Sage: Ready to move near the kids? Don't kid yourself!
We have lived in Arizona for three years, and our daughter and son-in-law are three months away from the birth of our first grandchild. My Dear Bride is going a little coo-coo over this (in my humblest of opinions) and saying that we must move to Seattle to be near them. She has started to scour the real estate listings and thinks that it would be just fine if we downsized from our small two-bedroom home outside of Tucson to a small one-bedroom condo that typically appears to be about the same size as a quasi-respectable walk-in closet. I am reluctant to leave our friends here, along with the neighborhood get-togethers, an occasional round of golf, the social clubs, half our furniture, and, of course, the sunshine (not to rain on my wife’s parade in Seattle, so to speak!). Is this move a good idea?
-- Jonah and Mona in Arizona
Ah, grandparenting! It can be the most satisfying part of family life that you ever experience. Just think: Norman Rockwell holiday dinners, weekend get-togethers, day trips to the zoo, or to an amusement park, or to the mountains or the beach. The chance to baby-sit, spoil the kid rotten, and him back to your son after giving him a massive sugar high. How sweet will all this be, eh?
Whoa! Hold on just a minute, or better yet, for months or even years. Kudos to your wife for putting family first, but you both should strongly be convinced that your life will improve should you decide to move your love nest north.
First off, how strong is your relationship with your son and daughter-in-law? Do you enjoy each other’s company? Travel well together? Treasure whatever time you’ve spent with both of them? Are you invited to visit them often, and vice versa? How often do you talk on the phone, and how do those conversations go? Do you get warm and fuzzy, enveloped in a warm blanket of love and connectedness, or are there a few uncomfortable moments that perhaps tug at the blanket and leave you a bit chilled? And how does your daughter-in-law’s family fit into the picture – and into your lives?
Can you see yourself smiling and totally blessed at that Rockwellian Thanksgiving dinner – or will you be itching to start a food fight and clobber one of them with the drumstick? Will you be able to talk freely about important issues and emotions – or will you have to keep your mouth shut for the rest of your life to avoid a schism that will make you want to go for a deep swim off the continental shelf 100 miles west of Washington’s Olympic Coast?
While there will always be conflicts no matter who’s in the family, many new grandparents get along beautifully with their children and grandchildren. They discover new joys, savor as much happiness as they ever have, and are able to interact amazingly well with their grandchildren. They develop mutual support, gratitude and respect, flourish as a unit and as individuals, and help each other learn and grow.
Others learn quickly that family isn’t everything –friends and social support from peers become vital. Many end up disappointed because their kids are so busy working, carting the kids around, maintaining their yards and their homes, and spending time with their own friends that they have little time for the grandparents, who become ignored and hurt, if not seeing themselves as invisible. On the other hand, some grandparents are pressed into service as professional babysitters day in and day out, and feel as used as oily rags at a gas station.
And as the little characters age, they, too, will have their own lives, which sometimes means much less vigorous grandparenting. The other risk is that your kids may move out of state because they have been transferred or because they’ve found better jobs. Will you be left with more than … rain?
Now, you have worked hard all your life. It’s just fine to be somewhat selfish at this point, even though that may be foreign to you. The Sage humbly suggests that you wait until your new descendant has made his or her grand appearance. Go visit them all for a week, or two, or three, and see how things go. Then take a deep breath, return to Arizona, get involved with your friends and your normal activities, and take stock again. Go back to Seattle a few times more (including in the summer, when the weather is glorious, and in the winter, when it’s, er, not). How will your children then feel about your living in Arizona? Will it be close enough? Do they desperately want you near? Remember that a move should come as close to possible as meeting everyone’s desires, not just yours or your wife’s.
If you decide that you should make the move, start researching clubs, churches and other organizations and building a new life for yourself. Can you indulge your passions there (chances are if you like to prune cactus plants, go for hikes in the desert and wrestle javelinas, you may not be altogether happy). Will you wake up in the morning, stretch, look out the window at the mountains or Puget Sound, and be able to smile, take a deep breath and be thrilled to live there – or will it be so rainy and/or foggy that you can’t even remember that there’s a mountain or water back there?
Are there many retirees in the area? Will you be able to make friends and share your interests? Will you love this area so much that you just know this is the right place, even if your kids end up transferred to Slickpoo, Idaho or, worse, Burnt Porcupine, Maine?
Please think this through. Only you two will know whether the family bonds are strong enough, whether the area is right for you, whether you will enjoy as much camaraderie and sense of joy as you do now in Arizona. Best of luck, love that grandchild, and don’t get complacent with the Arizona sun – remember your raincoat in Seattle!