Dear Family Advisor

My mom is balking at moving closer to us.

Last updated: Oct 25, 2011


My brother and I are helping our mom move from out of state into a nearby condo we're buying. It makes good sense, since she doesn't own her home or have strong emotional ties where she lives now. It will also be good for her to be nearer to us as she gets older and begins to need more care -- and best for her to have some years to feel happy and settled here before she becomes more dependent on us.

Our mom agrees in theory that this is a good idea. However, I know she's uneasy. She's pouting over the idea of downsizing. She sometimes tells one of us she doesn't want to move at all, in the same day that she's told the other that she's excited about the change. It seems like she has a new cold or headache every other day -- but she also talks a lot about how much she'll enjoy seeing more of us and her grandchildren.

Her changing moods are hard to keep up with, and I'm afraid that at the last minute she'll refuse to move and sabotage the whole plan. Any advice?

Your mom is freaking because it's such a big change. It's a change that may be necessary -- even desirable to her -- but it's not entirely of her choosing. The ideal situation would be for her to think this move is her idea. If you can find a way for her to have the freedom and power to make at least some of the choices, it would help her adjust.

Walk in her shoes for a moment: Your children -- the same kids you diapered, drove to school, nursed through chicken pox and broken hearts -- now think they know what's best for you. They swoop into your life and quickly and completely take over. How would you feel?

Please know that I'm not implying that you're that insensitive. It's clear that you love and care for your mom, and I applaud you for thinking ahead so that she's not forced to move later when she may be more physically and mentally frail. But she may feel that you're not considering all she is going through right now. I believe you when you say that one minute she's all for this move and the next minute she's not; the fact is, she probably can't figure out what she wants herself.

Start by sharing that you recognize what a huge change this is, and how scary and unsure you yourself would feel. Be her helper, supporter, and sounding board. Sit with her and be patient. Ask her what she's feeling and encourage conflicting emotions: Yes, she feels excited to get a new place; and yes, she's also worried that she's rushing into a frightening change. Help her make a list of what she'll miss in her current town, and in another column right beside that, write down what she has to look forward to in the new place. Seeing her concerns -- and her anticipation -- on paper will help her get at what's really bothering her. There's an underlying fear, and when she feels safe, it'll surface.

Before the move, have her come visit. Go to a local church or community center to see if you can arrange for a "first friend" to show her around, take her to lunch, and help her get acclimated. Take her to the library, the park, the hairdresser she might use, a place to shop. Show her that her new community will welcome her and that there's something exhilarating about being in a new place. Praise her for being brave and embracing change.

Once she's in her new condo, give her the freedom and support to make as many decisions as possible about its look and feel. Let her pick out paint colors, curtains. Help her arrange her furniture and keep mum about her design -- this is her place, and she needs to "own" it and really feel engaged.

You're going to need to commit to helping her adjust in those first few weeks and months, so clear your schedule a bit and really be there for her. Don't let her depend only on you, of course; get her engaged with other people and activities as soon as you can. But try not to be too overt about it, or she'll feel manipulated. You'll be able to pull this off better -- and support her and yourself better -- if you think about how you can really enjoy having your mom close again. There's something great about having a parent in your life when you're old enough and secure enough to be side by side, planning activities and events you both can look forward to.

How about that bad scenario, in which she balks every step of the way? Know right now that she may. She may want and need you to be the bad guy. She may blame you and complain through the entire move. If that's the case, let her. Do all you can to give her choices, but if she needs to whine, then whine it is.

The real worst-case scenario is that she downright refuses to move. Then you'll either have to get her deemed incompetent (which sounds unlikely, in her case) or allow her to live with her decision and its ramifications. But it may not come to that, if you allow her some room to be ornery while still giving her support. That's a tough emotional position for you to be in, but it's unlikely to last forever.

For now, praise her, be her support, and do all you can to make this transition smooth. All of you could have results to enjoy.