Following The Kids

Following the Kids…

Sounds good, but is that what everyone really wants?

About four years ago the large house across the street was completed and the older couple from California moved in. He had made his money, as they say, as a contractor in the boom years of Southern California. During the years he had picked up a lot of good as well as terrible ideas about features for his dream house. He used all of them. For example, the center piece feature of the large living room was a full blown bar which would seat six comfortably. He had planned to in stall his mammoth pool table in the same room, but something went astray when the house was laid out and there simply wasn’t room for it.

As we came to know them, we learned that a primary purpose in building here was to be close to their son who lived about 90 miles south. Given easy access to the freeway, it was about a 90 minute trip. We also learned that a couple years earlier they had built a large house in the same town where the son resided. Turns out that was a bit too close, she said one day. The current distance seemed just right. Not so close as to be invasive, and not too far to discourage a drive up or down the freeway for a visit.

Moving so as to be close to adult children and grandchildren is a fairly common retirement strategy, in our territory. A good number of people have moved to our valley with the intention of making family interaction an important component of their retirements. Sad to say, it doesn’t always work out. In the case of our across the street neighbors, is clearly did not. During the first year the son made two short visits. I think the parents made one quick trip down the freeway.

Early in the second year, the house was up for sale. I knew him reasonably well by then, and asked why they decided to sell his dream home and return to California. Health insurance considerations and weather seemed to be the chief reasons. I was interested in the family interaction, or what I perceived to be a lack of same, and he said that yes, that was confusing. There were no problems or family disagreements, he said. But somehow a phone call every other week seemed to satisfy everyone’s need to communicate. As he reflected more, he said that it had been many years since the two generations had lived in close enough proximity to permit regular interaction, except by phone. He guessed he should have thought about that before making a major move and investment.

The house was on the market longer than he hoped. They finally took something less that they were asking, but still did well. They moved again and built an even larger house located in Northern California far from family and friends.

It must have been pure coincidence, but the next owners, also from California and recently retired from a family business, also moved here in order to be close to their son and his wife and grand childeren who lived less than ten miles across the valley. They had visions of a happy retirement full of family fun, interaction, and companionship.

Near as anyone can tell, however, they neglected to factor the son’s wife’s ideas about family fun into their plans. It became immediately clear to them that she wanted minimal interaction with her in-laws but apparently no one bothered to find out what she thought prior to moving. On top of that, the two grandchildren were bored as could be when visiting their grand parents. As we observed from across the street, the grandparents weren’t having the times of their lives either. The house was on the market again within a year and the grandparents moved on to Scottsdale. I think everyone was relieved.

The newest owners have grown children from separate marriages. They moved here from a town some 10 miles away, and he still operates a business there. He did tell me, however, that one appeal of the house was that it would be good place for their kids to come for long weekends. So far, as near as I can tell, the extent of long weekends was a 17 year old son dropping in for lunch a time or two.

All this to say that it is easy to attach your retirement to a vague label, such as “living near the kids,” and “being with our family”. It is more difficult to be specific about commitments of time, money and energy and clarifying desired rewards as well as conditions to be avoided. Part of the difficulty comes from not having a significant amount of experience doing the actual behaviors and dealing with the specific conditions entailed in whatever vague purpose you have stated. It is said by people who study such things, that many retired people find it difficult to engage in new behaviors and activities after they retire. Lack of knowledge and skills and failure to think through important implications of changes probably accounts for some of the vauge desires not materializing.

“Knowing what it would be like” is often difficult to achieve without actually doing “it”, but it is often possible to approximate “it”. In the illustrations just cited, for example, both retired couples could have thought through what it might be like to live close to their children. What had past relations been? What were they assuming about other people, and what they may or may not want to do? Even more specific, approximately how many times per month did they hope to have contact with their children and grandchildren? What would happen during the contacts? What activities could satisfy everyone involved. What are the implications for others. How do others think about making implied changes in their lifestyles. Even if the answers were, “I don’t know”, raising such questions could lead to more clear and creative thinking and perhaps reducing potential dissatisfaction.

Clearly, many retires relocate near their children and experience great joy and pleasure. The underlying advice of this article is to clarify your underlying assumptions as well as those of your family if your are contemplating such a relocation.