After seven moves for husband’s career, she wants to retire on her terms

  • Sunday, September 16, 2018 1:30am
  • Life

Hi, Carolyn:

I have been married to my second husband for 24 years. We have a 16-year-old and I have two adult children.

I have moved seven times in 17 years for his job. He didn’t have to quit and take another job, but they were opportunities for him to climb the ladder in his career. I have had to pack up and start over seven times.

I feel alone! During those years, my siblings and parents died. My older children now have kids and live in our hometown on the East Coast. When our youngest graduates and goes to college, my husband wants to move to Houston where his siblings are. I want to go east and be close to the other kids. All these years I have missed so much of their lives, along with countless nieces, nephews and friends. I feel that life is getting too short and I don’t want to be a long-distance, part-time grandma. This is causing a lot of resentment. Any ideas?

— S.

Make your decision privately beforehand — would you rather live near family on your own, or in Houston with your husband? — then make your case to your husband accordingly. If it’s the former, you insist that this move be yours to decide, after moving seven times for his career — and if it’s the latter, then you ask that he agree to a move near your children in return for those past seven moves.

You have a good case either way. All couples do make their deals, and yours may well have been more complicated than you allow for here; maybe his career-chasing enabled you financially, for example, to focus on your children as you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

But even accounting for such a tradeoff, the fact of seven optional, ladder-climbing moves, which you paid a high price for emotionally, says he got to act while you only reacted. Humans need some sense of lead authorship of their life stories. While supporting a partner can be a valid, honorable and satisfying first choice, these moves were clearly concessions for you, not plans.

I hope he doesn’t resist your reasonable request to the point that you have to spell this out — much less leave.

Dear Carolyn:

I don’t like the woman I’ve become! I have a loving husband and two wonderful preteen daughters, who are flourishing. I, on the other hand, am not flourishing and it makes me feel ashamed.

After several moves with my husband’s job, we ended up in a small city where I couldn’t find work. I have a fledgling business that I can’t quite get off the ground (even though it has potential). I feel like I’ve hit a wall. I don’t feel connected to anything and I’ve become apathetic.

How do I change my attitude so that I can be the woman I want to be for my daughters?

— Not Flourishing

You are holding the perfect lens through which to view your problem — you just need to turn it around: Think how you’d respond if your daughters asked you exactly what you’re asking me.

Surely you’d flag, “makes me feel ashamed.” Everyone — everyone — struggles at some life stage. So where’s the shame in being normal?

You’d also want them to talk to you, their dad, and/or someone more qualified to help them, right?

Next, you’d probably note the disconnect and apathy and urge them to see a doctor. Depression is the obvious concern, but other illnesses also can speak through our moods.

As these interventions play out, I’m guessing you’d suggest practical, concrete, baby steps toward being productive, both within their energy limits and toward some basic goals. Tending to their physical health. Cultivating social connections. Breaking down the business launch into daily, reachable goals.

I expect you’d also tell them, from experience, that relocating is hard, relocating multiple times is downright alienating, and the only formula for regrowing roots is self-knowledge, steady effort, and time.

Dear Carolyn:

My kids just took a field trip, and I sent them along with some spending money. Kid 2 (younger) came back with a gift for the family — some candy — instead of spending it all on him/herself, which would have been fine with me. I want to talk to Kid 1 about what a kind and generous thing Kid 2 did but I DON’T want to rub Kid 2’s kindness in Kid 1’s face. I just want to prod Kid 1 into that kind of generosity.

Is there any way on earth I can pull this off? I’ve already profusely praised Kid 2 when Kid 1 was well out of earshot. But is there a good plan for Kid 1?

— Parent

“Hey, Kid 2 got us all candy on the field trip. Thanks, Kid 2. Anyone want some?”

That’s it. Don’t overthink your way into over-teaching — especially not a lesson you were, before this, perfectly content not to teach.

Washington Post Writers Group

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