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Problem solved

30 June 2012

My wife and I are moving to Australia next year – something we have both dreamed of for years. I'm 32 and we have been married for nine years. My parents are not taking the idea of our moving to the other side of the world well. In fact, they are taking it terribly badly. The anguish our decision has caused threatens to destroy my relationship with my parents and my older brother. My mother, in particular, is in a fragile state: bursting into tears at the mere mention of Australia, refusing even to discuss the idea of ever coming to visit us (my parents are in excellent health and very comfortably off). I am dismayed.

My mother is, according to my father, on and off drugs for depression and anxiety. The implication from my father and brother is that I am responsible. I feel dreadful about it. My mother has said that she is terrified we will forget them and everyone else back home, that we will never see them again, that she will be losing me for ever (she is a protective Italian mother, rather used to getting her own way). We reassured her of our intention to visit and talk very often. Try as I might to convince them that we are not escaping anything, my parents and brother are convinced that I am attempting to run away from something. My brother continues to be particularly scornful of our plan.

My wife and I are in the lucky position of being able to afford to come home if things don't work out, and to visit home regularly if they do.

My relationship with my brother is even more tense than usual; he has directly accused me of destroying my parents with my selfish behaviour. I am utterly racked with guilt and worry about causing all this pain. My wife says I am being emotionally blackmailed and cannot live my life according to my parents' worries. She is alternately concerned and furious at seeing me out of my mind with worry about my parents.

Despite having achieved much, I find it hard to shake off the low self-esteem and pervasive "impostor syndrome" I have carried around since my early days. I am only just starting to believe in myself more, and now my confidence, resolve and excitement about the move is being undermined. Anon, via email

The thing is, I do think you are running away from something – a rather controlling family. And who could blame you? It sounds as if you have had quite a stifling upbringing and never really been allowed to trust your own decisions.

You are not responsible for your mother being depressed, not sleeping, almost having a nervous breakdown. She needs to own that and look at her own life, her own marriage and ask herself why she is reacting in such a way.

I'm a big fan of mothers: I have one, I am one. They do the most important job in the world. But it is important not to blur the line between one's self and one's children. Your mother is Italian: was she born there? If so, then presumably, at some stage, she left her own family to come here. Does she regret it? Is this what informs her reaction now?

It is not just grossly unfair of your father and brother to put this on you – I would say they are envious of the fact that you are leaving. This is why they are so defensive. You are getting out. But you have played your part too. I could tell by your longer letter that you have overly involved your family in the decision-making. You have made it their business and, in so doing, you have given them too much power.

It could also be, of course, that your family think you are making a mistake because they have taken your dithering as a sign of your uncertainty and are worried for you. Let's be generous and give them that.

There are many ways to stay in touch with your family. If they choose to, they could see this as a great opportunity for themselves, too. You may make a mistake, and it will cost you financially, but it will also teach you stuff and take you to the next stage of your life.

Go. Be confident in your decision. Stand on your own two feet. Run while you still can! See how you blossom out of the shadow of your family. See what happens. Send me a postcard.

Your problems solved

Contact Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email annalisa.barbieri@mac.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Follow Annalisa on Twitter @AnnalisaB

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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