I’m a 28-year-old New York City transplant from small-town Minnesota. I like NYC for now, but I know ultimately I want to move to a mid-size, nature-y, diverse city (I’m from an immigrant family and want to set roots where I can raise children around all types of cultures) with good public transportation. I also know I want to live somewhere with job opportunities in tech since that is what I am studying at night school.
The relationship issue I am trying to navigate is with my parents, particularly my mother. I am my mother’s only daughter, and she misses me terribly. I am so grateful for her devotion and love for me all through my life. However, despite my attempts at setting boundaries on the subject matter, she constantly insists I move back home near my small town.
Though my home state has a lot of beauty and I love visiting, I do not have any desire to return due to lack of public transportation, lack of cultural diversity, a poor dating scene for women (most men over 25 are already married), and weather I absolutely dislike. I feel guilty that I don’t want to move back to my home state, but I feel even guiltier because my father’s health is slowly declining (he has Parkinson’s). Thankfully, my mother is able to take care of them and we are in good financial standing in case he needs more care around the clock.
My plan now is to get a job with remote working options and ample PTO so I can see my parents more frequently and for longer periods of time. I plan to continue calling regularly. However, my mom still doesn’t think this is enough and ideally wants me to move near my hometown, marry someone local, and have children as soon as possible (I am not ready for children or marriage yet). She also says that she and my father visiting me in NYC or moving to my future cities are not options (she says plane travel would not be good for my father and that moving would be too stressful) and that they are unwilling to compromise on that part.
Wendy, how do you recommend I be a kind daughter to my parents when I can’t make them happy with my long-term location plans? I feel like unless I move back home, I will break my parents’ hearts, even though my home state is not where I want to be long-term. — Sad to Disappoint My Mother>
I admire and respect that you want to be a kind daughter and make your parents happy. But what about your happiness? What about your parents being kind, loving, and supportive of you? Why should the burden of maintaining your relationship fall all on your shoulders? YOU are the one to visit them, YOU are the one who is expected to move, YOU are the one whose life must accommodate their needs and desires and dreams? Wrong! You’re the one with a full life ahead of her, and it’s YOUR dreams you should accommodate. Your plan to find remote working jobs that allow you ample time to see your parents more frequently and for longer periods of time is good enough. It’s good enough if it allows you to continue pursuing a life that supports your dreams because you’re living YOUR life, not theirs.
And keep in mind: You’re also allowed to change your mind about what you want or what you can accommodate. Maybe you can’t find the kind of job that allows you to see your parents as much as you’d like, or maybe one day, if you have the kids you say you want, you will be beholden to their school schedule, which will limit your travel time. And maybe your parents, with their more flexible schedule and desire to see their grandchildren, will decide that plane travel isn’t such an impossibility after all, and they’ll start making annual trips to see you. It’s important not to make too many promises, other than “I’ll do the best I can” (because what you can do will definitely change as your life circumstances change).
My point is: You really can’t plan everything out at this point, and you can’t control your parents’ reaction to any of your short-term or long-term decisions. What you can do is change your priorities and change how you react to them. Your top priority should be making yourself happy and taking the steps that create a lifestyle that supports your long-term goals, which include raising a family in a diverse city with ample tech jobs, nature outlets, and good public transportation. From there, you work on accommodating your parents and your relationship with them. If your mother doesn’t respect the boundaries you’ve set in place or the decisions you’re making to support your dreams, you give her her space to be unhappy and close that space off so you don’t have to deal with it. How do you do that? By telling her the subject is not up for discussion with you and hanging up the phone when she refuses to talk about something else; by not answering emails that give you grief; and by even shortening your visits or making them less frequent (and telling her why your visits are shorter).
Here’s the thing: There’s not one right way to be a loving daughter, just as there isn’t one right way to be a loving parent. And even if there were only one right way to love the people we love, being a martyr wouldn’t be it. Do you think, as devoted as your parents have been to you, that they gave up everything they wanted for themselves to raise you? Do you think they chose where to put down roots without any consideration to their own desires and needs? Of course not! They put down roots where they did for the same reason(s) you should choose your home: because of things that were important to them, based on their values, needs, and special interests.
It’s ok for you to make decisions that disappoint your parents. It doesn’t make you a bad daughter or a bad person. It makes you human like everyone else, doing the best she can to accommodate the needs and desires of her loved ones without sacrificing her own dreams and happiness. Anyone who asks more of you than that is asking too much.
This man had his chance to be in your life and he blew it. He has not been a father to you in many, many years, nor has he shown any desire to be one. He doesn’t get to waltz in now, after all the hard work of raising you is over, and enjoy the fruits of that labor. I’m sorry, but fuck that! Don’t let him in any way dampen the joy and anticipation of your new baby and impending motherhood. Even if you have any inkling of desire to start a relationship with him, don’t worry about it right now. Give yourself at least until your baby is six months old and you’re past the initial postpartum craziness before you even entertain the idea of letting him in. And if you decide you just aren’t up for it, that’s perfectly fine! He deserves literally nothing from you. He abandoned you when you were two and never looked back. I personally wouldn’t even bother giving him a response at this point.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].
Leslie Joan March 13, 2017, 9:13 am
Sad to Disappoint, WWS. You’re going to have to shut down the guilt trip; there is no reason to believe that you are “breaking your mother’s heart” or that “you’re a bad daughter.” No, she’s breaking her own heart by choosing to get hung up on a whole bunch of expectations that she’s created for somebody that’s not herself. If I’m heartbroken because my dog won’t go to medical school, that’s on me, not my dog. You need to shut off the discussion everytime she starts troweling on the guilt; don’t give it any traction. Be polite but firm. She is living her life and making the choices she wants; now you get to do the same thing for yourself; that’s how it works.
You are trying to please her by offering compromises that you think will satisfy you both. It’s not going to work. She has her own fantasy of what you should do, and you already know that’s not going to work for you and that’s not going to happen.
artsygirl March 13, 2017, 12:31 pm
I kept thinking that the LW’s mother and father undoubtedly left behind their own parents and made an international move likely a long time ago when it was harder and more expensive to travel long distances. Having a two hour or less flight between the Midwest and the place she decides to move, is hardly that burdensome in comparison.
Skyblossom March 13, 2017, 3:23 pm
Her parents may have been refugees who had no choice but to flee and either brought their parents with them or never saw them again.
artsygirl March 14, 2017, 8:08 am
Sky – That is a good point
Ron March 13, 2017, 10:15 am
LW #1 — Live your life on your terms. You’ve thought about where to live, have solid reasons for wanting to live in the type of small city you describe, and should stick with your plan. Your mother is being EXTREMELY unreasonable: not only do you have to move home, you have to marry a local guy right away and have kids right away. That sounds so incredibly crazy.
Yes, moving can be stressful, but people your parents age move all the time, either to downsize, get a more accessible home, or move to a warmer climate. Money can make a move far less stressful. You say they are set financially. Hire packers, movers, old house fixer uppers, painters for new house (although apartment probably easier), etc.
LW #2: Your father likely isn’t all that anxious to be your ‘father’ after all these years. He finds himself alone for first time and wants to cling to you for emotional support to break his loneliness. Once he finds a new SO, expect him to sprint out of your life once again. If he were interested in actually being a part of your life, he would have done so before he found himself single.
Skyblossom March 13, 2017, 10:28 am
LW1 Of course you feel conflicted. You grew up in a home that had a cultural expectation that you would remain close and take care of your parents but you were also raised in a country that expects you to go off and be independent. I think this is a common conflict in immigrant families and it is difficult.
My grandmother had Parkinson’s and it does progress. If your dad isn’t there yet, he will reach the point where it is too difficult and too exhausting for him to travel. You will have to be the one traveling for visits.
I grew up in a remote, rural area and I get it about the dating situation and everyone being married by 25. Everyone has either left or gotten married by 25. Most are married by 22. When pressed to come back and get married would it work to say, “Mom, we both know there is no one left unmarried who is worth marrying.” or “Mom, you know that would never work because there is no one left to marry. Moving back would mean no grandkids.” To getting a local job. “Mom, you know they don’t have the type of job I do and they don’t have the type of job I’m taking courses to do.” Add on, “Why do you keep asking this?” Try to turn her questions and demands back on her. Then say we’ve already discussed this and you know it won’t work. You can say I miss you and I’ll see you as much as I can and that’s the best I can do for all of us.
All you can do is make the best decisions you can for yourself. See your parents when you can and if you mom gets too push cut a phone conversation short. It’s harder to cut a visit short because you’ll have booked your tickets ahead of time but you could spend more time out and away from their house.
Sachiko-Roxanne March 13, 2017, 10:57 am
Hey this is LW! Thank you Wendy for the practical but loving response and thank you Skyblossom for getting the immigrant daughter pressures of life. So I unfortunately HAVE told her, “but mom, everyone back home is married” and “but mom there’s more opportunities in the PNW rather than near us” but she just does not have ears and says BUT THIS IS YOUR HOME, HOW ARE WE GOING TO SEE YOU IF YOU MOVE EVEN FURTHER. I honestly don’t understand why she never bothered visiting even when my dad’s health was much better and he could totally take a two hour plane ride (after all, he could still do five-hour car trips at the time). Oh and of course she thinks that I won’t ever find a man in NYC even though I have recently entered a relationship with a man I believe I have a future with. And now I’m scared to tell her about my newfound joy because it’ll give her more things to be upset about… Oh and I have two brothers (one of which lives in Cali and the other is at college and hour from home) and they NEVER get pressured to move back home or have babies ASAP like me. :/
meadowphoenix March 13, 2017, 11:26 am
Girl, I know you feel guilty, but if it’s accurate that your TWO other siblings aren’t getting pressured here, you mother is using your family bond to promote some sexist ideas. It wouldn’t be okay if your mother were pressuring all of you, but I think you can definitely push back against uneven expectations without feeling like YOU’VE done something wrong.
wobster109 March 13, 2017, 11:46 am
Hey LW, I think you know that you’re reasonable and your mother is not. It also sounds like you’re hoping that your mother will come around and say to you, “I understand where you’re coming from; I understand that Minnesota is not your home anymore; go follow your dreams; I’m happy for you, and I’m proud of you.” The thing is she’s unlikely to say that, so please stop waiting and hoping. As long as you keep hoping, you’ll keep being disappointed.
You said it yourself: “she does not have ears”. So don’t get sucked into emotional arguments. If you try to argue using logic such as showing job listings, it won’t make a difference. You’ve tried it all before. So like Wendy said, shut the conversation down by changing the topic or hanging up.
Most of all, don’t be sorry. If you tell her, “mom I’m met a guy in NYC, and I’m so sorry that it’s far away, we’ll visit and call you all the time”, that tells her that she has power over you because you feel bad. Instead say casually and cheerfully, “hey mom, I met a guy. He’s great!” And to be honest, your mom will try to make you feel guilty anyway. She’ll probably say “oh no I’m so sad that you’re far away. How will I manage?” Then you say, still casually and cheerfully, “I’m sure it will work out. Bye!” Then hang up.
Yes, you’ll feel awful the first few times, but eventually she’ll learn that the guilt trips don’t work, and she’ll stop (or maybe not but you’ll get used to sidestepping). Think of your mom as a little kid: if you give in when she whines, you’re teaching her to whine to get what she wants. But if you punish with a time out, and you’re consistent, she’ll learn to stop whining. When you hang up that’s like she gets a time out from talking to you.
I know it sounds harsh, but honestly this is not healthy. It sounds like you learned to be super-sensitive of your mother’s feelings, and to walk on eggshells to protect her feelings. Would you want your best friend to tiptoe around her boyfriend’s feelings? That would be a red flag.
Skyblossom March 13, 2017, 11:59 am
I think Wobster has the right plan for what to do.
You have to know that you can’t make her happy and that she isn’t going to make you happy. It is what it is. Live your life the best way that you can. Visit when you can but don’t visit out of a sense of guilt, at least not too often. If she tries to guilt you over the phone I’d cut the call short. Bye Mom, I’ve got to go. I would never use the words I’m sorry when talking to her. Like Wobster said, don’t include an I’m sorry in anything you’re doing. Only speak in positive terms about what you’re doing. Positive about who you date. Positive about where you live. Positive about your job and your course work.
You’ve been trained since early childhood to feel a sense of guilt if you don’t do what she wants. It’s difficult to ignore but if you cave in and do what she wants you’ll ruin your life. Remind yourself you have the right to be happy and you have the right to choose your own path in life.
Ron March 13, 2017, 5:12 pm
It’s not your home. It used to be the home which you grew up in and shared with your parents when you were a little girl. You’re not a little girl anymore and you need to find YOUR adult home. Parents dream of their children inheriting and living in their home, but that very rarely happens. It’s an unrealistic dream. Kids have to go where the jobs and social opportunities are. Communities go through cycles. I still live in the small city I grew up in — hooked up with the ideal local employer, by chance. My little city was vibrant and thriving when I was a kid. Not so any longer. Most of the talented young left over the course of several decades. They had no other choice. The other thing — the next generation needs a house before the older generation is ready to relinquish the family home. Also tastes change. It’s a hopeless parental dream.
There really is no reason that your parents need to stay in the same house in the same town. A house that works for a young family likely isn’t geared to an aging couple.
Visit when you can. Be supportive from a distance. But know that many, many families move and downsize when the kids are gone. Don’t feel guilty because you can’t stave off the inevitable, without damaging your own future.
LisforLeslie March 13, 2017, 12:46 pm
LW #2 – I agree with Ron, your dad isn’t so much “coming back into the fold” as distracting himself until the next woman comes along. I would tread very carefully here and keep your distance because this man has shown that he’s not reliable and is very selfish.
va-in-ny March 13, 2017, 8:13 pm
My mother also has some crazy hang-ups on me moving home. In fact, since I moved to NYC nearly 9 years ago, she still thinks that I’m going to call her one day and tell her that I’ve decided to come back.
It got to a point where I stopped sharing things with her. When I would call and say “I got a promotion!” it would only be followed with “I guess that means you’re not moving home soon, then.” Not, “congratulations!” or “well done!”. It wasn’t like I was saying to her “You know, if the circumstances were different, I would totally come back home.” I hadn’t been saying that at all. She just had it in her head that you go back home eventually… because that’s what she did.
I finally had to tell her that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing the details of my life with her because she could never accept that my life was better for ME living in NY. After she realized that her hang-ups would cost her the entire relationship we had, she backed off.
But, I did have some issues with getting married in NY. She fought me pretty hard on that, but I won!
LW, live the life you want to live. Your parents should be happy that you’re happy. But, I do know the guilt you feel. I still feel it too. Stick with it though, It does get better.
dinoceros March 13, 2017, 8:19 pm
LW1: I started reading and actually stopped to think if I had written a letter in to Wendy a while back because this is very similar to my life. You’re in a better position because your mother is there to help your dad, and they are financially stable. I am in a similar position, but my mom is single and is not financially stable. It sounds like your’e already a good daughter, so I don’t think there’s much more you can do.
A few things to keep in mind:
–Adults get to choose their lives. Your parents chose the life they wanted, and you get to as well. Adults don’t get to choose their own lives and their children’s lives.
–That said, they’re the ones who live in a place where most young professionals would not want to live. My parents moved to a more remote part of their state, and a part of me is like, well, if it’s so important to you that I live near you, then why would you move somewhere I’d never want to live?
–Sometimes parents can be selfish. Honestly, a lot of times. My parents react to news about a new job or whatever based on how it affects them. They don’t ask me how i feel about it or congratulate me — they ask, “How often will we see you if you live there?” I don’t totally fault them. Your parents love you, so they want you around. But it doesn’t mean that they get the right to make you do what they want.
–Finally, my mom tells me that even though it’s sad for her that i moved away, she knows that her goal to raise an independent woman happened. A sign of good parenting is that your kid is self-sufficient. As much as they may not talk about it, surely they realize this.
Ashley March 13, 2017, 9:01 pm
Keep living where you want. My parents are older, and just as your mind might change, so could theirs! My parents loved living in the country, but as they got older, it became evident they wouldn’t be able to keep the property up. They also lived on the opposite side of town from the hospital, and would frequently drive two and a half hours to austin to see doctors. They eventually moved to the suburbs, which was a huge adjustment for them. (Neighbors and traffic but also they could get Internet and lots of places to eat out).
Sketchee March 13, 2017, 9:33 pm
LW1: Your mom needs to learn how to be happy with your individuality and decisions. Don’t deprive her of that learning opportunity.
The more you make it your place to solve for her, the harder it is for her to figure this one out.
Morecoffeeplease March 14, 2017, 7:35 am
My mom also likes to lay down the guilt trips. I would tell your mom what you want in life and what makes you happy and turn the tables on her. Ask her why she wants you to live the rest of your life being unhappy. Tell her bluntly you will be miserable if you had to live in a small town and tell her what you are looking for in a place of residence. I see one of two solutions here…1. find a diverse and interesting city to live in that your parents can drive to or 2. tell your parents you think that once you settle down in the place of your dreams you would like them to move closer to you. Would they be willing to upset their life to live near you? If the answer is no then why would they want you to upset your life to move closer to them? You are starting off in life and you need to follow your dreams, job goals, etc….that is more important than moving back to a small town just to make your mom happy and giving up on your dreams. Their careers/life plans are at the retirement stage in life and they should consider moving closer to their daughter once you settle down somewhere.