When parents get older and need help, they often move closer to their adult children. But there’s another path some sons and daughters are now following: moving to be near Mom and Dad. You could call it a “reverse migration.”

There are many reasons adult children move. They may have more job flexibility and can work out of home offices. Others feel they’re running out of time with a beloved long-distance parent and seek to spend more time with them.

Still others have no choice: There is no one else to help do what needs to be done. And some others may think, “Why not do something different and relocate?”

Five years ago, when Eric Tulin was 59, the divorced marketing executive left Burlington, Connecticut, for La Jolla, California, to be near his father, then 95, and his 88-year-old mother.

Besides getting away from harsh New England winters and “needing a change in my life,” Tulin thought it was time to keep a closer eye on them—literally. (His sister lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)

Today, from his southern California home office, Tulin can see the window of his mother’s independent living building. (His father died last year at age 100.) “I always joke that I live close enough to get there before the ambulance does,” says Tulin.

All kidding aside, “It’s satisfying to me that I can be there for my mother in her old age as she was there for me,” he says.

Living close by—rather than settling for once-weekly telephone calls with his parents—has allowed Tulin to “reconnect with my mother at a deeper level,” he says. “My parents have navigated the challenges of getting old incredibly well and that’s an important lesson I could not have learned from afar.”

Adjusting to the Move

Adena Steinberg, 43, works in a New York City nursing home. Psychologist Steinberg says that parents who are physically or cognitively declining can be good at “faking it and keeping things from their adult children. You don’t always notice if you’re not seeing them on a regular basis,” she says.

Steinberg’s parents are in their 70s and live 3,000 miles away in Berkeley, California. Her mother already has trouble walking.

Steinberg is actively job-hunting in California. “I want to be around them before things decline,” she says. When you are, they’ve got an onsite advocate. “The presence of a family member will make people attend to things faster,” she says. Steinberg also can tell the doctor, “‘My mom is not herself; she is more confused than last week.’ I wouldn’t necessarily know that if I didn’t see her on a regular basis.”

Steinberg realizes that moving near her parents “will be an adjustment.” Boston gerontologist Charlene Neu works with adult children and their parents as an “aging life professional” (formerly called a geriatric care manager). Here’s what she sees:

  • Old family dynamics that can return (a bad or not close relationship may not improve)
  • The difficulty of navigating shifting roles with the child now caring for the parent
  • Too much togetherness, especially if you move into your parents’ house
  • The challenge of maintaining your own life

Unexpected Moves

Daphne Berger, 35, was living in New Orleans with her husband Brandon and their two young sons when she learned that her mother [Susan Hackley] in Boston had been diagnosed with both abdominal cancer and leukemia.

Brandon works in a family real estate development business based in New Orleans. But in December, 2017, they left New Orleans and moved 15 minutes away from Berger’s mother. Brandon now travels extensively for work.

“Brandon knew how much I needed to be with my mom and he loves her, too,” says Berger. “I felt if he didn’t support me in this I would always resent him, as well as regret not being with her.”

Hackley says her daughter’s move has been a wonderful distraction. “It’s comforting and fun. And, it’s nice to be able to talk things out in person and not on the phone,” says Hackley. “Plus, if I want, Daphne can take me to a doctor appointment. And I see my grandchildren all the time!”

What to Consider Before You Move

It’s important to do some homework and deep thinking before you call the moving van.

Here are seven issues to consider:

  1. Decide why you’re moving. Is it out of guilt, desire, or necessity? Are you trying to repair a relationship or snag the Most Dutiful Child award?
  2. What does your parent think? Do they even want you nearer?
  3. Have honest conversations about their expectations and yours, including what they’d like to do if they can no longer stay where they are, and their medical wishes. (Whether you move or not, make sure you have the documents you need in place and know where they are kept.)
  4. Can you make some “me time”? Perhaps you can devote a certain number of hours to your parent, such as the mornings or three days a week. Is there money for a professional caregiver some of the time? Don’t wait for family members to offer to help (they might not). Ask for what you need. And, as gerontologist Neu puts it, “Sometimes you have to say ‘yes’ to yourself and ‘no’ to everyone else!”
  5. Research the available resources in their community: a vibrant senior center, adult day care, special dementia and caregiver programs, or respite care, perhaps. Are there good medical care, amenities, and social opportunities? You’ll need them for yourself, too.
  6. Understand that a move is likely to be hard not just on you but also on your own family and your parent. They’re not used to having you around, either.
  7. Know when not to move. It may be better to stay put if you have a great job, your kids are happy and settled in their school/neighborhood or are in special programs, you can’t afford to move at this time, or the move will be potentially damaging for your marriage or other relationships.

Of course, moving closer to Mom and/or Dad may in fact be the right answer. Besides having peace of mind, you could gain a wonderful opportunity to develop a completely different bond than you ever expected.

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