Help! My parents won’t accept my move to my wife’s home country
My wife and I have decided to move with our two young sons to her home country. It was a difficult decision and we spent a long time making it, but we believe it’s an opportunity for a better life that we have to take now.
My mother-in-law is not well and we have not seen my wife’s family for two years. However, my parents are struggling to accept our decision. They doubt the wisdom of the move, and initially took the view that my wife had pressured me into going. My wife found this hurtful; especially that my parents did not appreciate why she might want to spend time with her own mother. I was also infuriated by the notion that I was incapable of making such a momentous decision with my eyes open – and in support of my wife. I have kept all this from my parents because I do not want conflict and to leave in such an atmosphere.
I find my parents’ reaction confusing because, in many ways, they seem quite emotionally distant. They moved with me and my sibling when we were very young to “get away” from their own parents. They rarely visit, and over the last two years, they have stopped calling me, too; it feels as if the only way to ensure that we speak to each other and they see their grandchildren is if I make that happen. I have explained that I believe our move will give our kids an opportunity to experience life in a country they know well and which represents half of their cultural heritage, that we cannot put it off any longer without disrupting their education, and that it has given my mother-in-law a vital boost.
We have decided to rent out our UK home, and I have promised to visit my family. Am I being unrealistic to expect my parents to accept our decision, let alone support it?
I think you have already done more than enough. You have been clear, you have been kind, you have offered to stay in touch. What have you been given in return? I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect your family to be supportive, but I do think it’s a case of hope over experience.
I thought the key phrase in your letter was that you wanted to avoid conflict, and I wondered if that had been a feature with your parents all your life. Your parents don’t visit you or call, they moved away from their own parents and yet expect you to do what, exactly? They seem controlling but not engaged – what a confusing mix for you to deal with.
Dr Ged Smith, a family therapist, (aft.org.uk) said he often sees this situation, but thought you “had all the answers and list lots of good reasons why moving is a good idea”. And it really is a good idea. You have given this a lot of thought; you also plan to keep your options open by keeping your home in this country, and say you are ready to visit. I think this is really about your parents realising they can’t control you, and your guilt at breaking free. But you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s absolutely right for you to think of your “made” family. And, as Smith said, “guilt often doesn’t reflect the reality of what you have done”.
It’s interesting that your parents see your wife as the catalyst, as someone who has potentially manipulated you, rather than you being able to make up your own mind. Why would your parents think that, unless they never let you make up your own mind?
“I think you want to do this in a way that causes the least conflict,” Smith said. “But it doesn’t sound as if you see your parents very often, and given that you intend to visit you’ll probably see them as much as you did.” This is a good point – if you don’t see your family much anyway, what does it matter where you travel from to visit them?
Controlling people don’t like displays of autonomy, and what you have done here is put yourself, your family, your wife, front and centre. You are grabbing a terrific opportunity and have communicated that to your parents, but they don’t want to see it and can’t be happy, excited or supportive. There may even be a bit of jealousy. If your parents moved to get away from their parents, they may read your actions as a snub. But I’m afraid their reaction is entirely their responsibility – so don’t make it yours.
Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to [email protected] Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.
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