My husband was just offered a terrific new job in a different city. I am very proud of him because he has been working for several years now for just this kind opportunity. I also feel like it is his turn to move forward with his career, as he has made many sacrifices in the past for my professional advancement. The main issue we face is that my aging father-in-law lives in a senior living facility just a few blocks from our current home. He has made it clear that he will not move, even if we do. Who can blame him at age 89! He has also said more than once that he would not be angry with us if we were to relocate, but it is clear that he would suffer emotionally without us, and our three children, nearby. It would be also be painful for us as my father-in-law is a wonderful presence in our lives. My husband and I are both uncertain about this decision—with each of us taking different sides of the argument on an almost daily basis. We would greatly appreciate any advice you can offer.
Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman says…
You and your husband are in the midst of the wilderness of family caregiving—a terrain without clear guideposts, and in which you no doubt often feel pulled in multiple directions at once. It is not obvious which path will lead to sustenance and flourishing, for you, the caregivers, or for your father-in-law. Your husband stands to gain satisfaction and financial recompense from this new job, but may feel torn if his father’s emotional or physical health deteriorates after you leave the area. You and your children would miss the closeness you have with your father-in-law.
Our tradition offers values to guide you, but ultimately, only you can make a decision, for there is no one absolutely right answer in your situation. Our sources recognize the emotionally wrenching complexity of caregiving. On the one hand, the Torah obligates us to offer our parents kavod (support with concrete needs, such as housing, food, clothing, transportation) and mora (continued opportunities to experience dignity). On the other, the rabbis have sympathetically responded to the competing claims on adult children of aging parents. Marital happiness, financial security and emotional well-being all merit consideration.
What is primary for you and your family at this moment? If we were to meet together, I would want to listen to both you and your husband, to learn more about your respective hopes and worries, and to help you to discern the path that offers most shleimut (wholeness). I offer you a couple of questions for reflection:
Imagine yourselves at the end of your long lives. As you look back, which choice would you be more likely to regret–giving up a professional opportunity or being close to your father-in-law in his last few years of life?
The decision as you have framed it is all-or-nothing: either you stay where you are and continue caring for your father-in-law, or you honor your husband’s career advancement and leave him. Are there ways that you could continue to provide for your father-in-law, and to maintain connection with him, even if you move?
Hizku v’imtzu…be strong and of good courage. I wish you sustenance and clarity as you determine your path in this confusing terrain.
Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, MA, MSW, BCC, offers training, consulting and spiritual guidance on the journey beyond midlife through Growing Older, her Philadelphia-based, national practice. Her next book will be Growing Older: Provisions for the Journey, (Jewish Lights, forthcoming, 2014).
Rabbi Suzanne Offit says…
I sense in your question that you already know the answer that is best for you and your family. You express joy and appreciation for the relationship you share with your father-in-law. What is more valuable than a family rich with mutual love and understanding? What a blessing you have – a multigenerational family living happily in close proximity. This is becoming increasingly rare in our global society. And, since you don’t seem to be struggling (financially, socially, or spiritually) it seems to me that there is no down side to your staying put.
I recently sat with a man within days of his death. “I’m not afraid of dying,” he told me, “I’m afraid of not being here, not being with my family.” I have found that this is an almost universal sentiment: the desire to be near family toward the end of life. In my work, I am constantly reminded that our time with our elderly loved ones is limited.
My parents are fragile and far away. How I wish that I lived closer to them so that I could participate in their daily activities, and that they could be sustained by the love and care of my family.
Finally, your children will continue to benefit from living near their grandfather. This intergenerational relationship can be greatly enriching for all of you. Furthermore, by choosing to stay near your father-in-law, you are teaching your children the importance of investing in healthy family relations.
Rabbi Suzanne Offit was ordained at the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. She is presently Chaplain of Post Acute Units and also Rabbi of the Palliative Care Consult Team at Hebrew SeniorLIfe, Boston, MA. Rabbi Offit is an interfaith chaplain with training specialized in Jewish Geriatric chaplaincy and additional focus on working with patients and families in health care crises, Palliative Care and end of life.
Dr. Carla Naumburg says…
This is a difficult question indeed. My initial response is to stay near your father-in-law, as positive family connections are one of life’s great blessings. However, as Suzanne has already made that argument so eloquently, I will offer the counterpoint. It is important to consider the details of the job offer. What role does your husband’s career play in his sense of self? For some, even a good job is just a job, while others find significant meaning and self-worth in their work. Will this opportunity come up again in a few years, or is it a unique opportunity? Is this job a position he might retire from, or a stepping-stone to other possibilities?
If this job is a significant opportunity in any of these ways, then can you consider some creative solutions? How far away is the job? Could your husband work from home or commute until it might make more sense to move? If not, is the job close enough that you might be able to visit your father-in-law regularly? If not, could you Skype and email frequently? Could you make it a priority to stay in touch as consistently and frequently as possible?
There is no clear answer to this situation, and as you move through the process, I would encourage you to trust yourselves. You seem like caring people who are willing to struggle with difficult issues and maintain open communication. This will serve you well, and you are unlikely to make a thoughtless decision. In addition, try to take the long view. As Dayle suggested, how might you look back on this choice from the end of your life? I would also suggest that you consider how you will explain whatever choice you make to your children, either now or in the future. Sometimes the lens of parenthood—of teaching and modeling the values we hope our children will emulate—can help bring some clarity to difficult situations.
Carla Naumburg, PhD, is a clinical social worker, writer, and mother of two young children. She is a contributing editor for Kveller.com, and she is currently writing a book on mindful parenting which will be published by Parallax Press in 2014. Carla is also co-editing an anthology of essays about modern Jewish motherhood.
Now, what do YOU say?
Are you facing having to make a choice of this kind, between family ties and a personal need or desire to move far away? (Aliya, anyone?) Which, if any, of the ethical opinions presented above would guide you? We welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.
And of course, if you have a dilemma you’d like us to address in the Ethical Jam, send it to EthicalJam@timesofisrael.com
Ethical Jam is a project of the Center for Global Judaism of Hebrew College, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, which is working to create a rich pluralistic discourse on issues of vital concern to the Jewish community and to the world at large.