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June 23, 2006 2:26 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with parents moving to your town after years of living far apart?

My wife and I moved away from our parents back East after college, first to the Midwest and then to the West Coast.
Now, with retirement looming for both sets of parents, they are making serious plans to move out to our town.

So, the scenario looms that, after more than 10 years of being thousands of miles away, we'll be living within 5 miles of both our parents, neither of whom know a soul in the town except for us.

Now, of course, in that time, we've gone home for some Christmases, and the occasional summer holiday and whatnot, and they've come out for a few days every other year or so but this seems different.

Has anyone else been in this situation? How did you deal with setting boundaries, expectations, etc? Hell, how did you decide whose house hosts Christmas dinner?
posted by madajb to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tell both of your sets of folks that you may not be living there in a year or two or five, and that if they move out to a town where they know nobody but you, it's gonna be awfully lonely when you leave. Better all-'round if they just stay where they are.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:29 PM on June 23, 2006

What is the problem here, exactly? That you don't want more contact with them then you do now?
posted by agregoli at 2:42 PM on June 23, 2006

Are they moving out there to be near you guys? Do you have kids? Are they looking to be closer to the grandkids? (Free babysitting?)

If they just happened to have picked your town, well... I guess that you're going to have to figure out how much you want to be involved with them. How often do you want to see them?
posted by k8t at 2:43 PM on June 23, 2006

k8t -
Yes, they are moving to this town because we live here, and no, we have no children.
posted by madajb at 2:48 PM on June 23, 2006

agregoli -
AskMe is full of stories about long-distance relationships that went sour when they moved closer.

I'm looking for ways to avoid that scenario with my own parents.
I don't want them to feel slighted when they move to town and I don't have any time to see them, and I don't want to feel hounded because they keep "stopping by because we were in the neighborhood".
posted by madajb at 3:03 PM on June 23, 2006

Do you guys want them to move there or not?

You're going to have to decide what kind of relationship you want to have with them -- maybe you see them a few days/nights a week, maybe you see them once a month?

Spend some time researching things for them to do -- joining clubs/groups/etc. so that you are not their lifeline.
posted by k8t at 3:04 PM on June 23, 2006

Establish boundaries early on. Always call before you go over to their house and encourage them to do the same. Don't establish any pattern you may regret later, such a multiple visits per week, multiple calls per day, because then if/when you cut back, feelings will most likely be hurt.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:13 PM on June 23, 2006

Move? Kidding.

Needless to say, set those boundaries early and be consistent. To some extent, you will likely have to treat the sets of parents the way parents treat siblings, i.e. equally. Ideally, one set does not have privledges that the other doesn't. Some ideas:

Give them some sense of your schedules to explain when it is and is not okay to come over.

Work out a way that you can warn them if they're imposing (such as, "Ahem: apron-string alert, Mom.")

Decide right now if they will have keys to your house. If you decide against it, stick to it. Come up with one reason. Don't allow it to be an issue for debate.

Related: lock your front door, if you're not okay with tap-tap-tap-hellloooo!

Set up a regular date with each set. Maybe even just parents w/their own kid, no spouse.
posted by desuetude at 3:16 PM on June 23, 2006

k8t -
Were it up to me, they'd move somewhere in the same state, but farther away, a couple of hours maybe.
So they'd be close enough for an impromptu dinner, but not so close we'd feel obligated to see each other more regularly.
posted by madajb at 3:26 PM on June 23, 2006

How do the sets of parents get along with each other? If they get on well right now, maybe they could be each other's new best friends. Besides a shared set of married children, think of what else they have in common (they're from back east, they're about the same age, they're in a new community, they're retired with presumably lots of free time) and go from there. Find ways of getting them together with each other when you won't have to be around.
posted by hangashore at 3:33 PM on June 23, 2006

Do your parents have any activities they enjoy or are looking forward to getting into during their retirement? I'm thinking along the lines of playing bridge, golfing, tennis, church membership, book clubs, volunteering, things of that nature. If so -- do some recon and have a list of groups or clubs they can check out once they have moved to town. If they can get interested in even just a few of these things it's very possible they will be able to cultivate a social life outside of you and your spouse.
posted by brain cloud at 3:38 PM on June 23, 2006

I'm going to take a slightly contrarian view here and tell you that I think you are very lucky. When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I would have worried about having parents too close. Now I wish they would.

Yes, you will be irritated by them. Yes, they will drop by and surprise you from time to time. I'm sure you can set some ground rules like call us before you come and those sorts of things. But all of our parents are getting older and we may not get to enjoy them for that much longer and I think you should savor the joy of getting to spend more time with them in their (hopefully slightly more) mellow old age.
posted by zia at 3:42 PM on June 23, 2006

You're screwed. Under the best of circumstances you are going to have to set boundaries and limitations. under the worst, you will be hiding in your own home or avoiding going home to avoid your parents. If you cannot call them now before the move and have a heart to heart and set expectations and boundaries, then see below. You may find that they no more want to see you than you want to see them. They could be doing this just for the peace of mind as they get older that you would be there in an emergency.

My 'A' advice is in the beginning, when meeting up with them, do it on neutral ground or at their new house. Meet at a restaurant or park or movie, whatever. Establish early on that your home is not an open house. If you go to theirs often enough in the beginning, they will get used to you coming over and then you can slowly cut back. Keep your doors locked and do not answer the door every time even if your car is in the driveway. They will start to catch on. Put your cars in the garage if you have one every time you come home so if they do the driveby, then will not think you are there.

Remember too that it is much easier to add privileges than to take them away. Start tough and go soft later after establishing boundaries.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:48 PM on June 23, 2006

hangashore -
They don't. At all.
I imagine they will avoid each other as much as possible.
posted by madajb at 4:06 PM on June 23, 2006

I agree with Zia above. You are a grownup and they are not some stray puppy that you are house training. Y'all will figure each others preferences out quickly re: stopping by. As for being too busy - make time for 'em, they are your parents.

As far as them not getting along with the other set, that is their problem. If you don't get drawn into preference games or sucked into helping one set feel ok about you seeing the other set, you'll be fine.

If my mom could afford to move out to California and be closer by it would be (maddening at times but ultimately) great. They ain't around forever.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 4:21 PM on June 23, 2006

My father, whom I loved dearly, is dead. He is dead as a doornail. He is installed permanently in a hole in the ground somewhere and he never stops by, unexpectedly or otherwise.

I hope my little vignette can assist you in having some perspective with which to appreciate on your great good fortune.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:23 PM on June 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

It's a good thing all fathers are exactly alike, then, huh?
posted by kindall at 4:35 PM on June 23, 2006

Read what Ikkyu2 said. Then read it again.

I guarantee you that (assuming your parents weren't abusive monsters or something) once your parents are dead you won't be thinkg, "at least they won't be dropping by anymore!".

Set boundaries. But this is not a punishment, it is an opportunity.
posted by Justinian at 4:37 PM on June 23, 2006

Don't get me wrong, my parents are good people, and I'd much rather them alive than dead.

But as I said, this is going to be a big change in our relationship, and I'm looking for ways to make it work better for everyone.

Brain cloud's idea of doing recon on different groups seems a good idea, as well as JohnnyGunn's idea of meeting at their house, not at mine.

And, asparagus_berlin, I agree, not getting along with the other set is their own problem. They live within 7 miles of each other now, and never see each other, so I can't imagine that'll change much if they live the same distance apart in a new town.
posted by madajb at 4:55 PM on June 23, 2006

so I can't imagine that'll change much if they live the same distance apart in a new town

Don't be surprised if it DOES change. Like someone mentioned above, they each will only know you and the other couple. Is there any way that you can encourage them to make social overtures to each other? With both couples out of their familiar elements, maybe you can prod along some changes in their relationship.

As for holidays and whatnot, are there any family or religious traditions that would make one holiday (or day during the holiday season, i.e. Christmas Eve vs. Christmas Day) more important to one set of parents? If so, they get first dibs.

If nothing is clear regarding traditions, you can just arbitrarily alternate holidays, you can not celebrate with them at all, you can celebrate with both on the same day, or you can celebrate with both, but on different days. Or you can do some combo of the above, or do one thing one year and something else the next.

Also, separate from the issue of them moving is the pending retirements. Retirement can change people. Some, like my mom, finally do all the things they'd been meaning to do, and are always busy. Some, like my late dad, plant themselves on the couch and don't move until the EMTs cart 'em away. So it may be difficult for you AND them to figure out what they want from a relationship with you. Be patient and sympathetic, and it will work out.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:46 PM on June 23, 2006

This just happened to me in the last month, and it's been bumpy. You can contact me through the email in my profile -- maybe we can have a little ongoing support group.
posted by kmel at 8:24 PM on June 23, 2006

My parents are talking very seriously about moving to the city where I live. I'm pretty happy about it. I'll be able to keep an eye on them as they get older and they will be around to help with the kids.

Still, we have already talked about boundaries and my parents will probably live in what my family calls "Zone 2". That means no visits without a phone call before hand (equivalent to a 20+ minute drive). I would not mind "Zone 1" (unannounced visits), but I think my boyfriend would be happier if my dad didn't stop by all the time to give him advice. They live in "Zone 3" now (overnight stays required), and "Zone 4" and beyond requires space travel.

If you want Zone 2 you need to tell both sets of parents now. They may be a little disappointed, but you need to do it before they start looking for a home in earnest. The longer you wait the worse it will be. Just say that you will be happy that they will be around, but you need a little space. You should not be the one to do this with your in-laws. Your husband, or both of you together, should discuss this with them.

Try and schedule a time when you can see them regularly, like Sunday dinners, preferably at their house. Be clear that anything else will require an appointment. This way they can't complain "We never see you".

Also, for holidays you should try a rotating schedule. For example, parent set A gets Thanksgiving and parent set B gets Christmas. The next year it is flipped. Of course, you can insist on having holidays at your house. If your in-laws can't stand your parents you can split it up into morning/afternoon or afternoon/evening sessions.
posted by Alison at 8:39 PM on June 23, 2006

There's an awful lot of serious advice on this thread for a problem that hasn't even manifested itself yet.

I faced the opposite issue when I moved back to my home town after being away for several years, and I was very nervous about this. You know what I found? Seeing my parents more frequently but for much shorter periods of time was a lot better than seeing them for intensive long periods around holidays. They liked it better too, and our relationship is better than ever. Sometimes we see each other often, sometimes not for weeks.

So, you may have a similar experience. And my advice is to not be too hard on them about boundaries when they first get there. Obviously you know them and I don't, but they may not drop by unannounced, or want to see you as often as you think, particularly after they settle in. (I mean I'm sure you're the greatest person in the world and everything, but it's just possible that their lives may not revolve around you quite as much as you think.) :)
posted by j-dawg at 10:17 PM on June 23, 2006

Two questions:

- Where is this town? There's a big difference between sharing a city (where they can have completely full lives along with their relationship with you) and a small town (where their lives will become uncomfortably intertwined with yours).

- What's your cultural background? Some ethnic groups highly value the closeness of family, and I can't tell if they're moving to honor that tradition or because you both just have clingy parents.
posted by mkultra at 8:45 AM on June 24, 2006

All told, the whole area (comprised of two cities) is about 200-250 thousand people.
Not large, but not tiny either.

Cultural background is straight-up WASP. We're both from small families (in my case, me, my sister & the parents are it and in her case, it's her and her mother)
posted by madajb at 1:47 PM on June 24, 2006

Thanks everyone for the perspectives.
posted by madajb at 11:14 PM on June 25, 2006

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