Writer and broadcaster

My husband and I are unhappy now we’ve downsized. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

My husband and I have lived in the Midlands for 29 years and brought up our three children here. In time we realised we would like a change of scene and an adventure. Also, we thought it would be nice to be nearer our son, as we had been nearer to our daughters for many years.

So we moved to the east Midlands and absolutely loved it. It suited us and all our family were happy. However, with my husband and me being in our 70s, the girls felt we should be nearer to them. Our son, who is very easygoing, was fine about this and so we downsized from a small detached country house to a flat back in the Midlands. But we miss our own front door, a garden and a dog (we had to rehome ours when we moved). We have also lost touch with many friends.

Our problem is that our eldest daughter, 52, is separated. She has four grown-up children but she is antisocial and keeps very close to us.

She is fragile; although this sounds unkind, I keep thinking “she is a grown-up woman”. Our other daughter is a high flyer but very considerate, as is her husband, and they see us as often as possible. Both girls live locally.

Our son (the only family member who knows of our unhappiness) is perfectly happy for us to return to the east Midlands and has had no hesitation in saying he is prepared to care for us should it ever be necessary. His wife and family also would love to have us back.

We adore all our family. It is expensive here and we will not find the bungalow we desire, but back in the east Midlands there are many.

At present we are fit and well. What should we do about the girls – the elder one will be devastated and the younger upset and perhaps cross? Do we go ahead and be happy in our latter years or just put up with our dissatisfaction? We are torn.

You are torn because you are trying to do the right things, but for all the wrong reasons. You need to move for yourselves and not anyone else. I’m all for family – Italian mammas never really cut the apron strings – but if you can’t be a bit selfish at your age, when can you?

You see, if you move to keep any one of your children happy, then that could be seen as not caring about keeping the others happy. Which is why I think you should consider looking very carefully at your desires, fears, needs and wants and then think of a place that works for you and your husband first and foremost.

It might be where you are now, but not in a flat; it might be back in the east Midlands; or it might be an entirely new place somewhere in the middle. But if you move somewhere because it’s where you want to be, not because it’s near your son or because it placates your daughter, your children will all find it easier to deal with because you are making a confident decision, not an apologetic one. They may not like it, but they can’t feel annoyed because you are favouring one child over another.

In short, don’t make the children the reason for any move you make. It may seem kind to make them the motivator, but it’s not making you happy and, ultimately, that won’t make them happy. Plus, if they are the sole reason for your move, what happens if they then ever move?

You can never really predict other people’s behaviour (for example, some of your friends not keeping in touch) so it’s even more important that you live somewhere you really love.

People not writing or visiting or indeed, moving away, is easier to bear when you live somewhere you have chosen for your own needs; other factors can and will change.

A good exercise is to imagine that all your children have left the country and the whole of Britain is your oyster: where would you move to? Then think about if it’s possible, what infrastructure is there that you might need etc.

Then, because family is important, bring them back into the picture, and work out logistics such as how would you travel to visit them and vice versa – whatever is important in your family situation.

You might surprise yourself if you really try to clear your mind and focus on your needs and wants. Be honest with yourselves. If nothing else, it’s no bad thing to show your children you can put yourselves first on occasion.


This article first appeared on 18 April 2014 in the Guardian Family section.