Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Grandparents Move Near Children and Grandchildren

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.

January 14, 2012 - Posted by | Aging, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Pensacola, Relationships, Values


  1. I had an amazing relationship with my grandparents–on both sides! My grandmothers and great-grandmother, in particular, were tough, pragmatic, loving women, who made me feel loved and appreciated. My grandfathers were a bit different. One, who passed away too early, was a wonderful man. The kind who gave of himself to his family, his church, his friends, and never once asked for anything in return. The other, well, he tried….sometimes. I digress…I simply meant to put into context the blessing I enjoyed growing up. This makes it even more sad that my own kids don’t have the chance to enjoy the same thing with at least one set of their grandparents. I would love it if my parents moved close to us. Really and truly, it would make such a huge difference for the better in our lives. But, it will never happen, and that makes me sad.

    Your son and his family are lucky to have you so close, and your grandson will cherish the bond he has with you and AdventureMan!

    Comment by AcadeMama | January 15, 2012 | Reply

  2. We feel so blessed, AcadeMama. I think this is a new thing, a full circle kind of thing, back to some of the stability of the past. I also don’t think it is necessarily a permanent thing – once the grandkids hit puberty, grandparents aren’t so high on the priorities anymore, and who knows, our son and his wife could catch wanderlust and take (gasp) an overseas assignment. So for us, we are just appreciating every moment we can while we can.

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 15, 2012 | Reply

  3. Or you could be like us, retired where are kids were and they up and move to Michigan! They do plan to return to this part of the world eventually–hopefully before grandchildren make their appearance.

    Comment by momcat | January 16, 2012 | Reply

  4. That is probably the main risk, Momcat. I think it’s part of what you buy into . . . running that risk. Fortunately, we have a lot of experience making a life when family is far away. And fortunately, our children really WANT to be near to us! 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 17, 2012 | Reply

  5. You’re right. The younger one doesn’t want to go anywhere. I think growing up the way we and our kids did, home is not a place, it is the family you love.

    Comment by momcat | January 17, 2012 | Reply

  6. I also think we can thank God our children like being around us! 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 17, 2012 | Reply

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