I am a 22-year-old woman graduating from undergrad in a few short weeks. I have a serious girlfriend who studied what I did (Theatre Design and Production) and while we don’t have anything solid lined up it looks like well be moving one of two places within the next month and a half. I’m so grateful to have her and so excited to start my life, but I can’t come to terms with leaving family obligations behind.
My parents are in their 50s and 60s and both have had a lot of health complications. They’re relatively stable, but because I’m their only child and I went to college locally, they have always relied on me for everything from helping with heavy household chores to emergency hospital visits. I know that I owe it to myself to live the life I want, which isn’t really possible where my parents reside, but at the thought of moving away, all I can think about is who would help them do all those things if I wasn’t there.
I feel lost because this narrative isn’t reflected in my other young friends with healthy parents who are decades away from worrying about caring for them. My parents, while they have expressed they would be worried for me if I moved away, have not been guilting me at all.
How do I make this choice without being selfish? Or how do I come to terms with my own selfishness? How much should I be considering the also very real career needs of my partner?
Much gratitude, E
Taking care of loved ones locally is sometimes a foundation of a community and sometimes not. Despite a lack of support and weakening infrastructure in our social safety net (especially of late), most aging adults are able to find the care they need in some capacity to sustain themselves be it through friends or other family or assisted living services. This will be an especially poignant issue in the coming generations as more and more young people decide to become childfree. But I digress. I definitely see your dilemma in deciding to stay close to home or to pursue your geographically-dependent career dreams.
I took it to our awesome Facebook community to see what wisdom we could glean from our fellow Homies. Overwhelmingly, the readers felt that there could be ways that your parents could be supported while you are farther away and encouraged you to take that path, albeit with lots of communication and preparation. Here were some great replies to consider. Best of luck!
My parents are about the same age and have both had some health issues. My parents would feel horrible if I stayed around just because I felt responsible for them. They don’t like when people see them as burdens. They have fought long and hard for their independence. If you parents have friends and family around, then get to know and trust this network of people. Trust your parents.
Maybe set up your parents up with some technology and services that’ll help. I’ve found reminder apps, Uber, Lyft, mail order pharmacies, and Amazon subscriptions to be very helpful for both myself and my parents. My parents even have it set up so dog food, cat food, and cat litter are delivered to their house for free. – Sarah
Open up an honest dialogue with them and let them know how torn you are — they may have been planning for your move away and may already have a plan! Working together I’m sure you can alleviate your worry. – Tina
Definitely move. Maybe pay someone to check in on them twice a week. Set them up with mail order prescriptions, continuing Amazon deliveries, phone numbers on the fridge for doctors, friends, and neighbors. Make all necessary appointments for the next six months. Tell them that you are worried and that when you call once a week, you need them to be honest and let you know when they need help. – Molly
Is it possible to help your parents create a support system of alternate people they could call when emergencies happen? (Running under the assumption here that your parents are somewhat connected to friends or other acquaintances in their community). Is it possible for you to visit a few times a year and help out with the major stuff that needs to be done around the house? This is a strategy that family members of mine have taken when moving away from parents with health conditions. – Kiran
I am 72 and I not only still work full time I do all my own household chores and gardening. I can take myself to the doctor and know how to call 911 if necessary. My children all live more than a thousand miles away. I would never want to be a stumbling block in their path. I bet your parents feel the same way. They have choices, like perhaps a 55+ community where the heavy lifting is done by staff. Surely they have friends their age or younger, perhaps some of your high school group is still around and would check in on them if you asked. Go and find your place in the world. Both you and your parents would regret it if you don’t. – Elaine
If your parents are open to it, start to work with them on creating their estate plan “early” (although really, what’s too early??) so that you all have some peace of mind in case things happen. There are wonderful pro se resources for lay people like ourselves to start the process of identifying key retirement/end of life/emergency health decisions/etc. I’d start with NOLO’s Estate Planning Basics and perhaps some of their other books or products may be helpful for you.
I’ve started this process with my own parents, as they are in their mid-late 50s, but in fairly good health — we’re hoping to get ahead of any problems! – Kate
Honestly, if they aren’t in need of full time care, I strongly suggest that you move and continue to focus on yourself. It’s not by any means selfish to desire the chance to live your young life. Also to save yourself the resentment that comes from choosing to care for your parents before it’s truly time. Encourage them to set up a support system and there are transportation services for doctors appointments if that is necessary. It helps them retain a independence and allows you to take the opportunity to make yourself a full life. There will be a time where they will need you even more and when that time comes you will be more so able to provide the help that they will need. At the time you’re likely going to have a home of your own and possibly a family. Obviously keep a strong sense of communication and visit as often as you can but please allow yourself to live life unburdened by this kind of responsibility until it’s time. – Christina
50s and 60s is not elderly by any means! I am 50 and live alone. If I need something done like moving heavy objects, I hire someone. My kids are 1000 miles away (I’m the one who moved for work). It is not, nor has it ever been, your responsibility to take care of your parents. Be upfront about the time frame, help them line up resources, but do not feel guilty! They need to figure out how to live as independent adults. – Kelly
Talk to them and express concern. Dollars to dimes they will tell you to move on with your life, no guilt. Especially if they haven’t expressed any sort of making you feel guilty about it anyway. My parents are also older in age, however independent, and have always told us to live our lives, that’s why they’ve helped us. I would definitely have a discussion with them about what will/might happen in the future. Have a plan. – Mercé
Move away. You can always move back if you need to. My elderly (now passed) grandfather told me to “put my career first, my family will always be here for me.” They’re adults, they’ll figure it out. – Allison