'Kids' and parents, Part II

Prompted by a thoughtful message from a reader, I have decided to submit a follow-up to my column last Sunday about the pitfalls of living closer to your adult children.

This is another perspective — and an important one.

Let's call this reader "Sally." Here is what she wrote:

"I read your column in Sunday's paper and would like to add a little something from the kids' point of view — or at least my experience as a kid. My parents live in the Los Angeles area, where I grew up. My husband and I moved to Southern Oregon in the summer of 1991 when our oldest child was 2 years old.

"Our commutes to work in Los Angeles left us with little time with our daughter, and so we sought another place to live. I hoped for many years that my parents would follow us here since I am the only child (my sister died in 1987) and my three kids are their only grandchildren.

"We talked about it from time to time and even toured a few of the retirement places up here, but my folks always had some excuse why they couldn't move. Now my dad is nearly 92, and my mom is 89, and they are still living in their home. The problem? Starting two years ago, they started to have serious health crises, which meant I had to go to L.A. to help out. This meant arranging time off work, the expense of airfare to Los Angeles and general disruption of my life here while I was there.

"I guess this sounds a bit selfish, but for a period I had to fly to L.A. every month. How much easier it would have been if they had lived closer. They have also missed two of their grandchildren's high-school graduations and their grandson's Eagle Scout ceremony because they can no longer travel so far. Now my father can't drive and my mom doesn't like to.

"My mom feels isolated and lonely. I feel I could have helped out in so many ways if they were living closer — from meal preparation, to taking my mom out so she is not so isolated, to helping out with household chores. I would also have a better grip on their medications and doctors.

"They have someone come to help them now, but my mom complains about the expense. My dad won't consider an assisted-living facility. I just feel if they had moved closer years ago when they could have formed friendships here and become established, these later years would been much easier on everyone."

What "kid" (make that "working adult with aging parents who live at a distance") does not relate to this story? It resembles the situation we faced when my parents were alive and residing in Minnesota.

There were angst-filled months of attempts to persuade them to move to the Northwest. Ultimately convincing them to relocate (they were in their late 70s) relied on the "listening leverage" available through a favored grandchild ("Grandpa, I need you to do this for me."), a photo album colorfully displaying pictures of the proposed residence, including menu offerings, and a supportive family physician.

In my column last week, I went on and on about my desire for independent living without too much familial proximity. Sally's well told story reminded me of the other issues in play with later-in-life residential decision-making and made me remember my parents with a special tenderness.

Were she still alive, my mom would have read that letter and said, "Why don't you find out if I can call those folks in Los Angeles and talk to them about how nice it is living here in Southern Oregon."

She thrived on persuading her friends to make the kind of relocation or life change she so successfully made.

Sally. Sometimes age peers can be very persuasive and may even offer the ultimate in "listening leverage."

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com.

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