We are now at the one-year mark and I have spent the last year without regret, being there for my ex and helping with his care. It has been very difficult because he can get very challenging at times. I’m ready to move back and re-start my life. My ex has deteriorated and is sicker but is still able to live on his own with the assistance of his mother. Because he’s undergoing treatment, it is hard for him to travel. I feel so guilty for leaving again, but I am so unhappy and long for the life I thought I was going to begin last year. In my mind, I need to be happy in order to be a good mom for my kids, but at the same time I just feel awful for making him so sad. I feel like I’m dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t. I know eventually he will pass away and I don’t know if I’ll be able to live with myself for my decision to leave as he was deteriorating. But if I don’t leave, I give up any chance of having a normal life for myself and will probably end up very depressed. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. — Longing for a New Life
I’m not without sympathy for you, but I have far greater sympathy for your children who are about to lose their father, assuming that his death is, indeed, imminent. And I wonder how they are feeling about the prospect of moving again. You don’t mention them at all. You feel guilty for making your ex sad by moving away, but what about your children? You don’t share their ages, but assuming they are old enough to understand what’s going on, you should talk to them about what they want. If what they want is to stay close to their dad, I don’t know how you find happiness, let alone convince yourself you’re a good mother, when you’ve taken your children away from their dying father who is too sick to come visit them. What is waiting on the other side of the move that is going to be worth more to you than your kids spending time with their father, if that is what they want?
There are only two ways I see you feeling OK about moving: your kids want to; you have reason to believe your ex potentially has years left to live and you feel certain that you can bring your kids to visit him with regular frequency. I guess the third way you can feel OK about moving your kids away from their dying father is that you are a truly selfish person with no empathy, but I don’t believe that’s the case or you wouldn’t have moved back for the year that you did to help care for your ex, and you wouldn’t feel so much guilt about the idea of leaving now. So, explore the first two justifications for moving.
Maybe your kids really want to move back. If you and your kids were happy out of state and are ready to get back and get on with your lives, you should make sure your kids understand — at a level that is appropriate for their ages and emotional development — what they’ll be leaving behind if you move — namely, that their father likely won’t be able to visit them, and they will be seeing much less of him. This is a lot for a child to process, and I would advise seeking the help of a therapist. In fact, a therapist could help you decide how to navigate this life change, how to continue supporting your children whether or not you move, and the best ways to support your children when their father passes away. I think YOU could also use someone to talk to because it’s naive to believe a move is going to make you happy given the circumstances, and if you’re afraid staying is going to make you depressed, you will need help combating that.
It’s important to consider the kind of support system your children (and you) have where you live now vs. where you want to move to. It sounds like you were out of state only briefly before your ex was diagnosed with cancer and you moved back to care for him. If your kids had even made friends yet, a year apart would change those bonds. Do they have family where you want to move? Who would be there to help support them through the potential loss of their father? And who is there for them where you live now? They have a grandmother at the very least. Do they also have other family and friends you’d be taking them from in your personal pursuit of happiness out of state as their father is dying? These are things to think about.
Finally, I would urge you to explore how you can create a “normal” life for yourself where you are now, close to your ex. Why do you have to move to find normalcy and happiness? What does the life out of state have that your current home doesn’t, and is there any way you can create or find some of what you are lacking without moving your children away from their dying father? You say you are “longing for the life you thought you were going to start last year,” but that’s not even a concrete thing. You aren’t even longing for a life you lived or had already created. You are longing for an idea, a fantasy, a hope that what you envisioned would become a reality. There’s no guarantee that that would happen.
Running away from a place where you aren’t happy doesn’t necessarily mean you will find happiness on the other side. I don’t know what it is where you live now that makes you so unhappy, but there’s a good chance it will follow you and you will discover that not only did moving not solve the problem, but also it created the additional problem of… you know, robbing your children of the time they had left with their dying dad. That isn’t to say that you wouldn’t eventually find happiness elsewhere. Plenty of people find that a move IS exactly what they need to jump start a new lease on life. But given the circumstances and your responsibility as a mother, I’m just not sure that is going to be the case for you. You need to carefully weigh the risks — including the potential of your children blaming you one day for taking them away from their dad — and be really honest about what it is you are wanting to get away from and whether a move is the only and best chance to find the happiness you long for. If it is, you have a responsibility to do your very best to make sure that your children have as much support as possible to help them through these very big transitions.
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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.