls, etc.

And I think some of the variation in what different families consider comfortable has to do with how far the extended family is. My parents moved nearly 2,000 miles away when they were in their mid-twenties, and so for me it feels normal to live far away and visit only once or twice a year. My aunts and uncles who stayed in the region have kids who grew up to stay; there's still roaming, but it's a lot more appealing to stick around when your roots are wide and deep.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:42 AM on August 23, 2016

I also live far from my mother (as in a 6+ hour plane ride) and we're all better for it.

In some ways, we've learned to appreciate each other a lot more -- being more frank with our opinions and feelings. I also feel that I get to see her the way that others see her by listening to her interactions with others. It's also protected me from many of the difficult, dramatic things that she is prone to experiencing, as well as her financial irresponsibility.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 5:29 AM on August 23, 2016

I live on the opposite coast from my parents and my only sibling (and my nieces). It was fine when I was in my 30s, but now that I'm in my 40s and my parents are in their 70s (and my nieces are nearing double-digit ages), I find myself wishing and/or needing to be there more often in person.

I will never be in a caregiver role for my parents -- they do not want that -- but I will be and have been in a decision-making and/or emotional support role for them as one or both of them experience serious illness. Because of where they and I live in relation to our local airports (and the airline schedules), it is generally not possible for me to get to my parents in less than 24 hours, unless I know of the need before noon my time. Twice in the last two years, my dad was in the hospital, and there was a strong possibility that my dad might have died before I could get there.

I can't move because of my job, but the reality of their aging is very stressful.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:57 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live around 4.5 hours from my family, and I don't see that changing anytime soon for personal/professional reasons. My mother has faced significant health challenges over the last few years, and it is extremely stressful/upsetting sometimes to have this distance between us. That being said, if it is important to you, it's always possible to prioritize visiting, which I do almost every month.
posted by cakelite at 7:06 AM on August 23, 2016

If you want to be close but not "expensive plane ride far" I found living about 4 hours' drive was enough to keep distance/contact where I wanted it (this was in college when I really wanted to be sure they wouldn't just randomly show up and I also didn't want it to be really easy to go home).

Now given traffic in my metro area and where they live, it's about 2 hours, which I do not nor do they just drive randomly without planning. I can always go home when I am at their place, or I have the option to stay and it doesn't feel silly. I am an only child, FWIW.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:51 AM on August 23, 2016

I'm really close to my parents and my brother so deciding to move 11,000 km away wasn't the easiest decision, but fortunately for me they were nothing but supportive. Although I miss them all very much and sometimes wish I lived closer so I could pop over for quick visits or to help whenever they might need it, the visits we do get seem to be that much better because we always plan to do something big or awesome or meaningful. I had a great time showing my brother where I live when he was able to visit, my husband and I vacationed with my parents in Australia earlier this year, etc. Being away has its drawbacks but it makes the time together so much more meaningful, in my opinion.

I keep in touch with my parents by way of Skype, e-mail, and phone calls when possible. I have a weekly Skype call set up with my brother and we e-mail and Whatsapp in between. You can be as close or as distant as you want to be with your family, it doesn't really matter where you live.
posted by gursky at 8:14 AM on August 23, 2016

. I care about my parents and appreciate their support, but visits that last beyond 72 hours have me questioning why I ever thought it would be a good idea to go home. I obviously don't learn from my mistakes, because I keep visiting home every holiday I get.

My family of origin is incredibly family oriented. To shut down the family expectation that I come home every goddamn three day weekend, I had a "thousand mile rule" for many years. I was fine with the occassional extended visit. I was not fine with living in their back pocket.

I was very clear that if I lived too close, they would expect me to show up constantly. Trying to set boundaries about this went poorly for my older siblings. So I was well aware that the only way to win was not to play.
posted by Michele in California at 10:12 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Until this year, I have always lived over 200 miles away from my parents. I would say that our relationship was much easier and allowed me to find a way to be an adult without chafing so much.

Then my father passed away and my mother decided she needed to move to my city to be close. I went from a long distance daughter who called once a week and came home only on big holidays to a call everyday and once the move was complete, someone who could swing by after work to help out with crap.

The transition has not been easy. I've spent most of my adult life being me when I'm not around my parents, and a softened, more pleasing version of me when I was around them. That was grand until I'm seeing my mother almost every day. And she's changed. As she's aged, habits that drove me mad as a teenager are blindingly infuriating now. Even when I can completely see where the behavior comes from, it's still deeply frustrating.

I wish I had been more consistent about being myself around my parents when we were far apart. My tendency to pretend to do things their way and put up and shut up when around them, made it easier for my mom to believe that I was same person I was when I left home. Now she's discovering that her daughter is a different person than she thought. There's not a ton of difference, but just enough to make things more complex.

Honestly, it never crossed my mind that either of my parents would want to leave their home to be nearer to me if the other passed away. I had always assumed they loved where they were and had friends and a life there that would be enough to help power through the pain of loss. Maybe if it was Dad that was left behind, that might be the case, but my Mom declared she was moving before Dad passed and never backed down from the idea.

I'd do everything over again, although I would have lived further away as a younger person and moved more frequently when I still had the flexibility. Just be aware that seeing people in short 72 hour bursts is nothing like having them live 30 minutes away.
posted by teleri025 at 11:29 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in the same metro area as my parents (30-60 minute drive, depending on traffic), and I don't spend much time with them (haven't seen my mother in months, and it's not like we're estranged or anything - just both socially awkward/anxious). When I do spend time with them, it's relatively low-pressure and if I get tired of hanging out with them I just go home, to my house. I lived a short-ish plane ride away from my parents when I was in college and for a few years after; I lived a few hours away for a few years. There's no feeling of being trapped when I visit my family now, because I have a car and a place to go.

It's kind of great to just be able to check out of a family gathering and GO HOME whenever I feel like it. And for my family, at least, the distance is enough that I am not expected to just be around, nor would my parents ever think of just "dropping by." My sister lives in the actual same small-ish town as my parents (and her inlaws), and that's a different can of worms. But for me, an inconvenient 30 minutes works great. We can see each other without making much effort, but we don't have to see each other if one of us doesn't want to make an effort.

Basically, in my family, when I lived far away there was an expectation I would come to stay; now a 72-hour visit with my family would be pretty unusual, and likely to be a family vacation or something anyway (i.e. something I might go to/be expected to go to even if I didn't live close by).
posted by mskyle at 1:12 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is something I've thought about a lot, as I currently live in the same metropolitan area as my parents and whole extended family, as well as my in-laws and their extended family. The good thing is you get to be there for more of the day-to-day stuff. Lots of casual hangouts. I love being able to go to my parents' house whenever I want, and just shooting the shit. They are fun to hang out with!

The bad thing is there can be A LOT of day-to-day stuff, particularly if you have extended family around (think birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, bridal showers, baby showers, kids' birthday parties if you have cousins/nieces/nephews, plus all the holidays - Mother's Day, Father's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc). So if your parents are the type of (overbearing) parents who will pressure you to come to all these family events, subtly guilt you when you don't or if there's a general disparity between how much your parents want to see you and how much you want to see them, it can be problematic. Being so close + the expectation of weekly visits/attendance at all family events can cause a whole lot of resentment when you don't get all the free time you want to do your own thing -- it also doesn't really give you the chance to miss your family, ha. It can also negatively impact your relationship with your siblings when siblings who live further away tell you that you should visit your parents more, or when you have to turn your schedule upside down when those siblings are visiting (because, hey, they only come twice a year, so of course).

Personally, having lived further in the past, I found it did vastly improve my relationship with my parents. Distance does make the heart grow fonder, and what's more, as a twenty-something, this is the time for you to grow and develop as your own person. Do it while your parents are relatively young and healthy -- when they grow older, you can maybe consider moving closer (or they can consider moving closer to you). I'm kind of in the same boat as you, except with a husband, and we are seriously considering moving away for this reason alone.
posted by spicytunaroll at 7:43 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

My experience is similar to spicytunaroll's. My parents are divorced. When I first went to college, they were living in the same place hundreds of miles away, and my relationships with both of them improved. We spoke on the phone regularly and I went home every few months for a weekend, but it was really nice not to feel constant pressure to be around them.

My sophomore year of college, my mom moved to the same city as me. She's mentally ill, which is a complicating factor, but our relationship definitely initially deteriorated because she pressured me to spend a lot of time with her.

Now, 10 years after college, I moved back to my hometown to be closer to my dad, who's had a lot of health problems. I'm hundreds of miles from mom. It's great being back near my dad after living away from him all these years, but there is a lot of day-to-day stuff that I feel some guilt about. For example, he has my 90 year-old grandfather over for dinner every Sunday, and he always pressures me to come for dinner, too.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:08 AM on August 25, 2016

My tale is more about the kids than my parents. My kids grew up 1000 miles away from all their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles - and there are a lot of them, 1000 miles in both directions. All those relatives have relationships with each other, but my kids (now adults) don't ever think of visiting because they don't really know these people.

And, for their first 12 years of life, our only family vacations were visits to one set of relatives or the other - we never went anywhere just to see something interesting or experience something different. It was always one family town or the other.

If I had to do it over again, I would choose to live in the same metro area as one of our families, rather than halfway between (and therefore very far from) both.
posted by CathyG at 1:18 PM on August 27, 2016

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