Aging Parents & Loved Ones Back Home

Hello ISR, I recently had a wake-up call regarding my aging parents living back in the States. I’d like to share the experience with other International educators with the goal of opening up a conversation. Here goes:

I’ve been overseas for 16 years, and although I was prepared for the news, it caught me off guard when my older brother emailed to say mom and dad needed more care and support than he could continue providing. He’s a family man with a wife and kids and lives about 15 minutes from the house where we grew up. I live in Singapore with my family.

I don’t think mom and dad believed they would live long enough to become dependent on their kids. Yet, the time had come. My brother put assisted-living on the table and fortunately mom and dad were ready to move on from the challenges of owning a big, old house. What if they had wanted to stay and dug in their heels? Then what?

This recent assisted-living episode has prompted me to investigate how expats cope with aging loved ones experiencing issues back home. Balancing my life overseas with future difficulties my parents may experience is certainly going to require a plan. I am working on it…

Part of this plan involves preparing my kids and husband for the slim possibility we’ll have to relocate closer to my family, or that at some time in the future I, alone, may need to return to the States for an extended period. It’s not pleasant thinking of my parents in ill health, but the future in this case is best not left unexplored.

Are you living far from loved ones facing health or age-related issues? Do you have a specific plan in place to cope with possible eventualities? If you would like to share your experiences and ask for and offer advice, this is the place to do it.

Warm Regards,

Please scroll down to participate in this Discussion

26 thoughts on “Aging Parents & Loved Ones Back Home

  1. It is so strange that I thought of writing ISR about getting a topic like this posted.
    My mom just got admitted to hospice. I am the only one around to help her besides my dad.
    Do put into account how you could quickly leave for an emergency. We all only have one mom and dad.


  2. This is a timely topic for me as I have been thinking about my aging parents a lot lately. I’ve been international consistently for almost 20 years. My early-70s parents are divorced and my father remarried to a woman 8 years younger. She takes good care of him and he is currently strong and semi-retired.

    My mom, on the other hand, has been retired for years, has a lot of medical needs, and unfortunately, not a lot of friends. I do have a brother and sister living in the area of the U.S. where my mom lives but things are strained between them and my mom. She is still independent but is slowly breaking down. She gets a modest social security payment every month and has a mortgage. I’m worried about what she will do when she needs more help or needs to enter an assisted care facility. No way my brother or sister will take her in with their families. Any decent assisted-care facility in the USA is very expensive so we’re not sure, at this point, what we are going to do when she finally needs more help. This will be a big topic of conversation this summer between my siblings and I. We need a plan for mom.

    I’ve thought about bringing here to whatever country I am living to live with my spouse and I but it’s not always easy to get a residence visa for an aging parent. Plus I’m not sure that my conservative mother would be able to make a successful transition to a foreign country. It would also take her away from her grandkids in the States which she would probably have an issue with.

    I don’t even think I could find decent work again if I returned to the States as I’ve been international for so long and plus my spouse and I would absolutely be miserable living back where I grew up. No easy answers, that’s for sure. I’ll be following this thread closely to see how others have managed it.


    1. I live and teach in Turkey and it was very easy to get my 74 year old dad a “none work residences” card. Once he got that, I was able to get a bank account
      for him. It took about 2 or 3 months. I’m working on health insurance for him now. The dollar goes far here so his monthly income is more than enough. Hae is able to save, splurge and travel to the Greek islands, UK and all of Europe with us. In house care for elderly parents is super cheap as well. I have a few friends here with parents that need 24 hour care. They have said , its affordable and safe.


  3. Looking at most of the comments below I’d definitely ask the question: how many families have split up or marriages broken down when family back home became an issue? I know so many guys who have a great time working overseas because for many it’s an adventurous life style and their wives left them because the couldn’t agree on family priorities. Do you stay and enjoy your life as a family or does the guilt kick in and you return to family ‘duty’? My parents came out see us in Tanzania and Brunei and absolutely loved it they were chomping at the bit every year to get back out and see us. My dad died one year and my mum still came out on her own knocking 75. She says it was the best thing I ever did work overseas. And then my wifes parents started going down hill quickly she went back and our relationship suffered as she was ready to quit and I wanted to continue. I haven’t even mentioned the worse experience: realising our kids were having problems at Uni back home and we felt we’d abandoned them – they needed help more than ever after following us around from one international school to the next. I’d say that’s far more of an issue, that really hurt us. Now we’re back in UK and life’s, well it’s like coming off a drug I was addicted to living in the weirdest places possible, the pure thrill (you know)of stepping off the plane somewhere with new smells and light and a different culture is a drug. Back in dreary UK I just exist here since I’ve been back. I’d say parents came first and I came second so I’m just depressed now. I’m a pain in the arse to be honest I’m probably depressed . I’m considering leaving to work overseas again. On my own. Your life or your parents comes first? Your parents or your husband? If I’d never gone to work overseas this may never have come about so open Pandoras Box at your peril my dear teaching fraternity and hang on tight! I know there’s lots of you in this situation.


  4. This was the initial reason i returned to the uk but for my grandparents rather than my parents. I’ve been back 5 years now and planned to leave again last year when my mum suddenly said she couldn’t believe we wanted to leave again. Apparently she feels like we would now be taking her grandchildren away from her and she basically issued us with an ultimatum. (If we go back abroad she will not visit us or offer any kind of support again!). We now feel trapped but are desperate to leave again and see more of the world with our kids.
    While my grandparents are now no longer with us, my 70 year old mother’s mortality has hit me.
    When I discussed what we would do about her ageing and long term plans with my older brother he said it’s not his problem because he plans to go off travelling when he hits 55 and retires. (He is single with no kids. I’m married with 2 children).
    I am 45 now and feel like if we don’t go now it will be too late for me to secure an international job. What have others done in this situation?
    Who is being the selfish one here?
    I’m being no help to Megan here but so interested in this discussion. A part of me wishes we had never come back.


  5. My mum was in assisted care (and hated it). It was good peace of mind for me overseas and my sister an hour away. After 2 years we took her out to live on her own again (she just was not happy at all), she could still drive and cook etc. She passed unexpectedly 2 years later. Sad times. She definitely went out on her own terms. She may have lived longer in a home (but she did not enjoy the quality of life).
    My dad is in his late 70’s but quite drinking and really changes his lifestyle and behaviour in his mid seventies. He has had some serious health problems in the last decade, is currently having a serious strep infection. My oldest is in grade 9 … the plan is/was to wait until he goes to university back home and all live together (My Dad will need “ground floor living” so options will be tricky) … we are considering all options (earlier if needed).
    FYI – he has visited for month at a time during winter and solid travel health insurance … and has gone back healthier and stronger each time. Travel, keeping up with grand kids, social family life and 3 healthy squares a day does a body/mind good. Consider the flight a good health investment in your parents (cheaper than a home).


  6. I left a position in 2009 because my Mother-In-Law got cancer. My wife lived in Canada, her parents were there, I worked in Mexico. It was one of the hardest things to do because I had to break contract, something everyone advised me not to do. I was told I would never get an overseas position again. I re-entered international education in 2015. Only one school has held breaking contract against me, that is the school I left. Now, after 5 years abroad, I am leaving again (not breaking contract this time) to care for my elderly parents. Everyone has a choice, mine is choosing family.


  7. I have FIVE parents between 78 and 81YO (because of adoptions and divorces). Thank God they are in good health at the moment but there have been cancers and scares. This issue terrifies me because I can barely pay for myself. I have a solid overseas job but the pay is low at this particular school, but it’s in the same hemisphere as my family, so that’s why I took it. At 57 I cannot be too picky about employment and a steady job is a real gift. Luckily 3 of my parents are affluent, 1 has a spouse who is 17 years younger (gambling that she will last longer than dad), and that leaves 1 singleton who is still working at 78 because she doesn’t have much money either. There’s no one there to care for her. I’ve tried to get her to talk about what she wants and offered to pay big rent on her back lot, build a tiny house, and be nearby to help before I left the home country. However, she would never give an answer, which I took as no, so I chased my dream of working abroad. It’s been 7 years. I definitely do not want to leave all my parents’ care and the worries to my siblings–that’s not fair to them–so I guess I’ll have to take it as it comes.

    My own son is an only child so I really hope he won’t have to care for me anytime soon. He has said he will keep me; his wife is Chinese and they already have her retired dad living with them as is the custom. Ugh. Getting older is not that fun.


  8. We are ending our two decades of international teaching to go home to be with our parents, all in their late 80s. They need us around more than we need to be living abroad. I’ve seen too many colleagues have to jump on the plane and hope they “make it home in time.”


  9. I had to fly home from China when my 86 year old mother broke her second hip. I am grateful I made it home in time to say goodbye. My 91 year old father just moved into a seniors apartment where he still cooks and looks after himself. When I talk to him about whether I should be there to help my siblings he always tells me that he would prefer me to keep on travelling as he did at the same age. I’m lucky to have siblings to help but would stay home if that is what he wanted.


  10. I agree that you have to decide what’s best for you. My experience of being overseas when a loved one passed away was something I would never want to repeat. Although it’s very difficult, I’m glad that I am home now and in a position to support my family when they need me. During those tougher moments, at least I have the memories of my adventures overseas to sustain me (and some really cool photos too). I also think it provides a necessary example for my children to see how people show up for each other when the time calls for it. I was never made to feel guilty for being far away from home for all those years so being able to provide support for my family now that I am home is my way of showing love and gratitude.


  11. Unfortunately I have had the same issues as all previous respondents. I am fortunate to have two older siblings that live semi close to my parents. My sister and I had a long discussion about what to do. She recognized that since I am the youngest child and am not in a position to retire or not work I must continue working. I think the biggest hurdle is having siblings that work together to solve the problem. My other sibling was not involved for some time and the decision was made that ALL of us have to be part of this situation. I think sometimes siblings feel that one of them is to bear the circumstance, when in fact it has to be done jointly. Our parents never failed to help us when we needed it and our job as their children is to do the same. My parents are 90 and 86 and hanging on to their independence for as long as they can. They claim they don’t want to be a burden. My winter break was spent with my mother in the hospital for 16 days. My planned trips were canceled and I returned back from break three days late as my siblings and I had to work with our parents to set things in motion. It was horribly hard to leave. I still worry about them and it is difficult for me to plan anything for the next three months let alone the next year.
    It is this point in life where more people in your life will die, some while you are with them and some not. Not easy decisions will have to be made.
    It all depends on your relationships with your family.


    1. This is exactly where I am at. I am the youngest and am not in a financial position to leave my position. My mother also lives in a semi-rural setting and there are few job opportunities if I did go. My mom is 89 and had a fall and broke her neck last summer. She now has a rod in her neck and can not longer drive, but she is still mobile with a cane and gets around at home. But, she went from being independent to house bound. She and I have taken many trips abroad together, so I know that this type of restriction for her is difficult. She is also unable manage an android phone so using Uber or many modern conveniences elude her. My brother and sister are four hours and a half-day flight from her and they are not on speaking terms…sigh. The first six months required more intensive care, but I worry that she has someone in to help her only 3 days a week. She has one or two friends, but they are elderly like her and have had transport issues themselves.

      I flew home for winter break and spent most of the time working on her finances and looking into alternative care situations…when she is ready for that. I worry and I have a video call with her once a week, but it is hard. I will work to spend most of my summer break with her, but I wish I could make that break and go help her. In the end, hopefully we can make it work.


  12. I was working in Xi’an, China during the worst school year (2016-2017) I could possibly imagine. I’d already lost my mother to heart failure at 69 yrs of age, back in 2000, when I was working in Tanzania. That led to the most distressed flight home I’ve ever experienced. In October 2016, I learned that my father’s twin brother had been admitted to hospital with cancer affecting his spine. Shortly after, he passed away and I flew home for the funeral. At the funeral, I saw that my father’s half-brother – and my Godfather – was in a bad way and shortly after returning to work in China it was confirmed he had late-stage, very virulent lung cancer. He held out until after Christmas but passed on Dec 31st, 2016. I was very close to my godfather and his family and was asked to help ‘design’ the funeral, so I stayed in UK through all of January and returned again to China in early February, at the end of Chinese New Year. Not long after, I received crushing news that my dad was in a serious condition after his vitals had failed during a routine operation to clear out minor traces of cancer and scar tissue in his colon and that sort of region. I again rushed back and arrived at the hospital to find him in the Intensive Treatment Unit, hooked up to the starship Enterprise – at least all the flashing lights appeared like that. I was still around when they brought him out of the induced coma they’d put him in whilst having his crisis in the operating theatre. My dad was a tough old goat – as an ex-fighter pilot he’d been pretty fit and resilient through his senior years – and he made a remarkable recovery which saw him returned to an regular ward within two weeks. Satisfied that he was in the road to recovery, I again flew back to China. April 2017 – I’m in Hong Kong to enjoy the HK Sevens rugby tournament with my good friend. Towards the end of the second day, my brother sends me a text that makes the event pale into insignificance. The docs has discovered a tear in one of my father’s intestines and hence toxic waste material was leaking into his abdomen. Surgery would fix it but recovery would take 18+ months, all in hospital – no return home during that period. Dad has declined the surgery and simply requested palliative care to see him through to the end. My brother wisely suggested I go out and have a blast with my mates, celebrate my Dad and fly back as soon as I could. I got a flight at midnight the next day, after the tournament, and was able to be with my dad for about ten days before he passed on April 17th.
    Throughout all this horrible period, I never asked for my school’s consent to take so much unpaid leave (apart from the first uncle’s funeral) but they were exceptionally understanding about my situation. I was grateful and relieved to have been able to say goodbye to my godfather and to my dad – unlike with my mum. Nevertheless, I wish I’d been closer to home…
    I guess it depends on your relationship with your parents but family is SO important and being able to say goodbye is a major ingredient to being able to move on when they’re gone – that’s my belief, anyway.


  13. My parents are getting up in age. I was clear before I decided to stay abroad that I would not be looking after them. I am lucky that they are financially secure and can afford assisted living if they so desire. I have an older sibling that lives nearby who helps out on occasion but it isn’t on all his shoulders. We also agreed long ago if something were to happen to our parents financial situation, we would split the cost of supporting them in a home.

    My wife and I are also agreed, she will not be looking after her parents either. Her older brother supports them financially.

    I think being clear with your partner about this type of stuff early on is a very good thing to plan for. Who is going to take care of you if you give up 10 of the best earning years of your life to take care of your parents? Your kids?


    1. Yes, because that’s what children do. They take care of their parents. Wait until you are actually in this situation. It isn’t as black and white as you think it is.


  14. Yes these things go with being overseas. From a young adult child suddenly needing help to elderly parents, life can be very difficult. For me, I found it necessary to ask for help from my home church, identify community resources, and employ home health help. It is heart wrenching but penalties for breach of contract are too expensive for me. My parents aren’t willing to consider assisted living. (The cost of assisted living in my area is $4,500USD per month for 2 people so would quickly exhaust our financial resources.) I am an only child with no relatives. Even with all of these “solutions”, I know that no one will care for Mom and Dad the way I will. In my area home health care is $20 USD an hour for an unskilled home health worker. The agency takes a big cut and the home health worker only gets $11 an hour. But the agency does background checks and actively manages the worker which I can’t do from continents away. When my current contract ends, I will go home to care for parents. Years ago most people passed in their 70’s. Now with medical support, many live to 90’s. This means I will have about 17 years away from my overseas life and I will be too old to work in many countries by then. Don’t get me wrong, it is an honor to care for my beloved parents and I wish them a long life. However my entire life will change in order to care for them properly and I mourn lost possibilities.


  15. I decided to choose my marriage partner as a priority over my old parents.
    The very same day my parents left me, she filed for divorce taking advantage of my psychological distress.
    Lesson learned: no one will love you more than your parents.


  16. There are many wonderful, high quality, assisted living communities with options for more care as needed. Surprisingly affordable, caring communities, supportive, and amazing. I moved my folks into one 12 years ago after my Dad fell and broke a hip. Mom had Alzheimer’s. They both lived long and happy lives well cared for and supported. I visited during holidays and was impressed with their quality of life, social activities, excursions, surrounded by friends and support staff. Go visit a few in their area or check out the ones in Florida! Only regret was that they did not do that move sooner. Also great peace of mind for us living overseas.


  17. Money fixes everything. I have an aged parent who fortunately is in good health. But if she gets too sick to be able to look aftet hetself and wont move out of the family home, I will be putting paid care in place. Even if I went home my own residence is still half the country away from her. I have a brother and sister in the same town but I see and speak with her more than they do. I am not giving up my career to go home but I will look after her. Perhaps I will return more often in the holiday breaks ( at considerable expense) but she understands and feels the same way thankfully.


  18. I, too, found that I needed to go home (twice) to help with ageing parents and whilst it did pose some issues for me as far as continuing to work overseas was concerned I am glad I did. For one occasion, I had a wonderful employer who totally understood my issue and was not just empathetic and sympathetic but also they did not penalise me in any way for having to break contract. As it was, I was able to go home and spend two more short months with my mother before she passed away. They even sent flowers! The issue also emerged again a few years later was when I needed to be closer to home for my father and as the eldest had to ‘step up’. What I found was that it was almost impossible to get work back home as my 20 plus years overseas was not recognised. Indeed, I have spent the last 5 years picking up short term work and am now too old for the international and local market with employment nigh on impossible and living off savings. Small price to pay, I suppose, when you realise that a. it is not fair on siblings that they are always having to be there whilst you live the ‘dream’ and b. your parents do not live forever.


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