Considering Moving Away From Elderly Parents? Not Worth It!


Technology advancements have made the world seem smaller, lending to an increase in national and global communication and awareness. This means more people are apt to move from hometowns for personal and/or professional reasons. But what’s the impact on family ties, especially for older adults with aging parents?

Considering moving away from elderly parents is serious. Adventure, independence, and money are often reasons given for moving away, but legal and economic issues, and detrimental effects on family bonds, should make adults think twice before leaving aging loved ones.

My husband and I moved away from extended family after ten years of marriage. Now that our four children are mostly grown, with two adult kids living in other states, we’ve come full circle, making our way back home to elderly parents. Let me share with you a piece of our journey as we look closer at costs of moving away from elderly parents, which surpass the monetary!

Different Moves Have Different Costs

Not all moves are the same, nor have the same consequences. There are differences in the kinds of moves away from family and in particular, elderly parents.

The difference in distance in the move away from family and elderly parents results in difference in costs. From a few hours drive to full on day drives to moves that necessitate hotel stays or plane tickets, it’s more expensive and requires more planning and preparation the farther your move away.

This distance variation also results in a variation of the impact on relationships and bonding between you and your children with your aging parents who live far away.

Let’s look at what this means in relation to impacts on you and your elderly parents. But in a nutshell, the costs are great regardless!

‘Few Hours Drive’ Move from Elderly Parents

If you move within a few hours drive from your elderly parents, there are costs involved. However, this kind of move is least impactful on your budget as well as your family relationship.

Living within a few hours drive means you can feasibly support your aging parents emotionally, as well as physically, or rather in-person. This is certainly made more possible with this kind of move than with other moves that are greater in distance.

For example, it’s highly possible to visit your elderly parents every Sunday (or whatever day of the week you are free from work responsibilities) if your drive time is just a couple of hours. Maintaining a weekly or bi-weekly (twice monthly) schedule for visitation will help ensure you maintain a close bond, and provide your aging parents emotional support they can count on.

It also means you are more likely to help with doctor appointments or even post-surgical recuperation if living ‘close-ish.’ And because it demands minimal effort from you, the financial cost on you is low while the emotional gain for both of you is high.

Let me tell you from experience, over the years, you will come to appreciate this proximity!

Long Distance ‘Day Drive’ to Elderly Parents

Unlike a couple hours distance, a long distance or full day drive to elderly parents is a high demand situation to find oneself. If this is a consideration, it should be taken quite seriously, because it has a high-yield cost and is not simple to change.

Considering a long distance move from elderly parents requiring a full day’s drive is not to be taken lightly. Living long distance takes an emotional and financial toll on family ties, likely limiting visits to occasional holidays and support for aging parents to emergencies only.

For example, monetary costs include increases in vehicle maintenance, rising gas prices, possible hotel fees for overnight requirements, time away from your job, and so on. Even the best coupon finder and penny pincher will pay more simply due to logistics of living far away.

Don’t kid yourself. You may tell yourself that you will visit on a regular basis a day’s drive away, but you won’t.

Emotionally, the cost may be even higher! Missed birthdays, holidays, and other milestone celebrations are significant when it comes to spending time with family. But more than that, it’s emotionally draining not being with those you love and who need you.

As parents age, there are suddenly health issues that arise even from seemingly vibrant people, and it becomes especially hard when you aren’t able to be there to help them face these challenges.

A Plane Ticket Away from Elderly Parents

Moving away from parents that requires a plane ticket (or multiple days drive) should really be done as a last resort. Before getting your rebuttal ready, let me elaborate.

Considering moving away from elderly parents that requires a plane ticket or multiple days drive is not advisable under most circumstances. The high emotional and financial costs are too great in comparison to the positive potential for necessitating such a move.

Here again, you may think you will plan that biyearly, yearly or regular trip, but you won’t. That is at least after the first one or two. The expense won’t seem justifiable for relationships you have let fade and the interruption in your life you have created far away will seem unnecessary.

What Does Moving Away From Aging Parents Look Like?

For sixteen years of our marriage, we lived far away from my parents. By far, I mean a multiple days drive or multiple hours long plane ride (often made even longer due to connecting flights). During this 16 year time period, our four children went from one-year-old twins, five-year-old daughter, and ten-year-old son to 17-year-old twins, 21-year-old daughter, and 26-year-old son before we were able to relocate back.

For us, this meant parents (grandparents) missing birthdays in person; it meant the loss of large family Sunday dinners after church or Mass each week; and it meant not having a close relationship as our children (grandchildren) grew.

It also limited the ability for me to help aging parents after back or heart surgeries. Job responsibilities and financial restraints made it near impossible to help during emergencies without extensive planning and preparation, and really, who is ever able to extensively plan for emergencies?

For related reading, I highly recommend these articles:

Tip 1 (Communication Long Distance)

Just because you’ve taken the leap and moved far away from elderly parents (grandparents) doesn’t mean all is lost. There are some things you can do to salvage your relationship and offset damage.

One tip for living far away from elderly parents and grandparents that minimizes drawbacks is using technology. Internet conversation programs and digital photo devices make communication with far away loved ones both budget and time friendly.

Whether it’s via weekly or bi-weekly Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime, it’s important to have a regular slot for communication. Texts and cards are great options too, but don’t let these be used in place of live voice-to-voice conversation. Instead incorporate use of all means to keep lines of communication open and often!

As for visual updates, sending photos from your Smartphone regularly is helpful. However, a digital photo frame can be an excellent tool that’s quick and easy for less tech savvy elderly parents.

You send photos directly from your phone to their digital frame, updating it as often as you’d like with just a few swipes! We bought one for my parents as a Christmas gift years ago, mailed directly from Amazon: Nixplay Smart Digital Picture Frame 

If used regularly and consistently like we have over the years, it’ll feel almost like you’re just down the street, rather than states away! Almost!

Is it Wrong to Move Away From Elderly Parents?

There’s much to consider when asking the question, is it wrong to move away from elderly parents? Is this move due to career opportunities or simply to thwart supporting aging parents who need you and have demands on your life’s comfort, for instance?

Ultimately, it is wrong to move away from elderly parents. Extenuating circumstances or personal aspirations might seem to necessitate it, but moving far away from aging parents has more long-lasting problems for both you and them, making the trade-off not worth it.

In almost all situations, moving away from elderly parents involves selfishness on your part. No, really. It is not for the benefit of your whole family including your parents, extended family, and even your kids.

In a Netherland’s study on family and geographic mobility, results showed that children who move away are motivated by personal gain and only consider moving close to parents for the same reason. In other words, children didn’t move back to support their parents, but only did so when it benefited their needs. How’s that for selfishness?

Though it’s common in today’s society of ‘me first’ and ‘personal fulfillment’ mottos to not recognize selfishness, it certainly seems that the data is there to prove it in terms of moving away from elderly parents.

Moving away from aging parents is a way to absolve ourselves from daily expectations and moral responsibility to take care of family. And sometimes we would rather not have those who know our motivations and tendencies the most give us advice on what we do, if we’re being honest.

Granted there are variations in what people can do, depending on the individual’s ability to support or aide another.

But whether it’s driving a parent to their doctor’s appointment, dropping off groceries, or the extreme of moving a parent into your own home, there’s always something you can do. Simply moving away doesn’t mean you’re moving away from your moral obligation. It remains….even if neglected!

Is It Wrong to Want to Move Away From Family?

Likewise, there are times when we wonder is it wrong to want to move away from family, in general, not just elderly parents. For this case, similar to what we addressed in the above section, let’s look at what this really means.

It is wrong in most instances to move away from family and especially aging parents. Independence, money, or adventure are not adequate reasons to severe family relationships, even difficult ones. You will wish you had more time with family in your last minutes, not more money.

During young adulthood or with marriage, people naturally want to distance themselves to a degree from family. It is a way to grow independently and if married, to grow as a couple. However, this doesn’t mean moving away from family to an extent that relationships suffer.

When going to college, that is often the first time children can move away from family. After graduation or embarking on a career, it can also mean moving away from family. Sometimes, personal desire for adventure leads one to seek living away. Yet, children can have most all of these things without moving far away or permanently from family.

When all is said and done, most people don’t wish they had more adventure in life or a better career. Most confess to wishing they spent more time with family. It’s important that we don’t let our short-term desires distract us from what’s truly important in life, for the long haul.

Are You Legally Responsible for Your Elderly Parents?

Laws vary regarding legal requirements and responsibilities for caring for elderly parents. To be clear each person should research their particular area and reach out for help before legal issues get out of hand.

Parents knowingly take full responsibility of their children when they have them. They are responsible for their children’s basic needs, financially, medically, and emotionally. Yet what about when parents age? Are you (the child) legally responsible for elderly parents?

Yes, children are legally responsible for elderly parents due to filial responsibility laws currently existing in 30 states. It should also be noted that most states rarely hold children to the fullness of the law and judges have leeway if circumstances lead to court.

In addition, the filial responsibility laws are slightly different from state to state, according to the Journal of Criminal Justice and Law (Univ of Houston). To be clear, children (and aging parents) should familiarize themselves with their state’s expectations either online or by consulting an attorney, or both.

Most states also have a reputation for not enforcing the requirements in full, but there are cases where children were sued to pay for parents’ medical and assisted living expenses that were upheld.

Filial responsibility laws must demonstrate several factors, one of which is that parents don’t have financial means, while children do have financial means to meet the obligation.

The existence of filial laws should make it prudent for you and your parents to discuss ‘means’ and expectations as they age. And this is particularly necessary if you don’t live close by.

In our case, this concern for my elderly parents’ ability to take care of themselves medically, as well as financially, led us to make big changes including our decision to move back to their hometown.

Tip 2 (Discussion for Filial Responsibility)

Have a candid discussion with elderly parents. As well, make sure all stakeholders are included such as siblings. Be aware of their financial holdings and debts. It’s also important to have knowledge of wills, medical wishes, and expectations for the future.

Tip 3 (Documents)

Keep all relevant information including bank accounts, life insurance and other documents in a safe, but accessible place.

Moving Away From Family Guilt?

When considering moving away from family or from elderly parents especially, you need to think about your reasons why. It is such a monumental decision. Are you moving away from family, family guilt trips, or are you feeling the guilt of moving away? Let’s look at guilt in two different ways.

Moving Away From Family Guilt Trips

This may sound trivial at first, but some parents, and it can get worse with age, are masters at ruling the lives around them through gossip, manipulation, and the big one, guilt. Some young couples especially can feel the need to get out from under parental control. This can be dealt with many ways, and moving far away is simply ‘running’.

Guilt felt by adult children from their parents is not a reason to move away and flee. Family is the foundation of society, but family ties can sometimes be more choking than supportive. However, it’s important to not let family guilt side step us from family responsibility.

Faith in family bonds is what should drive our decisions, even during times of strife.

TV shows frequently depict family guilt as the most prevalent force among parents and children, especially if elderly parents are involved. Guilt is used as a weapon to get the other person (often a mom guilting their child is what’s shown on television) to do what they want. Or guilt is used to motivate love, which doesn’t make much sense at all!

However, guilt, if felt, should come from within, not from an outsider. We feel guilty because our own personal conviction/conscience is letting us know we’ve done something wrong. In this way, guilt is actually good. It steers us back on the right path, to do the right thing.

If we feel family guilt, from ourselves alerting us-not from parents, then we should take note. What are we doing? What have we done? What can we do to make this right? Moving away from family will not mean we’re moving away from family guilt. If we don’t address it, the guilt will still be there.

Family is not like ‘friends’. Friends accept any moral or immoral decision you want to make, and we say that is a good friend. If parents or family do that, we believe they just don’t care.

The Guilt Of Moving Away From Family

Likewise, elderly parents can’t successfully guilt children into not moving away either. Not really, it just won’t work. Even if the guilt kept children from moving away, it will turn to resentment. That’s not a good trade-off at all!

The guilt concerning moving away from family should be a warning sign to us. We are responsible for the people in our family, morally and sometimes legally. We know this innately because we watched our parents care for us. The guilt of moving away from family should not be suppressed.

Does this mean you have to be subject to unhealthy situations or influences for your children. Of course not! But we as parents are smart enough and capable enough to show our kids how to treat family, even the difficult members of it. This is one of the most important lessons we can teach them.

The nuclear family is the backbone of our religious convictions, economy, and society. The extended family is just that. It is an extension of that most precious thing. In its proper place and with consistently moral members, the simple concept of family can transform the world.

Living In A Place You Love vs Living Near Family

Although the Disney film Coco has many themes, one resounding message is the importance of extended family and the benefits of living in close proximity for all members of the family.

It’s tempting to move away, especially as it opens up professional and personal opportunities. As well, once you’ve moved away, it’s easy to establish ties to the area especially if you meet your significant other there and begin to raise a family, far away from your hometown. So what are the benefits of living close to elderly parents that make moving back worth it?

Research published in the Journal of Sociology corroborates that living near family is beneficial emotionally and financially long-term. The benefits to living close to elderly parents and family, are numerous. You are able to build cross-generational bonds and have support during times of trouble.

The study mentioned above comes out of Hong Kong Baptist University, SAR, China and Macquarie University, Australia and extols the benefits of living yourself and having your children near family of all levels.

Moving away should be given utmost consideration and not decided haphazardly. Long-lasting consequences that result are not easily overcome. Simply put, time with family cannot be bought back.

Personally, I lost both grandmothers while living across the country, as well as a beloved cousin. Due to obligations away, I was not able to attend funerals, or be with my grandparents prior to their deaths. These moments can’t be replaced for me, my husband, or children.

What to Do If Considering Moving Back Near Elderly Parents

If you have already taken the plunge and moved away from family, or you are strongly leaning towards doing that, then I urge you to keep it temporary. You’ll need to consider options for moving back near your elderly parents one day, so let’s look at how to make that easier.

The most pressing need for considering moving back near elderly parents is financial. Increasing your savings while decreasing your debts before moving will be vital for success, especially in the early days of transition. This makes it feasible for you to even take a lower paying job if necessary.

After financial issues are addressed, it is critical that you enlist your spouse and children in the process of the move. You can do this by clearly explaining the importance of family and the reasons for moving, making sure to carefully respond to any questions or concerns they have.

Tip 4 (Moving Back)

Once you’ve realized you want to move back near aging parents, start planning right away. Utilizing financial resources such as Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman can be useful, as well as reaching out to your banking institution or personal accountant, for tips in decreasing debt and increasing savings.

In addition, start to downsize your things, too. If you plan it wisely, you can sell items at SWAP meets, yard sales, community events, and even online via Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

Tip 5 (Timeline)

There’s a fine line between moving back too fast and too slow. One- you need to give yourself enough time to plan financially and two, you need to make sure you don’t procrastinate and waste more precious time away from your loved ones than required.

Only you can figure this out for your family, but the realization of this line will help you make thoughtful choices!

The Takeaway for Considering Moving Away from Elderly Parents

So now let’s wrap it up! We’ve looked deeply at considering moving away from elderly parents as this is a very personal and relevant issue for my family and me. Having taken the huge step moving away 16 years ago, I know what it’s cost us all. Without a doubt, it is not worth it!

And finally, let me share once again some related articles for further reading:

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a Catholic mother of four, grandmother ("Oma") to two, and wife to Mat since 1994. She is a former public school teacher of 18 years, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she also taught education courses online as an adjunct professor, mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, as well as homeschooled.

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