How to Deal With Guilt After Moving Away From Aging Parents

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Moving away from aging parents can be a heart-wrenching decision and experience for many. After all the back and forth and pros and cons, you finally decide to move. Then you have to deal with the guilt. Guilt is normal and means that you care, but you shouldn’t let guilt negatively affect your physical or mental health.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Managing the care of aging parents after you move away is possible with enough planning and commitment.  Hopefully, you have completed the tasks on the aging parent’s checklist, but if you haven’t, doing so before you move would be ideal.

Taking care of yourself and coming to terms with your guilt is also possible. Doing both of these together will create a situation where you can feel confident in the care your aging parents are receiving while fostering a positive relationship from a distance. 

Why Does It Feel Wrong to Move Away From Aging Parents?

We are a country of nomads, especially lately when so many people can live anywhere and work remotely. Reasons that people move are complex. Sometimes it is for professional reasons and other times for financial ones. The other possibility is that you have additional extended family in another state and wish to be closer to them.

Regardless of the legitimate reasons for a move, it can feel uncomfortable and shameful for these reasons:

You feel a duty to care for your aging parents

As the adult child of an aging parent, you feel responsible for caring for them. Many people feel a duty to take care of their parents. Making a move away from your parents during their decline can be incredibly challenging. You may feel like you are abandoning them when they need you the most. Long-distance caregiving is possible, but the loss of hands-on, day-to-day observation is not easily replaced. 

Even if your parents aren’t receiving care, there is a connection with family that is hard to replicate any other way than in person. Family gatherings, especially during the holidays, create memories and a bond. Impromptu visits have value, and those can’t happen when you move away. 

You have demanding parents

Demanding aging parents can be a handful to deal with. Resentment, apathy, and, yes, guilt are common reactions to demanding parents. Part of the reason you decide to move may be that you can’t handle the stress and strain of demanding parents. You may feel as though you are running away from the problem rather than dealing with it. Or, there could be a mix of appropriate reasons for a move mixed with the relief of not having to deal with so many demands. 

Unresolved conflicts or regrets

Unresolved issues with aging parents are not uncommon. When you move away, you may have regrets that you haven’t resolved some of these issues, which can compound feelings of guilt. Communicating from a distance is possible, but the act of leaving may feel troubling and as though you have left something unfinished.

You lose the ability to monitor your aging parents

We have some suggestions on how to help your parents from far away, but losing the ability to drop by and monitor things for yourself can leave you feeling guilty. You may have the feeling that you aren’t able to care for your parents from afar adequately. And your parents may remind you of that, which adds to your stress and guilt.

Tips for Feeling Less Guilty After Moving Away From Aging Parents

Feeling guilty after moving away from aging parents can cause stress in ways that aren’t healthy. It is a delicate balancing act to accept feelings of guilt as normal but not let them interfere with your life negatively.

Remember the reasons you made the decision to move

You made the difficult decision to move away from your aging parents for a reason. Chances are, your motives were legitimate and beneficial for you and your family. Try and remember why you made the decision in the first place and feel confident in the path you chose.

Putting yourself first is not a selfish act. It is an act of self-love. Your guilt is telling you that you love your parents as well. You have a right to happiness just as your parents have through their lifetime.  

Be proactive

There are things you can do to help your aging parents when you live far away. Sliding into complacency will likely only make you feel worse. Taking charge and doing what you can that is in your control will help you feel less guilty. Try and be flexible, realizing that some of your ideas will work better than others, and as your parents need more help over time, you will need to adjust.

Acknowledge your feelings

Pushing your feelings aside could have the opposite effect of letting emotions build up. Acknowledging your feelings of guilt will help you deal with them in healthy ways. Also, try not to expect that guilt will ever go away. You may always have guilt, but be able to accept and cope with it better as time goes by. 

Talk to someone

Talking to someone to get a supportive perspective can help you deal with your feelings of guilt. Ideas include a close friend, clergy, or a counselor. A counselor can be beneficial since they can guide you in making mentally and physically healthy choices. A counselor can also help you cope with unresolved conflicts that you may have with your parents and your relationship with them.

Tips for Helping Your Aging Parents From Far Away

This is where our suggestion of being proactive comes in. You can help your aging parents from far away, which has several positive benefits. Your parents will feel cared for, and you will feel less guilty. Action is the best antidote to feelings of powerlessness. 

Complete advance directives including health care and financial power of attorney

Before you move, or even after if necessary, make arrangements to complete advance directives, including health care and financial power of attorney. It will be extremely challenging to help your parents from afar without the legal authority to manage their healthcare and finances.

One suggestion is to hire an elder law attorney specializing in estate planning to meet with your parents. The entire process can be done remotely, so you do not have to be there in person. If your parents decide to place their assets in a trust, it might be necessary for you and them to meet in person at financial institutions to put accounts in the trust’s name.

Stay in contact

Schedule regular contact with your aging parents. If they can use Facetime or some other video conferencing platform, that could be best. When you can see your parents, you will get a much better idea of how they are actually doing. If they need help learning to use the technology, consider hiring someone to assist them. Schedule regular contact in your phone or other calendaring systems so that you stay committed to checking on them.

Hire in-home help

Your parents may be resistant to this idea, but hiring in-home help is a great way to support them and get reports on how they are doing. You can suggest starting slowly with minimal time and then increasing from there once they get used to the idea.

If your parents complain about needing help, point out that support is available for almost anything they want: personal care, lawn care, housekeeping, shopping, and meal services, and home maintenance. Offer to coordinate anything they ask for and need.

Hire a geriatric care manager

If your parents refuse in-home caregivers, they might concede to a geriatric care manager. A geriatric care manager is not in the home every day or necessarily even every week. They can do a complete assessment of your parent’s situation and make recommendations. From that point on, they can drop in every couple of weeks to observe and suggest changes to care or other services that are helping your parents. 

Enlist the help of other family members

Suppose there are other family members near your parents. That is great! Take the reins of the situation and strategize ways your siblings or other family members can help. If all family lives at a distance, there are still ways in which they can help.

Organize a Zoom meeting to discuss what your parents need, assign responsibilities, and agree to a designated time to check in and make adjustments each month. 

How to Deal with the Guilt of Moving Away From Aging Parents

Guilt is a normal human emotion that can be stressful. Without guilt, there is no regret and no motivation to change or act. If you have moved away from aging parents, accepting that your emotions will be complicated is the first step. But, there are other emotions to foster- compassion, empathy, love, and care. Focus on those positive emotions as you grapple with the guilt of moving away from aging parents. 

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