My husband and I will be moving out of state in a few months for an amazing job opportunity and better situation overall. My mother is almost 80, lives alone just fine despite some major surgeries, and my brother is five minutes from her. How do I tell them I’m moving 18 hours away versus two, without making her feel that I’m leaving her, and my brother feel like I’m abandoning him to be the only one responsible? We have always been there for everyone else. Though my husband’s family is sad we are leaving, they are also happy for us. Mine will try to make me feel guilty.
Anonymous / Boston
Your mother and brother are going to feel however they feel, regardless of how you deliver the news. If you think they’ll feel abandoned and try to guilt you over it, then, sadly, you are probably right. But you don’t have to engage in those conversations. When you tell them about your move, let them feel their feelings but don’t get baited into justifying or arguing for your choice. Your move is a done deal, and their disappointment or disapproval doesn’t change the reality of it.
Then, between now and the time you leave, you have two major goals vis-à-vis your family. One is to settle whatever logistics need to get settled. If you’ve “always been there,” your departure means others need to pick up the slack. What have you been doing that won’t get done anymore? What do you know about your mother’s health care, finances, etc., that needs to be written down all in one place? Your second goal is to make pleasant memories together before your departure. This is a good time for you and your mother to do the kinds of things we all say we’ll do someday, but don’t — going through photo albums, high tea at the fancy hotel, a demolition derby, whatever.
Settle practical matters and make happy memories. Got it? You can’t solve every potential problem and ward off every bad feeling, but you can accomplish this in the next few months, assuming at least moderate cooperation. Frame these as explicit goals — not just to yourself, but to your mother and brother when you tell them the news. If you can get your family to agree to make these their goals too, awesome. If not, at least they know your agenda. This will make it easier for you to keep interactions from veering off the track into a Rogue Guilt Safari: If a conversation isn’t meeting one of those two goals, point that out and redirect. Stay chipper and productive.
Good luck, and congratulations on the exciting life change! In the spirit of a GP referring a patient to a specialist, if you’d like a deeper dive on tactics for enforcing boundaries with family, I highly recommend Captain Awkward (at the blog of the same name).
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.