I'd like to leave the country/For a month of Sundays... but how do I tell my mother-in-law?
February 24, 2007 2:19 AM   Subscribe

EmigrationFilter: How do we deal with our parents who don't/won't want us to go? Bonus if you've a) had your first kid abroad and had to deal with the whole visitation kerfuffle b) have clingy parents c) have emigrated to or live in Sweden.

My husband and I are seriously considering emigrating to Sweden in four or five years' time. We have a pretty good idea of what it all entails, so I'm not asking for emigration advice in itself, just advice on how to deal with our parents.

The major stumbling block in the plan is my mother-in-law. Backstory: She's very attached to my husband (her youngest) and desperate for us to give her more grandkids (not on the agenda at the moment), and we're both really worried that us moving far away would really badly affect her, especially if we do spawn.
We currently live about 15 mins away from his parents and about 5 hours away from mine. I see my parents about 4 times a year. We've previously lived 5 hours away from his parents, and his mother was on the phone 4-5 times a day and visiting every weekend. Obviously she couldn't visit so often if we were in Sweden (and I would be driven mental if she did), she won't fly so any trips would be by boat/train, and if we ended up having a kid and she couldn't be there to fuss over it daily at a moment's notice it'd kill her. (To be brutally honest, this kind of distance would suit me perfectly when raising a child) We haven't broached the subject of moving with her yet and I daren't until plans are more concrete. I have no idea how to handle this. Is there anyone out there who's had to deal with anything like this? How do we break it to her? When should we? I have absolutely no idea how my father-in-law would react.

As far as my parents are concerned, they know that the idea is being floated. My mum seemed disappointed as I've previously said I'd like to move closer to them, but she understands I'm an adult and I'll do what I like and she will support me, unless (her words) we move somewhere low-lying that will be flooded when the sea levels rise dramatically and the world almost ends in 2012, (crackpot theory? I don't know) and then she'd be very upset. I suspect Stockholm is too low-level for her, but she'd probably be fine if we moved to the mountains. I have no idea what kind of advice I need here. My mother does nothing without consulting her horoscopes, so if I can spin mine into something indicating that emigrating would be a good idea she'd be absolutely fine with it. My dad is a lot more sensible and I expect will support me, but I haven't spoken to him directly about it.

Further notes that may be relevant: I'm an only child, my husband has a sister who lives about 45 mins away from their parents. We're in our 20s, have no kids and I don't think it's likely we will if we stay in the UK. I have a great relationship with the in-laws but would sometimes like a little more space.

Bonus question for Swedish mefites or those living in Sweden: Where in the country would you recommend? We love Stockholm but are open to just about anywhere - my only criteria is good snowboarding/skiing nearby and decent transport links back to the UK for emergencies. My husband would prefer a largish city. We plan to spend our holidays over the next few years touring around and getting an overall feel for the country. We're going to learn Swedish, naturally. Thanks, and sorry for the essay!
posted by corvine to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would think that hinting to your mother-in-law at the possibility of moving now would be a better idea than dropping it on her once plans are permanent. If you wait, she might feel like she was being kept out of the loop, and she'll have less time to adjust. Tell her now and she can conosle herself with the idea that it might not happen, as opposed to knowing it's a fer-sure thing.

I live in an expat community and the women who have become pregnant here often go home to have their babies. This gives grandmas the satisfaction of being there when the baby is born, and is less stressful on the mother, I think, to have care in her home country.

One thing is missing from this question — how does your husband feel about the situation with his parents? If there will be tension I think it's his responsibility to tell them/deal with it.
posted by Brittanie at 3:21 AM on February 24, 2007

I might add that my husband is also an only child with overbearing parents. We're in our 20s and don't have kids yet, so I somewhat understand your situation.
posted by Brittanie at 3:23 AM on February 24, 2007

I've been an expat for 18 years and my parents still give me a hard time about how far away I am and how rarely we see each other. Sometimes you just have to live your own life. Make sure you know your reasons well before you broach the subject.

It was easier for me because I initially left with the idea of staying for a year and then returning. You don't have to present things as "I'm moving to Sweden to have kids and grow old". Maybe it's just that you're young and free and you want to try living abroad for a while before you settle down. If later on you like Sweden and want to stay, you can deal with breaking that news when it comes. By then the parents will be more used to you being far away.
posted by fuzz at 3:41 AM on February 24, 2007

Best answer: Your city choices are pretty much: Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö.

Stockholm, as you probably know, is at about the midpoint of the country. Pro's of Stockhom: capital city, museums, largest population (only 1 million, though), shopping, close to good skiing/snowboarding (about 6 hours by bus, IIRC). Con's: very expensive in general (though maybe cheap by UK standards), much of the housing pushed out of the center and into the suburbs.

I'm afraid I've not been to Göteborg (Gothenberg), so I can't give you any specifics, but it's the second largest city and further north than Malmö (therefore closer to skiing).

Malmö is where I've been living (along with Copenhagen). Pro's: much cheaper living, more diverse city, easier to live near the center, close to Copenhagen. Con's: further away from skiing (add another 4 hours by express train to Stockholm, 10 hours or so by bus), uglier industrial city, probably higher crime rate.

Both Stockholm and Malmö have nearby airports served by RyanAir, if you want to live uber cheap. There's convenient trains running around the country and I can vouch for a good bus system in Malmö (much, much better than Copenhagen).

For learning swedish, try Colloquial Swedish (which I was able to check out from the Malmö library).

As for your mother-in-law; it is possible to get a visitor's visa for up to 11 months. Once your baby is born, you could (if you could stand her) invite her to come live with you for some time. This was the arrangement of a friend's father who married a Russian woman.

Lycka till!
posted by beerbajay at 3:50 AM on February 24, 2007

I've been an expat for seven years now, and various members of my family still ask me repeatedly when we're planning to move back to the US. Things I've found helpful to deal with the situation:
  • I actually stay in pretty frequent contact with my immediate family. We phone, we e-mail, we chat over IM. I've got a blog, so they can see what I'm up to every day. So it's not like I'm out of the loop on the family news. (In fact, sometimes I get it before other people in the US!)
  • We try to get back to visit every year or two.
  • I finally got my Mom over here to visit me in Australia this year so she could see why I choose to live here. Some members of my family have no concept of life outside the US, so it helps to have somebody able to explain that I'm not living in a teepee in some third world country. (Asks my Grandma: "Do they celebrate Christmas over there?")
  • Don't give in, and don't make promises you don't intend to keep. We like it here. We might want to move back someday, but for now this is where we want to be. Even if we moved back to the US, we wouldn't necessarily live close to them.
Of course, if we have kids - which isn't on the table at this point - things would get more difficult.
posted by web-goddess at 4:10 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: Brittanie: it's absolutely his responsibility to deal with his mother and her hysterics, but it's easier for both of us if I help too - I tend to be the voice of reason and she knows her guilt doesn't work on me in the slightest. We got a pair of cats recently and she's constantly telling mr. c that they're preparing us for parenthood, but she's not said it once to me. I think she knows I'd disabuse her of that notion pretty damn quick. My husband would like her to let him live his own life, but she just cries if you tell her to call less often or anything like that. I think I'm coming across as a bit heartless here - I do care about her and I want to make this move as easy as possible for her if it happens. I just don't want her shit to stop us doing what we want to.

fuzz: presenting it as non-permanent is an excellent idea. I think that would definitely, definitely make it easier to swallow. Thanks!

beerbajay: Tack for the info and the book rec! We spent some time in Gothenburg when we were out there last - we liked it, but preferred Stockholm. We live in Kent at the moment which is pretty much the most expensive part of the country outside London - I don't know how Stockholm compares really. More research to do :) and god, no, she is not coming to live with us. No way on this earth. Holidays are enough!

I should add having kids out there is by no means a certainty or even a likelihood, just more likely than if we were to stay in the UK.
posted by corvine at 4:14 AM on February 24, 2007

Give her as much time as possible to get used to the fact.

Chances are, she won't like it, won't like you (for taking her darling son away - he would never have come up with the idea by himself, would he?), and may try hard to scupper your plans. You and your husband need to show a united front during this time, and need to agree beforehand how you will handle potential criticism, emotional blackmail etc.

You also need to recognise and address her fears and worries of "losing" her son. You need to make her realise that she is important to you and that you're not moving to get away from her, and that you want to make sure she's still a part of your lives on a daily basis.

Why won't she fly? Maybe you could work through this with her so that when you do move, it will make it easier for her to visit. Is she on the internet? If not, do that first then get her (and you) set up on Skype with a webcam so that you can chat face to face when you move, and get her used to doing that while you're still in the country. When you decide when to move, plan her first visit before you even leave.

(Or, alternatively, tell her that you're emigrating but you haven't decided between Sweden and New Zealand. She'll be Stockholm's biggest fan in about 30 seconds!)
posted by finding.perdita at 4:23 AM on February 24, 2007

I left the US ten years ago and now make my home in London. I was upfront with my family after the first year that I didn't plan to ever live in the US again.

Early on I got the usual uninformed bullshit from people whom had never left America let alone visited or lived in England. I stood firm, countered uninformed opinion with facts (a real gem? "All English people have bad teeth! How can you live there?") and made it clear this was my choise and, yes, there would be extended periods when I wouldn't be back. I'd rather use holidays visiting Africa, The Middle East or Asia than the two horse farm town I was reared in. I was little more polite in my choise of words, but the message was clear: I won't be around much.

I once went almost four years before returning to America for a visit. But kin know if they wanna see me more frequently I'll bring them over and host 'em in my home.

Maybe two years ago I mailed Maw some articles about ex-pats showing the longer one is out of their native country, the less probable they'll return or be happy if they did. She's gotten the message now.

So I think you'll have to manage expectations properly from the outset, but be sensitive and in contact. My Maw's a lot more relaxed at the whole thing when she hears from me every week. And I drop the Old Dear postcards from where ever I am when I'm traveling. She's assembled them into some kind of framed decoupage (*maximum embarrassment*) that she proudly shows off.
posted by Mutant at 4:47 AM on February 24, 2007

my only criteria is good snowboarding/skiing nearby


decent transport links back to the UK for emergencies. My husband would prefer a largish city.

does not compute. sorry. that aside, you want to live in Stockholm.
posted by mr.marx at 6:38 AM on February 24, 2007

Response by poster: finding.perdita:
Chances are, she won't like it, won't like you (for taking her darling son away - he would never have come up with the idea by himself, would he?), and may try hard to scupper your plans.
This is exactly my worry. She loves me normally, but I think she may well blame me for it all. As for flying, she's been on a plane once (hour long trip) hated it with a passion and swore never again. And she's not on the internet. Doesn't even have a computer. Bloody luddites.

Thanks for the expat stories/experiences, everyone. This is helpful.
posted by corvine at 6:47 AM on February 24, 2007

If you live in Kent (population 1.6 million, according to wikipedia), then Stockholm will probably be the right size (1.2 million; 1.9 million including suburbs). Göteborg's only around 500 thousand, and Malmö doesn't even break 300 thousand in the urban areas, so they'll likely feel small.
posted by beerbajay at 6:54 AM on February 24, 2007

I didn't move overseas, but 2 years ago I moved 10 hours away from my mother, who I had been the caretaker for after a few strokes & other health issues. (She has 5 kids, but I'm the youngest by a decade & the only one who stepped up to the plate. So I'm basically a favored only child by default.) Her health had improved but she got so spoiled with me taking care of her that she became desperately clingy & refused to loosen her grip. (I can really relate to the 5x a day phone calls...) Between moving away and then leaving the country for 2 months of last year, I had to really wean her from me. And it was baaad. She went through different phases... some periods where she was in hysterics or having panic attacks... some where she started picking fights... then at one point she started to push me away & act like she didn't even like or need me.

I had to realize that she was just hurting because she was feeling abandoned, but that I couldn't live my life for her. It was rough. I felt like an awful daughter even though I know I'm far from it.

It took years of ups & downs, but she finally came out of it. Now as a compromise I talk to her about once every 3 days (MUCH better than 5x a day!) & she is happy. She sees that my life is better for the decisions I've made. It just took a lot of time for the adjustment to settle in, for her to accept that my world couldn't revolve around her needs.

To call a Swedish landline from the US on Skype is only 2¢ a minute (not sure what it is the other way around), and if his mom has a computer & you both have Skype it'll be free. You can put video conferencing on there too, so she can see your faces. That's how I keep in touch with my friends overseas, and it honestly feels like they're down the street from me because they're such active parts of my life. I'm actually in closer contact with my friends on other continents than some members of my own family that live in the same state.

So I say go ahead & do what you want to do... for yourselves. Don't regret it. You can work the rest out. If his mom gets upset, she'll get over it. She has no choice. Just don't take anything she says or does personally during the transition... she may try to be manipulative or go through a lot of mood swings but she's just in pain & feeling abandoned. After a while she'll realize that stuff doesn't work & she'll calm down. Make her feel included as best you can along the way, but do so on your own terms. Boundaries are a good thing.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:12 AM on February 24, 2007

If you do end up having kids, then I agree with finding.perdita about the computer. Since you're not planning on moving for a few years, you could try, a year or so before you move, starting to teach her how to use a computer and use a video messaging program. If it means being able to see and talk with her grandkids often, she'll learn and probably appreciate it greatly. (Hopefully, she'll also take it as a kind gesture on your part.) I've seen that in my family, anyway.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 7:29 AM on February 24, 2007


Unless you really want your life to be hell between now and then....trust me.

-only child (of a wannabe controling mom) and also a grandma myself.

This is also the kindest way of doing things. Having time to "adjust to the idea" is kinda a fiction. It would be more like time to brood, whine, complain and try to totally beat the idea out of your heads.
posted by konolia at 7:36 AM on February 24, 2007

My husband and I are of different nationalities, so one of us always has to be living away from home. His parents have had an alright time coping with him living here in the US because they both travel a lot and understand that we can visit a few times a year, and while not ideal, it's certainly workable.

When I was living in Iceland, members of my family freaked out. My father, specifically, tried to forbid me from doing so. There wasn't anything I could do to really remedy the situation, the bottom line was that it was my life and my decision to make, whether he liked it or not. The closer I got to moving, the less hostile he became. By the time I actually moved, he had either made his peace with it or just stopped bothering me about it.

I'm with konolia - if you know it's going to upset her, don't tell her until a plan is actually IN the works. Once you have the tickets, it'll be a lot harder for her to think she can talk you out of going.

Best of luck!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:59 AM on February 24, 2007

I did my degree abroad. My father had some idea this might happen and was ok about it.

When I finished uni he hinted a couple of times about my returning home but I wasn't having any of it. I have now been abroad for 9 years and he is by and large ok about that.

However he still went a bit quiet when I told him last week that I was looking ot buy a property. So I guess they never give up hope that you might 'see the light' and come back home...

I know he would like to see me more often than he does. But initially money was very tight and I couldn't afford to travel often. Now I have a very demanding job and he is retired - if he wants to see me more often he is welcome to visit me!
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:31 AM on February 24, 2007

Best answer: I don't think this is an emigration issue. I think this is an issue about your husband's relationship with his mother. Whether you leave the country or not, you're going to have to address her emotional neediness and boundary issues or she will drive you absolutely nuts.

Look. It's a 3 1/2 hour flight between London and Stockholm. That's not a big deal. Your MIL doesn't like to fly, but that's true of a lot of people. I hate to fly, but I suck it up and do it anyway, because if I didn't I'd never get to see any of my relatives. You're not proposing anything that radical or unusual here, and your MIL is just going to have to be a grownup and live with it. You can reassure her that any children you have will speak English, that you'll do frequent holidays back home, that you will be happy to have her visit several times a year. (You might even say that you will pay for her ticket to visit you twice a year, if that's feasible and if money will be a problem for her.) And then you should expect her to rise to the occasion. Be kind and sympathetic but firm and I'm sure she will.
posted by craichead at 11:32 AM on February 24, 2007

ps - I agree with not talking to your mother in law until your plans are definite. There is no point worrying and upsetting her about 'ideas' that might never be realised.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:32 AM on February 24, 2007

It's sad that your M-I-L can't see this as an opportunity to regularly visit someplace new to her. She could use your home in Sweden as a home base to explore all sorts of interesting nearby locations that she might not have the chance to do otherwise.

My dad is pretty much the same way. He drops hints desperately whenever he hears in the news that some high-tech company is opening an office in North Carolina, where he and my mother live (the recent news that Google is opening a data center there has sent him into his latest tizzy). He's visited me once in seven years -- his first commercial plane trip ever -- and he never intends to come here again. Seattle in the summer, and would have been perfectly content to sit in my apartment and watch Fox News all day! (Really!) It's not another country, but it might as well be.

But it was good for me to move across the country from my father, and it'll be good for your husband to move an equal distance from his clingy mother, too.
posted by kindall at 11:50 AM on February 24, 2007

Best answer: I'm the child of career ex-pats, so I actually know of what I speak here.

What strikes me about your question is how much time you spend explaining that your mother-in-law is really, really annoying, instead of talking about how excited you are for your Stockholm adventure. In your shoes, that would concern me, and would be something I'd really want to work on before I actually made the leap. And I would also strongly reconsider waving the "We might move overseas!!! So there!" flag unless you had already made the decision.

Look, you and your husband are adults. You can live anywhere you want. But here's the thing: moving to a culture not your own - particularly if you don't speak the language! - is an exciting adventure, but it's also very hard, and going to kick your ass in ways you have absolutely not imagined at this point. If you actually emigrate, there will come times in your life where you aren't going to be as breezy about family connections as you are right now. There will be times when you will feel terribly lonely and displaced and experience what it is to be outsiders with no kin.

I know you don't believe me, but there will be times when you will actually miss your clingy mother-in-law.

All I'm saying is, by all means do this. But maybe don't be quite so hasty to decide that you and your husband are an island who need no family support from those annoying moms.

Good luck.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:05 PM on February 24, 2007

move to norway.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:55 PM on February 24, 2007

I'm gonna parrot what almost everybody said. When I moved to Germany, I waited until I was positive I was doing it and had everything finalized before I told everybody.

As a child of a mother who is in somewhat this same category, I have to agree with what people have said. You just kind of have to go for it. If it's something that you really want to do, then just do it for yourself. Obviously, try not to burn any bridges (especially if you're hoping grandma will help raise the possible future children), but if she's disappointed by you doing something that you think is best for you, then she's just going to have to get used to that.
posted by atomly at 3:56 PM on February 24, 2007

Adding my vote to those who say not to talk about it until it's a done deal.

If your m-i-l is that needy and persistent now, she's going to be much more so when she's anxious about an unknown future which somehow involves being separated from her son in some way. A done deal is concrete. You can tell her exactly where you'll be living and exactly how she can visit. Anxiety about the unknown is much harder to deal with than anxiety about something specific.

And you really don't want to have to deal with that escalating anxiety longer than you have to. So delay breaking the news as long as you reasonably can.
posted by kika at 4:44 PM on February 24, 2007

Ex-pat here, with a clingy mother-in-law who hates to fly. We moved from the UK to the USA, 8 years ago. Absolutely, do not tell her about your plans until they are very much on the horizon. No longer than a year out. She will expend all her nervous energy trying to talk you both out of the idea, and work herself into a tizzy. I also second the suggestion to pitch it as non-permanent. I mentioned this to my mum "we're going to try it for a year and see how we like it" and she seemed to take a lot of strength from that, and calmed down.

New advice - her fear and hatred of flying may be overcome occasionally, if she misses her son a lot. My mother-in-law swore never to visit the US again because she hates flying and travelling so much. They are planning to visit us again later this year ;)

I also recommend that when you tell her, try and assuage some of her fears up front by explaining all the ways you plan to keep in touch, and how you will come back and visit every year. Do not let her derail you into a discussion about how much better it would be if you stayed.

Finally, please have a discussion with your husband about this. Ask him how he thinks his mother will handle it. Ask him how you can help. Be totally sure that the two of you are on the same page before you break the news to her, about your planned 'year living abroad' ;)
posted by Joh at 5:16 PM on February 24, 2007

American expat for 9 years, first in Europe, now Africa.

Excuse me, but seriously: Your MIL has little to complain about if/when you move to Sweden. It's not the other side of the world. She doesn't need to fly, she can catch a ferry. At least, I seem to recall they run passenger boats between the UK and Sweden. Otherwise, she can take the long trek by train, through the Chunnel. No.Big.Deal.

So, the distance is not really an issue. At issue is her ability to maintain control of the lives of you and your husband. All that amounts to is the #1 best reason to move in the first place. Let her learn to act like the mother of an adult.

As for Stokholm: A friend of mine grew up there, but is not Swedish. You are talking about a fairly xenophobic culture, and also one that feels free to demand indivuduals comply with "societal" expectations. I was told a story where people (strangers, mind you) were giving someone grief because his style was too outdated. He wore the wrong colors!

I didn't experience anything like that in either of my two visits to Sweden. But I have to accept my friends report. (my trips were to western Sweden, by Goteborg, for summer holidays). He has since moved to London, and is very happy (ha, he hooked up with another friend of mine, and they've been an item for a few years now).
posted by Goofyy at 2:41 AM on February 25, 2007

You are talking about a fairly xenophobic culture

posted by mr.marx at 3:01 AM on February 25, 2007

There will be plenty of time between the time you know for a fact you are going and you actually move. You will have enough of a mindfuck during this time. Do not advance that time.

When we moved to the UK, there was something in every phone conversation to repproach us. The default expectation of family seems to be "You're the ones that moved away, we're right here. It is up to you to visit us as often as we think you should."
This will never be the same amount that you think you should so it will be pretty constant.
I don't see this expectation mentioned above so maybe it is only clingy Irish families. This extends to unaswered phone-calls ( "I rang three times yesterday -where were you?" as if I have a blinking green light over my phone to say it is an important Irish guilt trip call!)

Since both parents died it is better but my brother has taken over this role. Now they are gone I miss them dreadfully but I have to admit my life is easier.
The other side of our family is in Germany, and my children just have one Oma left there so we made a determined effort to get my MIL on a computer at the age of 65. It has really helped. We regularly update her with photos, which is what she really wants so the guilt-inducing phone calls have almost disappeared and we have a much better relationship as a result.
It took two trips over and paying for someone to show her how to set it up once after a repair but it was worth every penny.
posted by Wilder at 3:52 AM on February 25, 2007

Response by poster: The default expectation of family seems to be "You're the ones that moved away, we're right here. It is up to you to visit us as often as we think you should."

I used to get exactly this from my parents when I first moved south. They're better now, thankfully. Thanks a lot, everyone - this has all been very helpful.
posted by corvine at 4:30 AM on February 26, 2007

« Older I've got the will and the time to write - but...   |   How can I find counseling with no money to spare? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.