It’s That Time of Year Again…

Summer time is our family visits time. For many people, it’s the winter holidays. But because our work peak season falls over Thanksgiving and the new year holidays and because Fred has now started school, we’re unable to do any traveling until the summer.

In a little over a week we will take our annual trip to Japan to visit Max’s family and celebrate my father-in-law’s 85th birthday. In August we’ll head up the east coast to visit my parents and celebrate my dad’s 72nd birthday.

The annual conversations about visiting our parents are always brought up reluctantly. Usually it’s Max who initiates in January or so with, “So, when should we go to Japan? And what about your parents?” As my in-laws are elderly, it is pretty much out of the question to ask them to fly 17 hours to see us. My parents are closer and a little younger and, while my father hates traveling, my mother has made a couple of trips down to see us since we moved here. However, they too are in their 70s and it is better for us to do the traveling.

I hate that the first thing that comes to my mind when planning these trips is the expenses, rather than the anticipation of seeing our families again for the first time in a year. Traveling to Japan typically involves not only plane tickets but also living accommodations (because there is not enough space at my in-laws for the three of us), daily meals out (because my in-laws are too elderly to cook for 5 on a daily basis, especially in a kitchen the size of my bedroom closet), and several hundred dollars worth of presents that we are obliged to bring with us. I know, I shouldn’t be complaining about money so much but we are also in that critical stage of our lives where we need to save for retirement and college.

Not visiting is not really a choice we have, as long as we can swing it financially. We relocated to the U.S. at a time when our in-laws expected us to be close by to care for them in their old age. When Max told his mother about our plans to move, she cried for weeks and called him “cold hearted.” In the end we moved because we felt we needed to raise Fred in the U.S. (and because I simply could no longer live there myself). Do we think of ourselves and our children first, or do we think of our parents? I had forgotten that my parents, too, were in the exact same position decades ago, when they made the decision to leave their parents and home country for the U.S. “What did you do? How did you tell them? ” I had asked my mother. She said, “Your grandfather was very sad…he cried…but he understood. He knew we needed to do what was best for us.” And so, too, my in-laws eventually understood and supported us.

Next year Max and I will celebrate our 10 year anniversary. I’d always wanted to revisit Europe, and I know that this is the one place my mother wants to see, for the first time in her life. I toyed with the idea of taking my mom to Europe with us next year, only to realize that with the mere mention I had already raised her hopes and expectations. I tried to tell her a few times that we hadn’t yet decided if we could actually swing a trip to Europe, and then remembered an essay that a 30 year-old student of mine wrote recently. He talked about how his father was suddenly diagnosed with and died from cancer, and how he had failed to fulfill his promise to his father to take him to this golf course in Japan that he had always wanted to visit. He said he had promised to take him years ago, but year after year found a reason – work, kids – to push it off. I don’t want to do this. My mother has sacrificed so much for me, and I want her to see Europe. I have almost 30 more years to earn money. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another 10, maybe even 20 years to spend with my mother.

But if we go to Europe, what do we do about Japan? Making two international trips in one year would be out of the question. But my father-in-law will be 86 next year, and his health is fair. Each year we wonder if it will be his last.

I don’t have the answers right now. We’re in the sandwich generation, worrying about our aging parents while we struggle to build a solid foundation for ourselves and our children. The one thing that really came through as I was thinking about this post, though, is how fortunate we are to even have this dilemma in the first place: all 4 of our parents are alive…Fred knows all his grandparents. My maternal grandparents died before I was born, and I never did see my paternal grandparents again after we moved to the U.S. when I was 3. My parents couldn’t afford international travel when they were younger, so they were unable to fly back even when their parents passed away. 

For now, I will count our blessings and find a way to make things work.

14 thoughts on “It’s That Time of Year Again…

  1. As our parents age, I am so afraid of this. (Not traveling but caring for them.)
    We’ve been faced with short-term needs of our parents and already I’ve fallen short. I just can’t manage two children and my parents and be a nice person.
    The hardest part is that I always saw myself as a person who could.

    • The reality is so hard. I really don’t know how others do it. I was recently talking to a young couple from China…they’re actually so worried about being able to care for their parents that they’re planning not to have any children at all…I later read that in China there are no pension systems, no social security, and the parents really rely on their children…it is so sad…

      My heart’s with you…you’ll find a way though. I think we all do when we really need to rise to the challenge.

  2. Beautifully written, your post made me tear up because I found it so relatable! (And my parents only live 40 minutes away!) Choosing between your children and your parents, and the trip to Europe versus seeing his parents, tough decisions. I’d say choose Europe, for the reasons you gave about regret. A visit is important, but Europe is a lifelong dream come true.

  3. Nina, hi! Thanks so much for reading and commenting 🙂

    I appreciate your words. I think we will go to Europe…we will find a way to make it work! It really is a lifelong dream for my mom. She’s made alot of my dreams come true so it’s probably time for me to do the same for her.

    • Thanks for having me! I am a mom-to-be and am really enjoying learning from your wisdom. Glad to hear you are leaning toward Europe, it will be so worthwhile in the end.

  4. That’s a tough question, one I have so far not had to answer but I know my time is coming as both sets of parents are in the UK and mine are in their mid-70’s. It seems terribly hard to say but I tell my husband that when our daughter is older I do not ever want her to spend years caught up in caring for us, her parents. So I feel that yes, I will visit and do what I can when my parents need support but I would never let it take over my life.

    But I think you should take the trip to Europe next year, while your Mother is fit and healthy and able to really enjoy it. One year not going to Japan will be tough for your in-laws but it is just one year.

    • I feel the same way about my son, and it’s a very different thinking from the one I was raised with. I also feel that I don’t want to burden him with worrying about us in our old age. I am not sure what’s going to happen, but I hope we can age gracefully and in good health.

  5. Well, I’m in between a rock garden and a hard futon commenting on this one! I cannot be objective since I’m too close to the situation (by knowing your family and in-laws, and struggling with the international travel and family circus act).

    My instinct, which sometimes mixes up the r and l like the Japanese and thus can be more cRassy than cLassy, can’t hold her tongue. I think you threw the Europe question out there to test the feedback, to validate that it was OK to think about making it a probability. And not only is it more than OK to grant your Mother her wish, but it could be the time to focus on celebrating year 10 of marriage.

    By that, I don’t mean some great photo of you and Max in front of Big Ben, but taking care of the balance of 4 parents. Nobody hurts from taking turns on an overseas trip for one year, but your marriage could hurt if you think you are doing the right thing by shelving the idea and later regretting, or worse, resenting that move.

    Fred is the most blessed with this dilemma. He looks up and back down the scale of generations loving and taking care of each other. I had 2 grandparents for awhile, and I’ll always cherish that love. Doubling it? That is a dream.

    • I always love and appreciate your insight and advice, you know that. Thanks for this and the understanding that went along with it. You are right, on all points, including the last!

  6. The first thing I thought about when you mentioned an annual trip to Japan was the cost. That must be such a sizable amount; it seems only natural that the expense would be on your mind. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your family or want to visit them.

    In our family, an annual vacation is a priority. We recently spent a small fortune to take our family of six overseas. But we skimp in other areas all year long to save up that money.

    A European vacation with your mom is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Imagine how you would feel if you never took the chance to go, and then it was too late.

    My advice would be to talk with your husband and make sure you both feel comfortable with whatever you decide.

    You are lucky to have so many relatives to visit!

    • Thank you. It is great that you prioritize a regular family trip. Putting aside a travel savings account is an idea. I think we’ve pretty much decided on Europe. The fun part would be now – deciding on where in Europe 🙂

  7. Oh, so many similarities between you and I. My parents came here in 1959 and were never able to return to south america as a couple.

    When both of my father’s parents died within 3 mos of each other, my family had only been here 3 years. My father did not have the money to fly back even for his own parent’s funerals. I still remember him crying such loud sobs while reading the letter from home.

    I can still see the light blue envelope he held in his one hand, with his other hand over his eyes.

    My sister’s fiance took his father to Las Vegas when he was 79, because he and his father had never taken a trip together, and had never been to Las Vegas. They had a wonderful time, and my sister’s fiance said he did it b/c he didn’t want his father to die without ever taking a trip with him.

    It was my sister’s fiance that died only 8 mons later from a brain tumor. The Las Vegas trip had actually turned out to be for him, not his father.

    Do what you can while you can. If they don’t understand, or like it, well…you are only one person with so many people to make happy. In oher words: it’s impossible for everyone to be smiling at the same time.

    Do what your heart tells you.

  8. Oh Alexandra, this is heartbreaking. Both stories. I am so sorry you and your family have had to endure these losses. The story of your sister’s fiance, though…it is wonderful that in the end he fulfilled his wish; he was able to travel with his father one last time.

    My grandparents too (the ones I wrote about in this post) were in South America, and we never went back again. I suspect our next trip will be with Fred when he’s a little older. We don’t have any family there anymore.

    Thank you for this and for sharing your stories. It was perfect.

  9. Cecilia – I have so much to say on this topic I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe we should have phone conversations as feedback because my carpal tunnel is not kind to me.:)

    Long story short: Yes I share your dilemma about visiting relatives in a faraway country. I also feel guilty when I worry about costs and then about the finite days I have to take off and would love to spend some of that time in Europe or other parts of Asia. But what do I say to my family who wants to see us? It feels like a betrayal to choose my own needs over theirs.

    And I want to do so much for my aging mom who sacrificed so much for me but I am torn too between caring for her and my own family’s future. Sandwich generation – I like that. I just don’t like being the “meat” because it’s so hard. For people who’re not rolling in money, we have to make trade offs to make ends meet but how do we decide who gets shafted, what gets prioritized and still come out ahead?

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