My wife and I married almost a year ago. I live in SF, and she lives in LA near her large family. I’m an only child from Taiwanese parents. My recently widowed mother, who doesn’t speak much English, is in good health and lives in her Chinatown apartment near several close friends, but she’s getting old. Since we’re planning to have kids, my wife says it’s better to live in LA where there’s more help and extended family. But I feel obligated to stay near my mom. My wife and I are digging our heels in, and I’m worried.
He Said: I have to go with your wife on this one. The nucleus of an extended family is made up of the parents who are raising children as well as possibly caring for the older generation. You will be carrying all the responsibility in this scenario, which means you also have the authority to live where you choose. If you want to live close to family, it makes more sense to live where there are more cousins, aunts, and uncles in addition to grandparents. I can certainly understand that your mother, who has already lost so much, would want to remain in her home and community, but she can’t expect to control the future of your new family. Rather than have your mom feel like a loser in a tug of war, flip the situation around. Explain that you, your wife, and your future children need her experience and love and that you want her to move to Southern California with you to help raise your children.
She Said: I agree that you should situate yourselves where you’ll have the most familial support since both you and your wife seem like family-oriented people. What seems strange to me is that you didn’t discuss this very crucial issue of geography before you got married. It sounds like there are some unspoken and possibly contradictory cultural assumptions at play, such as “a wife follows her husband, and an elder has the luxury of staying put” versus “a husband and wife are equals and should settle where they have the most support.” I also understand that you come from a culture that (admirably) reveres its older generation much more than American culture does. Still, when you come down to it, it simply makes more sense for one person (i.e. your mother) rather than an entire family to move. Any grandmother would be thrilled if her son asked her to join him and his wife in their new married life and have regular contact with her grandchildren. Don’t underestimate your mother: She left her family and country once before, and this is a much smaller move with potentially bigger payoffs as she ages.
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