My parents' health is deteriorating fast and it won't be long before they cannot look after themselves. We have no relatives or friends who could help them. I live clear across the country but the unstated expectation is I relocate and take care of everything, for however long it takes.

How can I tell them that they need to figure out something for how they might deal with an emergency and their care without calling me demanding I drop everything and get on a flight?

I have a good job but no serious relationship or kids I can lean on as a reason I cannot help.

Some additional factors in this:

  1. I'm an only child

  2. My childhood kind of sucked. Although they did their best as flawed human beings, they were not good parents. I call once a week or so and dread it.

  3. My mom believes she was very doting and has all kinds of false memories about it all. My dad would be very mad at me if I upset her (as it always was)

  4. I've nudged them about nursing homes and home healthcare workers but they shut it down right away, they say don't worry.

I am panicking!

So question:

How do I tell them I won't be able to help them so they better figure something out now?


2 Answers 2


The most effective way to tell someone something, is to talk with them.

You state that "I call once a week or so and dread it."

I suggest that you dread it, because you are not in control of the conversation, and that you're always bracing yourself in case they ask something of you, that you do not want to give. Despite the fact that your childhood "kind of sucked", you obviously care/love them or you wouldn't be in conflict.

In resolving this issue, it is important to understand why it is such a big issue. Look at this situation from a different perspective. Your parents may not be around for much longer, and once they are gone, you will not be able to resolve it with them. How our family dynamics affect us, has a direct influence on all of our future relationships. For example, any time in your future that you are in a situation where you feel an unspoken expectation is placed upon you, you will most likely, feel highly uncomfortable (panicky) and you will probably go through life trying to avoid these people.

For this reason, it is imperative, that you deal with this dynamic with your parents. Once you do, it will not be such a big issue in your future (perhaps with bosses or in-laws).

I suggest the following.
The next few times that you ring home, have some news to tell them about your life. Little things like a new recipe you've tried or a funny story about someone you've met. This will lighten things by sharing something about you, and hearing their responses.
Then start saying things like; - "You would like it here because..." If you start letting them know that your expectation is that they will relocate to be closer to you, suddenly everything will be different. No matter what they say... "all our friends are here", "we like this town", counter their comments with things like... "you can make new friends", "you would like this city because..."

When the "unstated expectation" is finally verbalized, you can just half laugh and say... "I love you, but that's never going to happen, but you are welcome to move closer to me."

  • 3
    I would be VERY careful about suggesting the parents relocate. It sounds like they don't have a lot of ties to their currently location ("We have no relatives or friends who could help them. "). What if they say yes, we're coming?
    – DaveG
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 19:48
  • 1
    Echoing what @DaveG writes, I'd say suggesting to relocate is a good idea if and only if OP would actually consider helping them once they have relocated. Otherwise it will just create more problems. Could you edit your answer to indicate whether OP should actually try and make the parents relocate, or whether the proposal is just intended as something the parents will reject anyway?
    – sleske
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 10:12

Dealing with elderly parents is a huge stress for the children. I've seen that in my time volunteering at an Assisted Living facility.

Generally what I saw was that the couple tried living at home and after Dad died, it was a lot easier to convince Mom to move in to Assisted Living.

Let's ignore the other factors; they're important but not critical.

The most important thing to realize is that your parents right now are in a state of denial. They don't want to accept that their youth is leaving, never to return. It's a scary time for people. They obviously expect that you will take care of them, which is the norm in many cultures around the world.

I'd start by saying in clear English, "Your plan of my moving across the country is not going to work. I have no job here and cannot afford to live here, taking care of you, and not have a full-time job." There may be objections, but that's reality. Most adults don't have the strength to work 40 hours and then take care of ailing parents full-time on top of that. In addition, how would you take care of yourself? This makes an assumption that leads toward depression and loneliness for you.

I'd also quit nudging them. This needs to be brought out into the open and clearly. I'd say this: "We all know that I live across the country. We need to determine living situations for you and that can't include me. In an emergency, it would take at least a day for me to get here. What if you fell? Would you want to lay there for a full day for me to get there, assuming that you can somehow contact me?" If they say, "Don't worry", I'd add "Why not? I worry about you. How will you take care of this?"

If they say, "You will take care of us!", the answer then is "How? I am not a trained health care worker. I have no experience or expertise in elder care. I have no desire to give you both baths and am completely unqualified to manage medicines and monitor medical conditions for you. This is a job for someone with skills and experience, which I do not have." I've seen firsthand what's needed, and it is a lot - especially when the health and memory start to fail.

In the end, they may need to experience a hard lesson firsthand. They may need to experience something and realize that they need help, and the distance makes it impossible for you to be there quickly. It's only after they end their denial that this discussion can really happen in earnest.

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