“My Family Thinks I’m Abandoning My Sons”

I plan on moving shorty after my youngest graduates high school. He is 15 now and I also have a 17-year-old, both boys. I moved in 2013 to Illinois from Wisconsin so they could be closer to their dad. I have no family and no close friends here.

My boyfriend lives in Georgia, and I want to move there after graduation. My mom and sister act like I’d be abandoning my sons though. Their dad will still be in Illinois, and although they are welcome to move with me, I doubt they will because they don’t want to leave friends.

I have been visiting my boyfriend a few times during the year for 3-4 weeks at a time, and my mom makes it a big deal because I am leaving my sons with their dad. The backstory is their dad isn’t very involved – he is “just there” and I am expected to do everything for them. They are supposed to go to his house every other week but don’t always stick to that plan.

I feel it is unfair to give me the guilt trip, considering I have given up so much for them already, and I want to live my life when they are grown. Once again, they are welcome to move with me. Am I being selfish because I want to visit my boyfriend and then move to be with him? — Sacrificial Mom

It’s unfair, but it sounds as though your co-parent isn’t giving your sons what they need and so, unfortunately, the responsibility of meeting their needs falls almost exclusively on you. And, also unfairly, that means that you can’t really leave them for weeks at a time when they’re still minors. It doesn’t matter that the person you’re leaving them with is their dad if their dad doesn’t actually take care of them. But that doesn’t mean you are without options. You can talk with your sons’ dad about what your sons need from him and even seek out co-parenting mediation to help you arrive at some agreements about their care. You could shorten your visits to your boyfriend (three to four weeks at a time, several times a year is a long time for a single parent to be away from her kids without a suitable caregiver to fill in in her place). And you could have your boyfriend make the majority of the visits to you until you move to Georgia.

And about that move: Once your kids are legally no longer minors, your role as primary caregiver changes as does your obligation to your sons. You aren’t “abandoning” them by moving to another state. They may decide they want to move, too – maybe to a different region entirely. They will have goals and dreams and interests and relationships of their own that may take them away from you, and that’s ok. You can model for them a way of following one’s path that might look different from different models they’re used to. And you can show them how it’s possible to continue cultivating relationships long-distance, too, and to maintain ties with people who are important to you.

If you do plan to leave in a few years, I hope you can prepare your sons for the expectations they’ll soon face living independently and paying bills and rent on their own. If you are leaving as soon as your younger son graduates high school, and he’ll be expected to immediately find his own housing and pay for it on his own, it would be a good idea to help him transition to that next stage, which can be big adjustment and may also be especially turbulent if his main support system has suddenly left the state.

I have been agonizing over this for many months. My husband needs more medical and physical help than I am able to provide by myself at home. His daughters want him placed in a care home close to them, but I think it’s best if he go to a facility near where we live now. We have been married for 15 years, and my husband became dependent on me slowly over the last ten years and then fully dependent the last two years. I have done my best to manage him and his care needs at home by myself, which has been emotionally difficult.

His daughters live in another province/state and have had limited visits with their dad. In fact, over the last 10 years they have only seen their dad when I have taken the initiative to make arrangements that are convenient for them. They have no idea of the full scope of care he requires. They think they do, because he doesn’t seem “that bad” for the few days they see him when I extensively plan a visit for him, including preparing all his meds, packing everything he might need, and writing extensive instruction. They have no exposure to his medical management, his loss of memory for everyday things, or his needs that are left unspoken (non-verbal clues). When we lived in the same or adjacent towns, they rarely visited him (only 1-2 times per year). They both have jobs and families.

I feel that he needs to be close to me, his wife, so that I can visit and continue to oversee his care and needs in addition to providing loving emotional support. I feel they are being selfish, knowing that they have not demonstrated reliability or self-sacrifice for him in the past. They want to “reclaim” what they feel is rightfully theirs – their dad – away from the “terrible woman” who stole him from them 15 years ago.

Am I being selfish wanting him to remain close so we can continue to have a life together for as long as his health allows? — Caregiving Wife

No, you’re not being selfish. You’re looking out for your husband, just like you always have, and you are committed to do as long as he’s alive. Where your husband lives is your choice (and his, if he’s of sound mind or if he shared his wishes while he still was). His daughters don’t get to decide this, and you don’t owe them anything (except regular access to their dad as long as all parties want that). You will continue to be a main support person and caregiver to your husband, and you need to keep him where it’s most convenient for you to maintain those roles. Let his daughters be upset if that’s what happens. Who cares? If they want to see their dad, they’ll have to get over it and make the commute. If they can’t even do that a couple times a year, no way would they be able to provide your husband the kind of care you do. Why should your husband have to compromise your care for them? Why should you have to compromise your relationship for them? Say no, and don’t give it a second thought.

I have a friend, “Natalie,” whom I have known for 10 years. She has always been a little eccentric, but now that she is in her 40s she is definitely a handful. My husband and I are able to manage her to a certain extent, but one thing makes me crazy and I can’t figure out what to do.

She always wants to hang out at either her place or ours. She does not like to go out because she doesn’t like to spend money. When we do hang out, she basically cleans out her refrigerator and just dumps on us a random assortment of things to eat. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but she gives us old stuff. I have to check the packaging to make sure the food isn’t expired. She made sausages one time that were freezer burned, and she proudly announced she had gotten them on clearance for a dollar a pack a year prior. Inviting her to our place is no different. I can say “do not bring anything, I have it all taken care of,” and she’ll still bring an entire box that she just unloads on the table. Then she demands everyone try her stuff before what I have prepared. She made my sister so uncomfortable one July 4th that she left early because she didn’t want to eat anything of Natalie’s.

I wouldn’t care about this except for the fact that I am worried she is going to give everyone food poisoning one day serving all this old junk. What can I do? — Avoiding Food Poisoning

You can’t maintain this friendship as is. You need new boundaries, which should include either of the following: being really direct with her and telling her you are bothered by the food she serves both at her house and at yours and you are worried about food poisoning and also about ruining anyone’s appetite before their eating the food you’ve prepared; or, you could simply avoid any food-related activities with her, which may dramatically limit your time with her and naturally shift your friendship to a different level of closeness. Which path you choose depends on your understanding of Natalie’s mental health and her ability to process your message, as well as your relationship with her and how much potential tension or threat you think it can withstand.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. LW #1 – I understand your position but I want you to carefully think about whether your kids are going to feel untethered if you leave and, based on your intimate knowledge of your two kids, do you think they’re at risk of going off the rails if they don’t have a stable parent in their lives? 18 – 24 can be a dangerous time. Young people think they have all the answers or are unjustifiably overconfident. You know your kids best. What are you prepared to do if they do get into trouble? DUI, pregnancy, whatever…. Are you prepared to leave it to your ex?

    LW #2 – Wendy’s right. As the primary care giver you know most about what’s needed. You need to be able to visit every day, one because it will be a comfort to your husband and two it let’s the facility know that you are present and holding them accountable. If possible, your husband should deliver this message to his kids. This is what he wants and they’ll always be able to visit.

    LW#3 – When you go to her place, bring a pizza. Or just hang out between or after meals. I mean, you could bring a bag of chips and a six pack of soda and play board games. When she comes over your place do as Miss Manners suggests: Let her know that you’ve planned the meal and did not need anything else and she can go put it back in her car and bring home with her. Just be firm. Question though – aside from this problem, is she normal-ish? I mean, is it just extreme frugality or are there other problems?

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  2. LW1 – I’m kind of bothered by your “I’ve already sacrificed so much for them” comment. You chose to have to kids, they didn’t ask to be here. You chose to move them closer to their uninvolved father. Just because at 18 they are now legal, doesn’t mean they can fend for themselves. Are you setting them up for success when you move? Or just dumping them on their uninvolved father?

    1. Anonymousse says:

      I agree with this comment. You have sacrificed a lot, and it’s not fair that their dad stinks but if you’re the only stable adult they have in their life…they will still need you when they turn 18.

      You chose to have children. They come with sacrifice. Why can’t your bf move to you?

    2. I think she was being unselfish moving them closer to their dad, it was likely intended to give him a chance to be involved and he didn’t step up. Bit unfair to have a go at her for that.

      1. Fair point, but it’s still a choice she made. Sure a sacrifice, but that’s what having kids is. Sacrificing for them. She chose to have these 2 kids, the kids didn’t get to pick either parent.

  3. This is a bit confusing. I don’t get why so many are piling on LW. She moved from the community, where she was comfortable with friends and family, to a place where she knew nobody, so that the kids could be close to their father, who apparently moved away. It sounds like she is now likely trapped in this ‘foreign’ place because of the shared custody. If not, she should move back home, where she has friends and family. It seems her big error was voluntarily moving to the state where her ex was living, thus losing a lot of legal rights.
    It’s hard to tell that the father isn’t involved — she says he’s supposed to have the kids every other week (which if she means a full week, rather than just every other weekend, is full shared custody — hardly uninvolved) but that this doesn’t always happen (which reads that it usually happens). In any shared custody agreement, I expect there will be weeks which just don’t work for either mother and father and that the other would be willing to adjust. So, this sounds more like acrimonious than cooperative shared parenting.

    It is interesting that her family, not the father’s family, is accusing her of planning to abandon the kids when they turn 18, by moving to GA. That may be a strike against her, but kids don’t get to dictate where a parent lives. If they were minors, as one still is, then (absent a court order to protect father’s co-custody), they automatically live wherever the parent(s) live, whether because of work requirement or simply parental preference.

    She has offered that they can come with, when she moves to GA. If they don’t, they can visit her, phone, text, Zoom, whatever to stay in contact and get advice. If they are going to college, they will be away from home for most of the year — if not, why can’t they be as independent as other 18-21 year olds who are in college. They will be in the same area as their father. They have friends there.

    For now, 3-4 week absences several times a year to visit bf in GA does seem too long. She can visit on the week that father has custody. Bf can come visit her on those weeks. She and ex can swap a week so that she can visit bf for 2 weeks. I think she is wrong on the very extended visits to bf.

    I’m not big on the ‘we didn’t ask to be born’ argument. Or the ‘she wanted to have two kids’ argument. Neither seems valid for allowing the kids to dictate where their mother must live after they are adults.

    1. She did not specify that she had family and friends in Wisconsin either. Maybe she didn’t and that’s part of why she moved to be closer to their dad, thinking he’d help and he’s not.

      I’m not saying the kids should get to dictate where she lives either. But her “I sacrificed a lot for them comment,” is what every parent that has kids does. And 18 doesn’t really make you an adult, sure it does legally, but if they aren’t taught how to pay bills and manage money prior to that, she isn’t setting them up for success upon moving.

  4. Definitely agree that LW1 can move wherever she wants after her sons turn 18. I haven’t lived at home since I was 18; many, if not most, of the people I know moved out around that age to go to college and didn’t return home full time. As long as she is still available to her sons, then where she is located isn’t really a big deal. And if they need or want to, the LW said they’re welcome to move with her. As far as her visits to Georgia, it’s not like she’s abandoning a couple of small kids to fend for themselves. These are teenagers. Their father lives right there, is presumably a competent adult with some sort of shared custody and they can stay with him while she’s gone. He’s as equally responsible for those kids as she is, and it’s not unreasonable for her to expect him to pull his weight.

    LW2 should just tell the daughters that Dad’s care means he needs to be in X place and they are always welcome to visit. Also, she should be prepared for these daughters to contest anything left to her in the will. Something tells me they aren’t sniffing around after 15 years because they really want to care for an infirm father.

    LW3 – I can’t tell if the friend has financial difficulties and is just trying to “keep up” by bringing whatever or what, but the LW could just avoid food-related get togethers with her friend. Go for a walk – it’s free! Or a free event in your town. Or go for a coffee – your treat! Or host an after dinner game night. Or alternately, she should just … not eat or serve what the friend brings. If she brings food, tell her you don’t need it and pack it back up for her or put it away in the kitchen “for later” and “later” just toss it.

  5. Why can’t LW1’s bf move to where she is?

    1. I agree. If this is person is a real potential partner, he can move to where LW lives and they can both be there for her two kids.

  6. LW1, it seems as though you do understand that, between you and your kids’ father, you have a legal obligation to care for your boys until they are 18 years old. So, do that, at least. They’ll manage to get along without you. As they do now– dad is “just there” and you are, well, away. In my experience, these days, the actual responsibility, for dedicated parents, requires dedicated support for more than 20 years. But your kids might be throwbacks, like when I was a kid, and we supported ourselves starting at 15-16! We came out strong lol. Hell, maybe they are better off without you.
    I may have had an unusual life experience– hard to tell. But if I were you, I would make sure that the kids are okay. And I would bet that the boyfriend will not work out.

  7. LW 2, this is such a difficult situation. Obviously, you get to make the call. However, if you’d like some supporting information for your decision… we had a similar predicament with my MIL. We were not dictating where she went, but were researching what we could do if something happened to her primary caregiver, my FIL. They lived in another state. I’m not sure if you’re in the states or Canada, but if your husband is in the states, it’s not so simple to just “move him to a new state.” Legal guardianship is usually established at the state level, which means, having to re-establish it the new state. It also means having to reapply for Medicaid in the new state of residency, because Medicaid funding is distributed at the state level. Then there the actual act of relocating someone that may need medical transport to reach their new home. Insurance and Medicaid will not cover a trip a crossed the country. Your stepchildren would need to pay for this out of pocket. They might also have to pay for his nursing home out of pocket until Medicaid and residency get established. Obviously, you are making the right choice for your husband, but perhaps looking into why he could not be moved to another state/province for practical/financial reasons would help them come around to your decision. Thinking of you and hopefully they come around and support the person who has so lovingly cared for their father in his time of need.

  8. PassingBy says:

    I feel like I read the letter differently than Wendy did. I didn’t get the impression that the dad is such a bad parent that the kids can’t be left with him for weeks.

  9. LW1: Yes, you are. It looks like you can’t wait to leave your sons to move to Georgia with your boyfriend. Don’t you enjoy their presence? Do you see mothering as a chore? “Sacrificial mom”: come on, all moms who are committed are somehow sacrificial. Being a parent is sacrificial. Maybe you made a mistake in moving to Illinois. But I find it so “off” to fantasise so much of leaving your sons who are still teenagers. When your youngest will graduate, he will be still very very young. And they must be sad to feel that nobody is really invested in their life. 3-4 weeks stays away are a lot for teenagers: having a mum is just having a mum there, it’s the presence that matters. Frankly, I just can’t understand you. For me, children are the priority, always. Why can’t your BF move to your place, or stay with you at least half of those meetings? He has a ranch or what? It just sounds that you want to escape all this. Grow up already.
    If you intend to join your BF at some point in the future, wait that your sons are settled. “They are welcome to follow me” is simply dismissive. They are not luggage. It is NOT welcoming. Help them, support them to become independent adults. Then you can move and pursue your life, knowing that you have made your best for your children. Be patient and care for your children until they spread their wings.

  10. LW2: I agree totally with Wendy. You decide where your husband lives. You are his proxy. Don’t remain stuck in old conflicts. Choose a confortable place for him and for you to visit him, then facilitate the visits for your step-daughters, be an easy go-between for them to see him from time to time. You can also organise face time moments, for example, as they live far away.
    LW3: you know, you can always say NO when you are the host. Tell her in advance not to bring anything. She brings some bad food and put it on the table? You take it away and say: thanks but I planned the dinner. Please don’t add anything. And you give it back to her when she leaves. It is your duty to protect your guests, you shouldn’t let anyone ruin your invitation. You are in charge of your dinner, whatever quirks your guests may have. The solution is much simpler than what you think.

  11. LW1, I can’t help but notice the parallels. You moved to the state you’re in now for a man, with no friends or family there, and now moving again to another state that you aren’t from, for another man. You say this is for you and what you want, but where would you choose to live for YOU, if there wasn’t a man you’re chasing.

  12. I hate to be judgemental but you are essentially abandoning your kids because the parent you’re leaving them with “isn’t very involved, he’s just there” according to you. You’re basically leaving them with a non-functioning parent as you move out of state to Georgia. It’s a very tough world out there for high school graduates and even young adults up to the age of 30. There are tons of surveys showing kids as old as 30 are now living with their parents due to COVID, the recession, and overall hard times. It’s very difficult for an 18 year old to be totally independent financially. I would stick around until my kids at least finished college and landed a good job. You have to consider that an 18 year old fresh out of high school will only be able to get a minimum wage job and if they are literally working for their survival they can get stuck in dead end jobs that go nowhere. What about their education? What about vocational job training? You can’t just leave unemployed teenagers (yes, 18 is a teenager) to fend for themselves.

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