House is Not a Home

When a House is Not a Home
Claudia Confidentially

Dear Claudia,
After my youngest brother left home, my parents sold our family home and have been moving ever since. Every time they settle in a new community, they start to find things wrong with it, and they uproot everything and start over. They have been to Florida, to luxury condominiums, assisted living places, and apartments. It is driving us all up the wall, and we are wondering if it is ever going to stop. Is there any way we can help them to settle somewhere comfortably?
Tired of moving parents

Dear Tired,

I’m sorry to say, I think your best strategy is to try and get a bulk rate with U-Haul. You have probably figured out by now that your parents may be running away from something. An obvious solution would be to just sit down with them and try to talk some sense into them. I’m not going to give you this advice, however, because I know you have tried it and, let me guess, it has not worked.

The reason being rational hasn’t worked, is that your parent’s continuous moving is a “defence” against knowing something painful. It’s hard to know what they are running away from, but it may have to do with aging, with no longer feeling important enough in their children’s lives, with being alone together in a marriage that may not be fully satisfactory…something they don’t want to face yet.

Personally, I love defences. I think they can be more effective than Prozac, or Zoloft, or any number of drugs because they spare us from pain. Defenses, first of all, are very creative. The other day, a dear old friend of mine was making soup, and realized that she had added a can of vegetables to the soup that had mushrooms, which one of her guests couldn’t eat. She turned to her husband and said “Henry! Why did you open up the can with mushrooms in them? My soup is ruined now!” He looked bewildered and pointed out to her that she had opened the can herself. This truth was very upsetting to her, and I could see her searching her mind for a reason why it was still his fault that the soup was ruined. A running joke among psychoanalysts is that the best reason to stay married is so that you can blame someone other than yourself for all your problems. Now that’s what I call a great defense!

The only problem with defenses, as you point out, is that they can become wildly inconvenient and unwieldy. We call those defenses “maladaptive.” Like when they lead to divorce. Still, it’s hard to let go of defenses, because they do protect us from painful truths. Your parents are using their “moving” defense to stay in a hopeful, optimistic place. Their positive life drive is taking over, turning their life into an adventure. It’s really not so bad if you think about it.

That’s where U-Haul comes in. Hopefully, your parents will eventually find a permanent place to live. Maybe, they will find satisfaction somewhere. Maybe, they will decide that whatever they have to face is less of an ordeal than moving again. Until that time, you may have no choice other than to be supportive, no matter how irrational or chaotic this feels. You don’t have to carry boxes though. What your folks probably need most right now is just your understanding, support and optimism.

We all long to neatly package life, put things in all their proper boxes, and set things right with our ideas and logic. If only life were like that. Instead, we have to tolerate the strange twists and turns of our emotions, longings and desires, as well as those of the people we love. Take heart; I hear the real-estate market is not doing too badly right now…

Claudia Luiz, M.Ed., Cert. Psya. is in private practice in Westwood. Questions to “Claudia Confidentially”, can be e-mailed to: news@ or mailed to “Claudia Confidentially” c/o Hometown Weekly, 30 Park Street, Medfield, MA 02052.

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