Long-distance grandparents frequently report feeling blue. Many of them admit that they have considered relocating just to be closer to their grandchildren. The truth is that for most, pulling up roots is easier said than done, for several reasons.
Reasons to Stay
Some are caring for aging parents. These members of the sandwich generation often feel pulled in two directions. But when grandchildren are being ably taken care of by loving parents, aging parents who don't have such caretakers often take precedence.
Providing care for the elderly can be stressful, though, and many caregivers report problems with depression, perhaps compounded by lack of access to grandchildren.
Some are still working. An increasing number of jobs are portable and can be done from a number of different locations. But those who are still working in traditional jobs tied to their current place of residence may not be able to afford to move. With the average age of retirement hovering around 63, most new grandparents have years to go before they can think of being free of their jobs.
Some don't want to leave extended family and friends. Some people's roots go deeper than others. Individuals who have lived in an area for all of their lives, who have extended family and lifelong friends in the area, may have a really hard time relocating, even for the bonus of being near grandchildren.
Some like their current location. Although most of us have an occasional burst of wanderlust, some people just genuinely like where they live.
Perhaps it is the climate. Maybe it is the lifestyle or culture. Sometimes it's the natural beauty of the area. And sometimes it's because it's near a very good medical center! Whatever the attraction, some people are content with their current living environment.
The possibility of moving can be complicated by family issues, especially for those who have more than one set of grandchildren, living in different locales.
How do you choose which family to be close to? In an even trickier scenario, what if you want to move away from one set of grandchildren to be closer to another? Such a decision is bound to open grandparents to a charge of favoritism.
In a slightly different scenario, what if you move to be close to one family and then discover that the proximity is hard on your relationship? It's possible that some families work best at a distance.
A third possibility is that you move to be near a son or daughter's family, and then the younger family decides to relocate. Today's young people live in a very volatile, mobile job environment, and it is very common for young families to move several times before putting down any real roots.
Even if you escape all three of these possibilities, your grandchildren are going to grow up and potentially leave their own home — and you — behind.
Some grandparents don't just move to be near their grandchildren; they move in with them. Obviously having a successful multi-generational home requires a lot of commitment from all.
Being able to share expenses is a plus. Also child care and elder care can often be handled within the family in a multi-generational home. These advantages can rapidly be offset, however, by an inharmonious family situation.
Strategies for a Successful Move
If you really, really want to move, and you are able financially to make the move, you should probably go for it. Have a plan, however, to make the move successful for all involved.
Research the financial impact of your move. The cost of living can vary greatly from one area to another. Will you have to pay state income tax? What about benefits that you may receive from your current state that may not be available in your new location? Taxes, utilities, the cost of real estate — these will all need to be factored in before you decide that you can afford the move.
Don't wear out your welcome. If you've been accustomed to seeing your grandchildren once a month, don't assume that you will see them every day once you move close by. It's very easy for the grandparents, who have left behind all of their social contacts, to turn to their kids and grandchildren to fill the void. The younger family, however, has not moved and supposedly has an intact social network and not a lot of free time. Grandparents must be willing and able to make new friends rather than relying exclusively on family.
Build a new life. Relocation means finding substitutions for the structures you are leaving behind. You may need to find a new place to worship, a new gym or golf club and a new medical facility. Sometimes the process goes smoothly, sometimes less so. Those who are willing to put effort into the process are likely to be rewarded with new friends and more likely to be happy with their move.
Be prepared for the possibility of another move. Just as one particular set of circumstances led to this move, the circumstances could change, and you could face the need for another move. If you have regarded this move as permanent, having to move again could be much more difficult.
Grandparents who are flexible, fairly sociable and just a tad adventurous are likely to make such moves with greater ease than those who love routine, solitude and stability. Still, no single personality trait can indicate whether a move is wise or not. Perhaps the most important factor is the willingness to make a commitment, to take a chance, to change one's life for the payoff of being physically closer to family members.