I remember being surprised several years ago when neighbors — a couple then in their 50s — told me they were moving to Atlanta. To my knowledge, they had no ties to that Southern city and deep ties to the Boston area where they had many friends, vibrant careers, and a strong presence in the community. When I asked why, I learned that both of their adult children had moved to Atlanta, married, and were expecting their first children. "We’re moving so that we can be nearby and watch our grandchildren grow," they told me.
In the years since this conversation, several more people I knew decided to relocate. Most were older than my former neighbors and often newly retired, but their reasons were similar: the desire to be near family as the new generation arrives and as they themselves age. The move is cast as quality time, lots of it, with children and grandchildren, and colored by pragmatism concerning possible changes in health or need for help. Of course, moving is not possible for everyone and not a good idea for some. If you’re considering it, asking the questions below may help clarify key points around your decision.
Do my/our adult children want us nearby? If so, how near might be too near?
This may sound like a no-brainer: why wouldn’t adult children with young kids of their own welcome free babysitting and helping hands? But an adult child may have chosen to live at a distance because they feel a need to be away from parents. Or your child and their partner may not welcome in-laws moving nearby. Or, possibly, they like the idea of parents moving closer, but not too close.
Before taking any steps toward initiating a move, have open conversations with your children and their spouses or partners to confirm that you are wanted. Ask open-ended questions about what the ideal scenario might look like for each of you: what’s most important, what’s less important, and where do you overlap? For example, I know a widowed mom whose two sons live far from her and about three hours from each other. While she initially thought she’d move near one of them, all agreed that the best plan was for her to find someplace she really liked that was about equidistant from both families. While an hour-plus drive will limit babysitting opportunities and some hands-on grandparenting, for many reasons this feels like the best plan for all.
Do they live someplace that I/we would want to be?
As much as parents love their children and grandchildren, most recognize that they must also like the place they are moving to. While they will be spending more time than they do now with family, they will want and need to make lives for themselves. Does this destination offer what they enjoy and whatever feels important to them? Decisions may hinge on such lifestyle features as access to the outdoors, arts and culture, or inviting restaurants, and a community that feels comfortable. Do people living there come from other places and welcome making new friends? If you’re religiously involved, identifying a congregation that feels right and familiar will be important. And some retirees hope for a community with a commitment to social justice that offers opportunities to become easily and meaningfully engaged.
What would I/we be leaving behind? Will we feel okay about the losses?
As the saying goes, "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold." What will it mean to leave your "gold" friends — the relationships that date back to college or graduate school, moms' groups, book groups, longtime neighbors? The pandemic has taught all of us how to maintain long-distance relationships, but most would agree that a Zoom visit is not the same as a walk or lunch with a dear friend.
While some of the following may seem trivial compared to the blessings of being near family, prospective relocators need to contemplate what it might mean to be far from their church or synagogue, their gym, yoga class, favorite restaurant, hiking trail, museum. Many of us come to take the landscape of our lives as a given, thinking it will always be there. I have a friend who thought she’d fully prepared herself for all that would be different when she moved from Santa Fe to Boston. Yet she still found the move jolting, disorienting, and for an extended time, painful.
Is this doable?
Not everyone can move. Feeling welcomed by adult children and loving many aspects of the destination helps, but a move may not be possible or wise for other reasons. You may decide against relocating because it is important to stay near medical care that has become essential in your life. Or the longed-for destination may simply be unaffordable. Many people cannot sell a home or condo in one part of the US, and afford to buy or rent a place they like at the other end of their move. This is an important consideration for many retirees living on a fixed income during a time when interest rates are low and a robust income stream is not a certainty.
Will it all work out?
With only one exception — a couple who simply missed home too much and returned after a year — those I know who have relocated have adjusted to their new communities. A few pieces of advice stand out:
- Plan a trial run in what may become a new home.
- Rent initially, don’t buy.
- Be sure to stay for a month or more during the least desirable time of the year, weatherwise.
It’s always wise to try on a new life before taking more decisive steps to make it yours.