Monday, March 14, 2016

Retirement and Family-What's Your "Closeness Level"?

During the summer between my fifth and sixth grades, my parents took me to live in Europe, where we stayed for six years. Before that, I had lived within just a few hours drive of two sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and two sets of cousins. After that summer, I was to see all of them for just a few weeks one summer, during our so called "summer leave".

Don't get me wrong. I am forever grateful for the experience that my parents gave me. Not only that, but the older I get I do realize how lucky I was to both have the parents I have, and the small family unit I had, as we are all very close.  As with anything upside though, there is a downside, and in this case the four of us simply did not have anything close to a "traditional" relationship with our grandparents or cousins from that time on. The relationship that those grandparents had with the other grandchildren, who they saw monthly at a minimum was of completely different dynamic.

When I married, I married a guy who also wanted to move around, or at least not remain where he was "from" after school. My husband and I lived in Washington DC for 20 years. My in-laws, all three of his siblings, and the other two grandchildren all again lived in close proximity. We traveled to Texas once a year from Washington DC, and then again once in the times we ourselves lived in Europe. After my husband passed away, I moved to Texas, although it was not my first choice of place. I felt it was  important for my son especially to hear stories about his dad when younger and have some quality time with both grandparents. That time was invaluable, but again, there was a completely different dynamic and relationship between the kids who were there all the time, and the ones they had seen once a year or less as they were growing up. Believe me, this was not conscious much of the time, and my kids are not bothered by this.

Even so, I often wonder about the relationship between us and our kids, and our grandchildren as well. I may never have grandchildren, truth be told. I have one child who has not wanted children all her life, and at thirty-seven I doubt that will change. I have grand-puppies, and feel pretty strongly that I want her to live her life for herself rather than me, and that includes the grandchild issue. My son is a late maturer who is very possibly on the very edge of the Asperger spectrum and while I do hope that someday he finds someone and gets married and has a child, it is for his sake, not mine.

I do however, consider what kind of grandmother I would be and how close (both physically and geographically)I would be (and want to be) to those kids or grandchildren. I do know that I have a different perspective than many on this. I was raised to be independent, as were my children. While my son financially lives with me in this high cost of living area as he goes to school, he is not "dependent", and I am not one who believes that our kids have to go away to college to grow up.

I am part of a knitting group of mainly retirees. At least two of the women in my group retired to Colorado so that they could be near (and help) their children and more importantly their grandchildren. One, a former teacher, has taken turns (with another grandma) of taking care of her two grandchildren (with her husband) since they were babies. This year, both girls are in school full time, so things have changed again. This does not mean that they put their lives on hold. They are active volunteers, they travel, they just bought a condo in Arizona that they visit (in no more than two week doses). I guess what I am trying to say is that by being close to, and helping their kids, they have not put their own lives on hold in some way.

Whether I would move across the country to follow my kids, I do not know. I do know that before my husband became ill we discussed retiring in Germany, even though both our kids would have been on the other side of the Atlantic. Whether that would have worked in the "real world", I don't know. I suspect that after a year or so, we would have moved closer to the kids and allowed ourselves four month vacations every year to see old friends, but that was then and this is now.

I have other friends who live no where close to their grandchildren and children, and see them as often as they can, so I do think that we are all different, and what works for one family may not work for another. Put another way, I think that we all need to come up with our own levels of independence, travel, and need for family. Much of that will depend on our kid's needs and wants as well as our own, finances, retirement goals and more. There is no one fit all, correct choice.

Just by looking at retirement/boomer bloggers in the Internet, one can see all the options and levels of closeness. It's also easy to see that living in the same town or nearby is not necessary for a close relationship as such.  One blogger on my sidebar has retired to Florida, with kids and grand kids in New York. Another moved closer to his children and even up-sized in order to have room for children and grandchildren. Two other bloggers are snow birds, and from what I can see spend much of their family time during one half of the year and enjoy their retirement communities the other half of the year. And it all works.

When it comes to me and family, I prefer more engagement. Seeing my daughter in Texas a couple times a year is not enough-something I am reminded of every time I visit. Yes, a couple weeks of visiting is enough time-until I need the next time. And while I would have understood had my son decided not to take this move with me, and would have gone anyway, I am thrilled that he came and we have had this time. Someday, I expect, he will move to Texas, or Arizona, and when that happens I will probably position myself to be closer to both children, even if it is not my ultimate place to live.

But hey, that's me, and we all have to do what works for us-as well as what works for them.


  1. I enjoyed this post and relate to it, as my husband and I are retired. We retired 'in place' and are happy our adult sons live here. If they or one of them move we would consider moving to be near him, but at present, we love where we are. We don't have grandkids but I think they would be like magnets.

  2. You don't seem to be a person with a lot of regrets, Barb, but this particular topic seems to have some pathos to it. And I am right with you. We moved away from where we raised our kids thinking that at least one of them would move here too (she was in college when we moved) but that didn't happen so now I am mentally planning a move back to where we started so I can be close to the grandkids. Because in the end, it's all about how those who really care about whether we are "there" or not. Really good post that resonates.

    1. Oh, no pathois at all. I think my point is that my grandparents probably had a bunch. My mom's mom died young, so she has always talked about her parents. I ma never have grand kids and that is fine with me.

  3. We raised our kids on the run. They attended six schools before we settled close to family for their high school years. My mom used to say that she was closer to my kids then any of the others because our kiddos lived with them for weeks at a time- whereas they only saw the other grands snippits of time.
    After our kids left for college we moved for jobs in Kansas. We really needed the breathing time from family on a different track then us and to save money for retirement.
    Now we live seventy five miles from our daughter's family.We moved here specifically to live near them. We already see a difference in our relationship-for the better. Our son is on the other coast (and is raising his children on the run as well). His family will be on this coast in a year, so we will see them often. We may stay here, we may not.
    No regrets. We just are living our lives the best we can. I have a friend who chose to move in with her daughter to provide child care & a friend who lives five minutes away and never sees her grands. My sister has developed such a close group of friends, she never intends on moving. Her children both live over 1,000 miles away. She is mid 50's so that might change.
    Each are happy in their world. Do what works for you.

  4. Through observation of friends who have both sons and daughters, there seems to be a difference in the relationships between parents and adult children. There's an old saying - your daughter is always your daughter; your son is your son until he takes a wife. I also think that there's a difference in relationships based on whether you are the natural parent of the in-law. I think that "in-law" comes loaded with stigma. There also seems to be a difference in the definition of closeness. It isn't always necessary to be physically present in order to feel close. Technology offers many opportunities for connection. And let's not forget the age-old practice of letter writing. I am concerned about parents who move to be close to their adult children's families, only to have them move, then move again. There are times when the grandparents' help is more needed and welcome, i.e. when the grandkids are infants through preschool, it seems. And then the grandkids reach that age when their peers become so important. I always say that we only get them for a little while. I've learned that it takes all kinds of kinds. I've learned to create a life for myself apart from family. I'm learning to just love them all without expectation.

  5. Both our sons are unmarried and we have no grandchildren, something I would dearly love. However, I also want our sons to be happy, and if that means not getting married and having children, hey I will live with that.

    One of our sons lives two hours away and comes home about once every month or two. We go up and visit about once every three months and spend the day with him.

    Our other son lives about 9 hours away and makes it home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, every second Easter, and for a few weeks in the summer. We have made it up to see him a couple of times during the summers and fall. We even made it to his place for two Christmas get togethers (that will stop now as neither Harvey or I enjoy traveling in the kind of winters we get).

    We would love to live between the two of them to make it slightly easier for them to visit, but haven't found a place we would like to be as of yet.

    God bless.

  6. We have lived far away from family for the past 19 years although our younger son moved with us until he went away to college 4 years later. I left home at 18 to move across the country for college and never lived near my parents again. However, when my husband retires in a year we plan to move back near our sons, DILs, his family and a few of mine. We are fortunate that our sons and DILs like the idea of us being closer and the ones who want children would like us to live really close. We'll see how it all plays out but I am looking forward to it a lot.

  7. An issue near and dear to all of our hearts. I only knew one of my grandparents, a grandmother who was old and scary and spoke another language. My own parents moved to Florida and didn't have much of a relationship with their grandchildren. And as for me, I'm still waiting ...

  8. I was lucky to have wonderful grandparents on both sides so as an adult I understand what I can give my grandchildren to enlarge their life and their love of family. When my first grandchild was born my son moved back to our home town and lived within a couple of blocks of me. I could pick the baby up and run errands when he was small and when he got older I could help his parents with chores. Ten years later I started again with girls and they have been a delight. They live an hour away now and that is hard because I don't really like to drive that far but now that they want to come and stay, we are having so much fun. I know they won't have time for me one day soon but that is the way teenagers are. They have to fly.

  9. I read an article once that said the more adults who interact with children on a close level make it easier for children to resist trouble as they grow up. Children don't always mind disappointing their parents but they don't want to disappoint grandparents or aunts and uncles. I work in an ER in an area with a large retired population.,I am always so happy when I question an elderly patient and find out that their family members live within an hour or two of the hospital. I also see the children come in ill and the relief they show when mom and/or dad show up. Sometimes it is worth living close to family as you age as there can be a great level of comfort in times of illness. At the very least, it makes it easier for your kids to help you when they don't have to get on a plane to do it. You don't have control over it however when your kids are the ones who move around.

  10. we lived close to my grand parents when i grew up and now all my chhildern (5) live within an hour of us, they come over at least once or twice a month, one daughter and her husband with four grandchildern live within walking .....


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