Should We Go or Stay? Parents and Grandparents Might be Moving In or Nearby

Where we live at this stage of our lives often falls into one of two camps—do we stay put or, as we age, or downsize to an apartment, condominium or smaller home and, if we do, should we move close to family whether grown children, grandchildren, siblings, cousins or distant relatives we like? 

Do we stay, or do we go?  Whatever your decision, we are here to guide you. 

Some may opt to go back to a trend of long ago—multigenerational living. In fact, about 60 million households in this country are thought to do so and include two or more generations under the same roof. The number has quadrupled since the 1970s, according to Pew Research. This sounds appealing to some, but not every older person or couple wants to live with their grown children, or vice versa. 

Living nearby is another choice and makes good sense. We’re living longer, and it’s time to think about where we want to end up. Fewer are relocating as some of our parents did to a warm climate for all or part of the year. Some are moving to some form of assisted care out of need or to a retirement community. Most of us fear retirement communities and nursing homes due to how Covid-19 cases multiplied there during the pandemic and residents died or got very sick. And let’s face it, the healthy aging are not ready for the regular sight of a group of old people lined up in wheelchairs or using walkers to get everywhere. 

Moving near family can be a win-win. Yes, it helps us to live near family for myriad reasons and it also helps family to have us around. We have witnessed how our grown children with kids struggled juggling career and family life during the pandemic when everyone was squeezed under one roof 24/7. The threat of another pandemic or uptick in cases has made their lives still challenging. “I just have no bandwidth, and could really use your help,” one millennial told her parents, explaining one of the many reasons she hoped she’d move near her and her family. 

While the idea of moving closer to kids often was criticized in the past out of fear that they would move and then the older generation would be stuck in a new “foreign” location, that’s less of a concern now. More of the younger generation are happy to stay put, particularly if they bought their home with a low-interest loan, are content with their kids’ schools, have a job they can do from home as hybrid work remains and have also made good friends. 

Ironically, it may be easier for boomers to be the ones now to move; several of our friends are doing so. Many of us have more money than our parents, thanks to inheritances and good retirement plans, which came into being in 1974 when the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was enacted. Many are still in good health, despite aches, pains and replacements of knees, hips and other body parts. Fortunately, most of us still have enough energy to take on a major move, at least one more.   

Equally important, many of us have developed better relationships with our grown children than we had with our parents or at least more authentic ones. We’re smarter about how we talk to our children than our parents were. We know better than to tell them what to do, albeit we do sometimes make suggestions. Many may falter at times but are smart enough to say “sorry” and try harder. 

D and W moved to their only child’s town in California, almost two years ago with prodding from their daughter who has two children and is married. “It’s been wonderful to see them often and participate in their lives,” says D, who relocated from 2,000 miles away and found the long flights had become tiring and burdensome. Now, they’re present for family gatherings and just watching the grandchildren, aged nine and six, grow close up, she says. 

Another couple, Dale and her husband, moved to a son, daughter-in-law and two grandkids’ city in Maryland from Rhode Island three years ago. Although the grandparents had flown to see their family every four to six weeks over the prior years since they moved and Dale retired, Covid-19 made visiting much more difficult, from air and car travel to staying in their home. Upon arriving home in Rhode Island after a long, grueling car ride to visit over a holiday weekend, Dale and her husband asked themselves, “Why not move to be closer to the grandkids?” They sold their house within days of its being on the market, then house hunted, bought, packed and moved. Most family and friends applauded their move. One set of friends, however, asked, “Did you ask your son and daughter-in-law if it was okay to move?” Dale says that question never popped into their heads. In retrospect, she cautions others to consider doing so if they’re the ones contemplating a change. 

They now they live in a single-family house in a nice, walkable, safe neighborhood about three miles from their son’s family. She says, "Due to  her son's long work hours, they really appreciate our help with the kids and dogs." Dale enjoys time being with the younger generation, both scheduled and impromptu, both of which are now possible. “The big smiles when we pick them up after school or attend a piano recital or horseback riding lessons are well worth the move,” she says. Best of all, she says, is “that they always whine a little that they aren’t quite ready to go home yet!” 

Making a move and finding happiness takes time at any age. New friendships, not just acquaintanceships, take particular time. Here are 10 points to help if you’re considering doing so: 

Take a cue from your offspring. Communicate your needs and listen to theirs. If they’re asking you to move near them, that’s a great incentive. Who can turn that down? But if you’re the one who keeps mentioning the idea and your suggestion falls on deaf ears, get the hint. If you decide to proceed, talk it over with your other children who may not live nearby. Are they onboard or resent you favoring one sibling’s location? 

Spend time in the new area before you go. Not just in their home but explore and see if it has what you like—the right medical care, cultural offerings, sports facilities, restaurants, grocery stores, houses of worship, cute shops, a good library, walkability as you may want to drive less when older, and access to an airport and public transportation. 

Talk to your financial advisor about pros and cons. Is housing more or less expensive? What about state and local taxes? Will you net a good nest egg when you sell your current home, and might that cover your purchase? You may be living without a mortgage, so why take one on now and more debt? 

Consult a real estate salesperson early on to talk about housing options. What will be best--a smaller home, condo, apartment; and what are the HOA fees and so on, so you have a clue about the options. Think about whether you want outdoor space to garden, trails to walk, easy access to shopping and a house of worship, tennis courts or pool, and so on. As with any purchase, you’re not likely to achieve all, so prioritize which are most important. 

Do you want to take on remodeling or find a place that already has a good kitchen and bathrooms? D wanted a one-level house, guest rooms for grandchildren’s sleepovers and off-street parking. The available choices were very different from her former Midwestern urban neighborhood. Heed advice from the professional you hire and your children about where they think you might be happiest in terms of amenities, location, etc. 

Maintain a safe physical distance from your offspring and set boundaries up front. You don’t want to live on top of them unless you’re going the multigenerational route. In most cases, some distance helps you each maintain autonomy. An hour away may sound safe, but if there’s frequent bad weather, beware of not seeing them as often. Although Dale has a key to her son's house, she never enters without first being asked to go inside.

Prepare yourself for the enormity of a move. It’s never easy but harder when you’re older. D says, “We had not moved in many years and underestimated what a big job and big life change it would be.” It meant leaving friends and a comfortable home behind. “It took us a solid year, but we finally feel settled,” D adds, once she conquered the mundane tasks of opening a new local bank account, safe deposit box and new drivers’ licenses, arranging new utility accounts, Internet, water, electricity, heat, trash, recycling—all which had been part of her and her husband’s former condominium monthly charges. They decided to buy a new electric vehicle, which meant adding a charging station, too. Also, their move from the Heartland to coastal California entailed a new wardrobe. Some matters were more challenging such as finding new doctors, lawyers, accountants and drafting a new will, she says. 

Set reasonable expectations and honor boundaries. Have learning conversations—what works best for both.  Do you expect to dine together nightly? Talk about how often you’d like to see them and vice versa but keep it fluid rather than set in stone. And drill down to specifics. Will you go out and, if so, who picks up the tab or switches off having each other over. Then agree to be flexible and ready for change. And heed their advice when you’re together more. They might suggest you start wearing a Medic alert device or hearing aids. This can happen from afar but up close they’ll be more aware of your aging. Likewise, you might suggest some ideas to them but in both cases, beware of boundaries, a topic we touched on in a prior blog (Feb. 7, 2020). 

Discuss the idea of each generation helping the other. You may be asked or want to pick up grandchildren, babysit or have them stay overnight. You can ask your grown child to accompany you to a doctor’s appointment in return. It’s not tit-for-tat but a healthy sharing to help out each other.   

Make your own acquaintances. It takes time to find new friends, but you need to so you’re not dependent on your kids and their friends for your social life. There are so many ways to make friends—join clubs, classes, volunteer--as we’ve suggested in other blog posts. Try to avoid emotionally burdening them, though it happens. Barbara’s late mother would tell her on a Sunday, “It’s so quiet here,” so Barbara took the cue and tried to visit her on weekends, though they lived two hours apart. D and W have slowly gained a circle of friends. D explains, “Our son-in-law's parents and his sibling's families are very close by and have children of similar ages to our grandchildren. We see them often. They have made us part of the whole family and all its events and holidays, so they are our main friends. In addition, we have made good friends with one couple and I with two individuals.”   

Announce the decision to grandchildren before it’s a done deal. If they’re old enough to have their own opinions, ask about their expectations. Weigh their responses. Do they want to sleep over once a week, or do you take them out to dinner without their folks? 

Have a relationship check-up regularly, perhaps every six-months. Think of it as an annual physical appointment where you take the temperature and vitals of those involved. Again, honesty is called for; you’re all in this for the long haul. 

Also, follow our advice for any move. If you dislike where your kids live and you’ve moved for whatever reason, you can move again in many cases. It’s just an expensive scenario. However, give any new place a fair chance. It usually takes at least a year to feel that you’ve found not just a new house but a new home (town).


1 comment

  • Harriet Baron

    As always…very helpful.

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