What I Wish I'd Known About Moving My Parents: Caring.com Moving Expert Donna Quinn Robbins

What the author of two books about moving parents -- or not moving them -- learned about her mom and dad when she tried to relocate them.

In her 2003 book Moving Mom and Dad! Why, Where, How, and When to Help Your Parents Relocate, Donna Quinn Robbins quotes Donna Wagner, currently director of the Center for Productive Aging, summing up the complexities of caregiving for elderly parents: "You can be competent in every other part of your life and blowing this one."

In fact, Robbins discovered that you can even be very competent at helping seniors move, which she was doing professionally, and still run into trouble if you don't understand things from your parents' perspective.

After her mother, Bette Quinn, suffered three strokes and required a full-time nurse, it became clear to the Quinn siblings that their parents needed to move into a retirement community to ease the burden on their 85-year-old father. But "Buffalo Bill" Quinn, a retired three-star general, flat-out refused.

"I knew about retirement communities, I knew where to go because I was in the business," says Robbins. "I wish I had understood better the anxiety that my dad was going through over this." Used to being in command, Bill Quinn felt that his life was falling apart in ways that he couldn't control.

"He wasn't communicative. He just acted out, and the acting out got everybody upset, and then nobody was dealing with what was really going on. I recognize what seniors are going through in my business but, you know, it was my parents, and my dad was being a brat."

Robbins says that adult children also need to examine their own motives for wanting their parents to move. "If you're just doing it because it's going to be easier on you, that's not a good enough reason. The 'good enough' reasons are that there's a crisis or that they can't take care of themselves."

Robbins also wishes she'd known that when you're moving a parent for the right reason, you need to stand up to a parent who resists. "I was kowtowing to my dad. He was this big general in the army and we were his troops, and he'd yell, 'I'm not moving!'" In the end, she and her siblings had to go to their mother, who had to threaten divorce, to get their father to agree.

Robbins's second book, On the Road of Life, Drive Yourself: A Vehicle for Aging Adults, Their Families, and Professionals to Help Navigate the Ups and Downs of Making Life Decisions, published in 2007, is a workbook for parents and children to improve their understanding of each other's perspectives and desires, in order to better plan for the future. Filling it out with your parents (or your own children), she writes, "could be one of the most intimate times you will ever have together."

Read the full interview with Donna Quinn Robbins.


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