Fascinating article published this week in the AOL News Huffpost section on Life and Style on a growing trend for people in the grandparent stage of their lives to uproot, sell the family home and move to be near their children and grandchildren while the grandchildren are little.
Karin Kasdin, Author, ‘Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy: Confronting Motherhood, Womanhood and Selfhood in a Household of Boys’
Grandparents Uprooting Their Lives to Move Near Grandchildren
Edye was the first to leave. In her late 50s, she sold her home, packed her belongings and her cats, and left her close circle of friends to pursue a relationship and a job three states away from those who love her most. My inelegant and somewhat selfish response was, “Seriously? In late middle age you’re going to LEAVE ME AND START ALL OVER?”
Apparently her answer was “yes,” because she lives in Chicago, and I live near Philadelphia. She owns a house that she renovated from the floorboards up, and she has meaningful work she loves. It’s been a decade since the big move, so it’s almost time for me to accept the fact that this could be a permanent situation. And I would accept it, if it weren’t for another fact … the fact that she now has a grandson on the East Coast. She’s talking about how nice it would be to live near him. Grandchildren trump everything else, even best friends.
I know this because Elayne moved next. She moved to California permanently in order to enjoy her grandchildren’s formative years. After managing a bicoastal relationship with the kids for nine years, she simply could not bear the distance any longer. So off she went, leaving me bereft and confused.
“I suddenly realized I have very few years to spend with the kids before they become teenagers,” she explained to me one day as I sat in her kitchen crying into my tea. “When that day comes, they will prefer to spend time with their friends and I will become irrelevant.”
She was right. The frequency of her grandchildren’s visits had dwindled considerably over the years as the kids became engaged in school and neighborhood activities.
Gathering the fragments and memories of one’s entire adult life to begin anew in an unfamiliar place is not on most middle-agers’ to-do lists. But those lists were most likely compiled before we thought about grandchildren, and today baby boomer grandparents are moving in droves.
A recent AARP study revealed that 80 percent of adults 45 and older believe it is important to live near their children and grandchildren.
Nancy and Harm Radcliffe are among this number. After spending much of their adult lives living abroad, they returned to the United States and established a happy home in Bethesda, Maryland. In the 13 years they resided in Bethesda they made lifelong friends, became very involved in their church, and looked forward to spending their retirement years there.
Their plans were discarded in the blink of an eye when their daughter and son-in-law called from Philadelphia and hinted that they could use some help with their 7-year-old special needs son and his two siblings.
For Nancy, the decision was a no-brainer. She said, “As soon as I was off the phone, I asked myself, ‘Why am I here in Maryland when my daughter and three kids need me in Philadelphia?’”
Convincing her husband, Harm, to leave the Washington, DC area, was a bit challenging. He was retired and had fashioned a contented life for himself in Bethesda. Reluctantly, he agreed to the move and now says he has no regrets.
For the first two months the Radcliffes babysat 12 hours a day, five days a week. Their daughter, Laurel, works fulltime as a doctor. Today the Radcliffes spend three days a week engaged with their grandchildren. They like to give each child one full day alone with them.
Friends have been plentiful in their new neighborhood. “I don’t wait for people to come to me,” Nancy said. “I extend invitations to the neighbors. You have to be proactive with regard to making new friends.”
Sally Fedorchek followed her grandchild from Yardley, Pennsylvania to Austin, Texas when her son-in-law’s job took him there. It was a move she never expected to make, and it happened so quickly that she and her husband had little time to find a house.
“We found something reasonable. It’s not the perfect house, but the longer I’m in it, the more I like it,” she said. “At first it felt like this was just an extended visit. I had to keep reminding myself that I’m here permanently. I miss my friends back home, but not as much as I missed the kids when I was living in Yardley. I’m not worried about a new life. So far the kids have included us in everything. I’m well aware that won’t last and I’ve already made a list of activities I’d like to try.”
We boomers encouraged our kids to be independent. In many cases we sent them to college far from home. Our children have traveled more than we ever did at their age. Cellphones, Skype and email have made it possible for them to feel close to us even when they live a continent or two away. Sometimes the price we pay for the independence we granted our children is the disappointment we feel when they decide to leave the homestead for other adventures. If we want major roles rather than cameo appearances in our grandchildren’s lives, it becomes our burden to make that happen. Some of us choose to move. Others practically live on airplanes and manage their lives around their frequent flyer miles.
Susan Newman, PhD, a social psychologist and author of 13 books about family life, asks grandparents to consider the following questions before making the big move:
Is your child or his/her spouse likely to relocate in a year or two? Will you continue to follow them if their careers involve living in several different places?
How jarring would it be for you to move in terms of your own social network? Do you make friends easily? Can you give up the friends you already have?
Remember your adult children will have lives of their own. When they have commitments that don’t include you, will you feel cut off?
If you’re still working, what does the employment picture look like in the new location?
If you’re single, what activities will be available to you?
I am no longer confused by Elayne’s move. Still sad, but not confused. I know exactly why she did it. At the moment, I have a 6-month-old granddaughter and a one-month lease on an apartment in California. We’ll see how it goes.
We did this. After carefully planning our retirement, when our son told us they were going to have a baby, suddenly all our former plans paled in comparison to being near our son, his wife and coming baby. Within months, we had bought a house in an area we had never considered living, and had begun a life totally different from that we had envisioned.
There are risks. Especially in this economy, things can change. For us, it was a calculated risk – we kept our house in Seattle, because it’s there, if we ever want to live in Seattle, and meanwhile brings in income as a rental house. We calculated that while our son and his wife have adventuresome spirits, that she also has a lot of family in this area, and the odds are, at least in the early years of marriage and child-bearing, that they will stay put long enough for our investment in living here to pay off in terms of growing a solid relationship with our son as an adult, his wife, and our grandchild(ren), before he/they hit(s) those independent pre-teen and teenage years.
We had actually spent some time in Pensacola, through the last five years, visiting our son. We knew there was a church here we liked, and I knew there was a quilting group. We knew the cost of living was within our means, and that there were military resources nearby. There were a lot of factors to consider, which we did, but the deciding factor was our commitment to being a part of an extended family.
My next younger sister and her husband recently made a similar decision, and I know they are as happy with their decision as we are with ours. Time passes so quickly, and we want to know our grandchildren, and to be a part of their lives. We are thankful that they feel the same way. I find it interesting to know that we are part of a growing trend; we thought it was the influence of the Arab world on us, but it appears to be a part of a generational shift in paradigm.
Last night, we had such a fun evening. Our son called, we talked about weekend happenings and he said “Hey, why don’t you and Dad come over and hang out, maybe we can order out or something” so we did.
We figured out what to order, ordered, and then while the guys were sitting on the couch (AdventureMan, our son, and our grandson) watching Thomas the Train films (LOL) the daughter-in-law and I drove over and picked up dinner. We always have a lot to talk about.
When we got back, the men were everywhere. Train parts were everywhere. Tractors, cars, fire engines, were everywhere. The chairs from the chair and table set were carefully placed on their back, each in it’s proper place. It was bedlam!
And hilarious! The Happy Toddler is catching on to so many things. He can feed the cats, he can imagine, he is better able to say what he wants. His ideas are, for the most part, unfettered by our conventions. Playing trains is not just making trains go around the track, it can also be making them go around the track and crash! Why can’t he take his ‘motorbike’ (Big Wheel) up the stairs? Why don’t the cats want to play with him? Why is Mommy sleeping when she could be up and playing with him? The world is a wonderful place when seen through the eyes of an almost-two year old.
It is also amazing to me how even as a tiny baby, this little boy was conventionally all boy – loves mechanics, loves anything with wheels, loves to make things go, loves to make things crash. Loves to rumble, loves to run, loves to jump and doesn’t much get why anyone would want to sleep, even at bedtime. He also knows how cute he is, and exploits it shamelessly. He’s already a little man, into men things.
I suddenly realize how while I am talking about how active he is, all my photos show him sitting and doing a quiet activity. . . but have you ever tried to shoot a two-year-old in action? ? ?