Living far away from aging parents and family is never an easy process. Still, it’s one that many people must face at some point in their lives. For some, the day they leave home may come rather suddenly. And for others who have already left, it can be the reality of it all that hits them sooner than they expected.
In either case, once one decides to move away from home, it’s normal for many questions to arise about how to care for aging parents when you live far away or coping with the distance. It’s also normal to experience feelings of guilt about leaving aging parents behind, especially expats who travel to a new country with parents who need some extra help.
If you are currently facing this big decision or beginning to feel the impact of it weigh on your shoulders, there are ways you can manage your relationships and cope with living away from your elderly parents.
Be open with your parents about your decision to leave.
If you’re moving, have an open conversation about the reasons for your decision and the various ways it will impact each of your lives. Despite the magnitude of a decision like this, there are ways to prepare for it logistically, but only so many ways one can prepare for it from an emotional standpoint. In other words, individuals and families, particularly those who have never gone through this, won’t know quite how they will feel or how life will be until their loved one has already left.
Maintaining open communication from the start can help everyone prepare for and navigate the transition to living far away from aging parents. This initial conversation is an excellent opportunity for many expats to reconcile any past issues with their parents. The entire experience can be much more favorable for everyone when one leaves only with the knowledge that they are loved and needed by their parents, rather than any resentment they have towards them.
Many expats seek the support of an online expat psychologist to help them resolve conflicts from their past.
Have regular conversations with your parents.
Plan a recurring time to speak with your parents, so you don’t have to worry about finding an opportune moment or forgetting to call. Setting up a realistic schedule where you have conversations for 30 minutes or so, weekly or every other week, is an ideal way to keep connected with your aging parents and family members. Use the resources you have that allow them to see your face and communicate in ways other than words, such as video calls.
In addition, many expats will keep in touch with their family members by sending letters, postcards, and pictures. Sending mail isn’t only comforting for those who receive it; it can also bring joy to the sender. Communication in any form is a good way to keep the focus on loving one’s parents, rather than being motivated by responsibilities or feelings of obligation.
Keeping regular communication will also help you stay informed and better prepare for problems that may occur back home, such as illnesses or injuries.
Define your role.
Expats who are living far away from aging parents often experience unnecessary stress and mental exhaustion trying to make up for their inability to support their families. Therefore, it’s helpful and necessary first to accept any existing feelings of guilt about leaving them.
From there, one might identify what they can realistically do for their parents regularly. In some cases, when thinking about how to care for aging parents when you live far away, elderly parents might require the support of another family member or professional caregiver. In this case, you can still establish responsibilities and support your parents by supporting their caregivers. There are always ways to stay involved, whether through financial support or management or encouragement.
Keep focusing on yourself.
Stay in touch with your family, but don’t stay stuck in the past or forget about yourself! Expats need to cultivate friendships and explore their interests — not only as a way to cope but to begin building their life abroad and live it fully. This will also give you more to talk about with your parents, and they can find peace and happiness knowing that you are making the most of this experience.
Talk to an expat psychologist.
Finding an online psychologist is a way to get the help you need to cope with this change, and in some cases, family members can benefit from getting involved.
If you’re struggling with living away from your elderly parents and you are searching for an expat psychologist online, I can help you. My counseling approach is based on scientific methods helping you identify, connect, and move forward towards your goals, guided by what matters to you.
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Gabriela Encina is an online psychologist specialized in expat women and supports them with the guidance and tools they need to feel confident, make the best decisions for their lives, build and maintain meaningful relationships and prioritize their well-being.
Her approach is practical, solution-oriented and focused on the present.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.