Anyone here with co-dependent parents? To move or not to move near them?
August 19, 2018 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I’m a first generation Asian American living in the States. I’m also an only child. My parents, though having been here for over 14 years, still speak very little English. As you can imagine, I do a lot for them. They’ve pretty much used me as a crutch for doctor visits, translating mails, even taking them to places they aren’t familiar with because they can’t figure out the GPS. I moved 3 hrs away from them and in with my fiancé about a year ago. Since then they expect me to come back to see them every other week and stay the weekend. Whenever they have dr appts it becomes even more burdensome as I would need to come back on a week day. Therefore I’m thinking of moving back to live near them just so I can help them out easier. My fiancé has agreed to this arrangement as long as we don’t live with my parents.

Quick background of my parents: both are in their mid 50’s. They are caring but very transactional. They feel that I need to support them financially and emotionally to return for all the years they’ve raised me. They are doing fine financially but they want me to spoil them with gifts, money, and free vacation. My mom loves to do stuff with me like going to the mall, which I cannot stand. They are both very needy. I’ve been doing my best to maintain boundary and ignoring all the guilt trips. They constantly compare me to my cousins who happily live under the same roof as their parents and doing everything together with parents. I still give them some money when they really need it since it’s expected in my culture but I try to say no to frivolous stuff. Anyone out there has had experience with this and ended up moving closer to parents? Did you have any regrets?
posted by missybitsy to Human Relations (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Do you like helping them? Do you want to keep doing so? Do you want to be their primary caregivers as they age? Are you ok with their demands becoming more and more over time? Are you ok with their needs taking priority over those of your future husband and hypothetical future children? Because that is what they are asking of you.

I think that this behavior is abusive, and I declined the demands to do it from my parents.
posted by medusa at 4:16 PM on August 19, 2018 [17 favorites]

Rather than moving to the same town have you considered moving about a half-hour to an hour away from them? That gives you plausible deniability when they want to cross boundaries (“gee, I don’t have enough time in my day to drive there AND back as well as go to the doctors’”) and limits them from just “stopping by”.

Are they tied into the local Asian culture group? Would moving *them* closer to you make sense in any way (larger possible social group for them?). If you are planning on having children, having grandparents nearby is very handy. Ignore the guilt trips, there is pretty much no defence against that monologue except to never reward that behaviour.
posted by saucysault at 4:18 PM on August 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

Do they have friends nearby from their own culture? Yes, they want to see you, but if they had people to hang out with, their own age, to shop with – maybe some folks a little better acculturated to the community they're living in – it might lighten some of the demands on you.

I don't know how you'd go about finding this, but a church? an outings club? Something?
posted by zadcat at 4:21 PM on August 19, 2018

Thanks to those who answered so far. My parents are loners. They have distanced cousins but no friends. They also refuse to socialize with the Asian community here since they are not religious.
posted by missybitsy at 4:31 PM on August 19, 2018

I come from a similar background and - as an adult - lived closer to my parents (same country and city) for about three years. I can relate to the guilt trips and expectation to ‘pay back’ your parents through acts of service etc. Although I’m very happy I spent that time closer home for a number of reasons, I’m not sure I would do it again. However, I was in a very good place emotionally to be closer to home and was able to put in a lot of emotional work to consolidate years of work in this area. If you can, ask yourself if you’re really satisfied that you’ve managed to maintain boundaries in the past in a way that felt true to yourself. I know this is hard in practice but you need to be kind to yourself and your fiancé first. Don’t do this if you don’t have the emotional bandwidth. And - I know this is hard too - you’re still a good person if you don’t want to do any of this. Take care of yourself.

But here are some of the things that worked for me. The goal was to satisfy my parents’ need/expectation to have regular contact without overwhelming me. You’re welcome to memail me - I can relate to almost everything you wrote.

—lunch once a week or every other week with whole family.
— arranged to see my mum for lunch or coffee over my lunch break because she wanted more frequent contact but that way there was a valid reason to keep it short.
— Ignored behaviours I was uncomfortable with by complete non-engagement. I had to prep myself by anticipating these and deciding beforehand on what action/inaction to take. eg knowing that I’d be questioned on the way I looked and that not-responding would be interpreted as rude, I needed to decide how to respond to that as well so I would shut down the conversation without escalating.
—Responded very positively to behaviour I wanted to see more of.
— had a stock set of responses as a script to reinforce boundaries. For example, mum would leave several missed calls and I would respond *at my convenience*. Mum: I kept calling you. Why didn’t you pick up? Me: I wasn’t able to pick up (in neutral tone). So how are you?
— I started saying no in a neutral, polite way. “That won’t be possible because...”
— I started saying no by stalling for time because sometimes I say yes in the moment because I feel bad saying no. “Let me check if I can make it next week and I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
— I tried to be present and engage with my parents when I was with them.
— I maintained my integrity but always explained myself if questioned. I took time to flesh out the whys and hows in what I took to be a healthy, respectful way. You don’t owe this to your parents but over time - years! - it’s led to stronger boundaries and healthier interactions.
posted by mkdirusername at 4:31 PM on August 19, 2018 [30 favorites]

Think, too, about the time in the future when they are *really* going to need you. I mean 20 years on (God willing) when they are aging and really can't drive themselves and need help with activities of daily living and such. Think carefully about how you set boundaries now and how you save back some emotional energy with them so you'll have it to give when they need it most.

If you engage out of guilt now to the point that it breaks you and you want to tell them to f**k off and never go there again, it's going to make it worse the first time one of them falls and has to go to the hospital and you have to go running.

Not trying to be a downer about the future, just trying to look at the long game. The ability to "be a good child" down the road might hinge on being "less of a good child" now.
posted by mccxxiii at 4:45 PM on August 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

I came here to say what Medusa said.

Interestingly, "they also refuse to socialize with the Asian community here since they are not religious," so they don't want to socialize with people who share their native tongue...but also didn't have enough exposure to English to be able to read their own mail? So they don't socialize with anyone but you and their distant family? Given the language issue did they make an effort to find doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. who speak their language and share their background?

This kind of helplessness combined with telling you that you need to repay them for the trouble and cost of raising you is absolutely abusive. You didn't ask to be born, nor did you dictate their parenting choices or their choices about money during your youth. Presumably they had lives in their 50 some years where they had to interact with other people at work and school, in that time they never made any long term friends who speak their language, or met people they wanted to befriend who spoke English? I can understand it feels isolating when your cultural community is religious and you're not, but even so they are responsible for finding other outlets to get companionship and support in life.

My brother, a white guy born in the US to an Eastern European immigrant, is married to a Chinese woman born in the US to Chinese parents. They live right by his in-laws. His mother in law speaks very little English as well, but she has a social group of people who speak Mandarin and share her interests/outlook on the world so she's less isolated. My brother has been married now for just one year, after giving his wife the same ultimatum ("Well, I'll move to live in their town, as long as we don't live WITH them"). So now they have two almost identical houses on the same street.

But now the degree of codependent behavior in their family - chiefly, using Fear/Guilt/Obligation to get inappropriate and excessive "help" from him and his wife - is already making him talk about divorce if they can't get better boundaries in place. He loves his wife so much, but he's becoming exhausted emotionally by the way her family behaves. He can't handle the constant drama and hassle of the expectations they place on her as the eldest child, the only one who is nearby and has the financial resources to be able to help (her brother moved away to escape the codependency, her sister is disabled, which is also a factor here).

Maybe you are better at negotiating and reinforcing boundaries than my brother's wife is; maybe you can shield your fiance more from the exhausting drama of managing codependent people you also love. I don't know. But I gotta say that when I read your question I immediately thought of my brother and what he is going through and how he wishes he wasn't so physically close to her family.

He especially wishes that his wife was able to say no to them more often than she seems to be able to do. He wishes she could see how damaging and harmful it is to have your parents acting in a way that says, "you must do everything you can to support family, even when they act in wildly inappropriate and hurtful ways." She pleads a cultural duty and says her family deserves her loyalty because her parents sacrificed for her; meanwhile he's talking about how he doesn't want to have kids if they have to be that close to her family because he doesn't want them to grow up watching that behavior & start reproducing it themselves. He's helping her get therapy specifically for the codependency stuff, but he also thinks that if his wife chooses her family of origin over him, her husband/her own nuclear family, that's a good reason to get a divorce.

If you do want to move closer and help more, IF it's something you ACTUALLY WANT to do, not just "well, they expect this of me and I don't know how to get out of it. I guess moving closer will make it less time consuming..." then go ahead.

But have your support system (therapist?) in place to prevent the codependency from affecting your relationship with your husband in the future. Decide on what you are willing to do and what you will refuse to do. Practice not engaging with their manipulation when they use it inappropriately, such as getting money for frivolous reasons. Practice identifying things they can ask others for help with, and asking them to do that instead of always coming to you for everything.
posted by zdravo at 5:06 PM on August 19, 2018 [15 favorites]

Is there a senior center near them? When they get older, perhaps consider enrolling them in one. People will take them to the doctors and grocery shopping. We have ones nearby that are for Chinese or Korean speaking people. My grandfather goes to one each day from 8am to 2pm, and in addition to the social aspect (my grandpa is mostly a loner but he’ll sit and wave at people), they take him to the doctors and help translate at the pharmacy to pick up his meds.

I recently moved back home, near my parents, after being away for almost 10 years. I treat my parent to a meal each week and help out whenever I can. My mom always tells me stories about how many challenges she dealt with as an immigrant in the US (I still tear up thinking about the time someone cruelly sold her spoiled formula and she didn’t speak enough English to return them, even as she held me, crying as a few weeks old baby.) Stories like that make me feel guilty.

I do what I can now. I have a therapist. I also help them figure out retirement and talk very clearly about saving money, IRAs, health insurance, a place to live when they get older, money to pay a nurse (they want to live at home), etc. Long term planning is really important, especially if you’re an only child.
posted by inevitability at 5:16 PM on August 19, 2018

Hmm, your parents sound quite similar to how mine were in their mid-fifties - my brother and I were very concerned about how they would age because they, too, were loners who leaned heavily on their kids (my weekend stay-overs were every weekend, right up until I picked up and moved to a different country).

A few years ago they found a community in, of all things, a local Chinese senior's badminton club, and now their social life sounds more exciting than mine! I think they got a kick out of being "the young ones" (the club was mostly retired Chinese folks in their mid sixties and up). My brother and I are thrilled that they a) are getting out of the house and b) have lots of good models for being active and social as they age. I don't know if something like this is possible for your parents, but I share it as a way of saying that they may surprise you yet, if you let go a little bit. Also agreeing that distancing yourself a little now while they're still relatively young and mobile in preparation for when they're not, is a good idea.
posted by btfreek at 5:35 PM on August 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I understand where you're coming from, as I'm also an Asian first gen immigrant. I suffer a ton of guilt and worry and anxiety as an only child. I did the opposite of what you're considering. I moved to the other side of the planet (back to the mother country) to create distance, albeit it's not a permanent move and my family breathes a bit easier knowing that.

It both hurts and is liberating to move away from them and overall a beneficial thing for all parties. I know that might not be an option for you and I actually think 3 hours should have been plenty (my parents would probably make me come over regularly if it were 2 hours but I'd hope they'd draw the line at 3).

At any rate, my advice is NO, don't move back near them, at least not yet. They need to learn to adapt while they still can! What I did before my move is I explained to them I love them very much and made lots of reassurances and most importantly, set them up with iPads (with skype, youtube subscriptions, news apps, etc) and taught them to use them so they could use that to get information (youtube has been a true blessing) and to get in contact with me. Yes, at first they were technophobes but they catch on. My mom has even started texting this year!

I still return once a year and help out however I can over Skype and Facetime. When they get a bit older, I will return for good and plan to live close by, and then eventually will live with them as a multi-generational unit. I know your parents aren't mine (they also have extended family nearby) but in my experience, technology (+ teaching) + reassurances of love + distance has been a boon. Maybe you could do something similar to dramatically cut down those visits? Also, some of my friends' parents have gotten dogs to fill that gap of loneliness and that's worked wonderfully but that's also its own can of worms that I have no experience with.
posted by bluelight at 6:06 PM on August 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

I also come from a similar traditional culture where this is expected. Am also an only child, and first generation American. All I will say is that if you plan to have your own healthy, happy, relaxed adult relationship with your future husband, and raise future children who become healthy independent adults, I would absolutely not move near them under any circumstances, as painful as it is. This is how good relationships get destroyed. Good luck navigating a very difficult situation.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:08 PM on August 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

At the age of 47 here, "mid-fifties" doesn't seem so old at all. And, being married into an Asian culture, I'd say that this is the age where they're supposed to be doing stuff for *you*, such as looking after your kids. You don't have any, because you're too young. They're too young to be grandparents. This is the time of life when you're supposed to do things you want to do, and they're supposed to do things they've wanted to do while raising a family. It's a liminal time.

So, even in a cultural context, it seems odd.
posted by JamesBay at 6:10 PM on August 19, 2018 [13 favorites]

If I have the timeline right, they moved to America when they were fortyish. Did they leave their (60s/70s aged) parents/elder relatives behind? I assume they moved in pursuit of a better life for themselves. You may want to point out that you are following their example in being independent.
posted by saucysault at 6:19 PM on August 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

As an Asian person: where do they live? There is probably a way of socializing with the community without needing to pretend to be religious, and many Asian churches are just social clubs anyway. Are there language exchanges in your town? New immigrant organizations? Calligraphy or dance or martial arts classes? Events at the church that are more focused on non-religious activities?

It might help to frame it as you needing help connecting with that community and wanting to do the activity with them instead of them needing to get out more. Some parents have a lot of pride, and it really does suck to have someone tell you you need to socialize.
posted by storytam at 7:51 PM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

As long as you’re around all the time, they’ll never adapt, because they won’t have to - and it sounds like that’s their plan. I can appreciate you have the time and bandwidth to move now and help. But what happens to you when/if you have a family of your own, relationships, career, hobbies etc and life gets busy? Do these things just fall by the wayside? Or, worse of all, do you never get a chance to have them at all because looking after your parents takes precedence?

If I were you, I’d move further away. The ultimate aim of parents is to raise their children to be competent adults with lives of their own, not keep them stuck to your side out of obligation, while you use them. When you do spend time with your parents, make it scheduled, so they know that every second Saturday is their time but if they need you to do their tax on Thursday, we’ll you’ve got your pottery class and it’s Saturday or nothing. Same for their medical appointments. And everything else.

The upside is that they will adjust (they’ll have to or they’ll just never see you) and if you take up some of the other posters suggestions about broadening their social circle, they’ll hopefully find other outlets for support and companionship. And if they don’t, well, unlike other Asian parents, at least they won’t have anyone from their culture to complain to about their ungrateful child which is apparently a thing.

Your parents are doing this because it works. When it stops working on you, they’ll stop doing it. Retrain them - with love - but retrain them. Boundaries. It will be good for all of you.
posted by Jubey at 8:30 PM on August 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

I feel like it's less important to worry about moving closer and more important to make your parents aware of all support options available to them locally now. Are there any service providers that speak their language? Are there any help/hotlines? What other options do they have for medical interpretation? Make a sheet and put it on their fridge?
This would help you deflect when they decide you have to be the one solving their problems. Even if you move closer to them, what are they going to do if something happens to you?
posted by sacchan at 8:33 PM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for taking the time to share your experience and anecdotes! These mean so much to me. I think I can definitely do a better job with finding services to help them with their communication needs. As far as getting them to find new social circles, it’s hard because they have a lot of trust issues growing up that prevent them from establishing relationship with others. The Vietnamese community here is very small and they know the people but just not willing to become friends with anyone. At this point I feel like I can’t force my parents to make friends and cater to their emotional needs. They need to be the ones who find their own hobbies. I’ve tried suggesting things like taking English classes, reading books, cooking, exploring the internet more, etc. but it’s been futile. They have no interest in going out and meeting people at all. The only thing my mom likes to do is shopping, but she wants a buddy to go with. None of her siblings, cousins, or myself wanna do it with her.
posted by missybitsy at 8:48 PM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yikes, I'm sorry, but I think they are basically counting on you to move back out of their abusive version of filial piety. They're completely misusing filial piety's concepts and literally just being kind of abusive and manipulative about it. They're testing to see whether you'd actually come back and accompany them in your life. There's literally no reason for them to not do more of their own stuff, and they're making excuses. They're counting on coming over more often once you have children, so they can be the grandparents, and then eventually they will propose moving in or you and your fiance moving in so you can all be in a single house. You will literally never be free of them. You need to be very, very aware of their ulterior motives and underlying plan.

Please don't fall for it, they are making this decision and are using your sweetness and compassion and history of loyalty to do this. "They are doing fine financially but they want me to spoil them with gifts, money, and free vacation." is a GIGANTIC red flag because that is not filial piety, they want to actively take advantage of you because they feel that they deserve repayment after they raised you. That is not parenting.

For contrast, my mother is 60 and still pays the lunch bill for me and my sibling and my sister-in-law because she is the adult in the group and most financially stable, and she loves us, we're her kids and she wants to take care of us, even though we can pay too. We will take care of her if needed, but she can definitely take care of herself and tells us to not worry about it at all.
posted by yueliang at 2:15 AM on August 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

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