You’ve retired, and you’re enjoying life: You’ve had time and opportunity to arrange your home, cultivate your friendships, establish your routines, and savor your pleasures. Your kids and grandkids live an airplane ride away, but you get together almost often enough. You’re comfortable, and your community holds decades of precious memories for you. Why on earth would you pick up and move closer to your family?
Because if we don’t plan for our own future, we will probably find someone else doing it for us. This is why many mature, forward-thinking people are completely changing our lives to move—and why we’re doing it while we’re “young-old” and have the energy to establish full, gratifying new lives for ourselves.
One woman who worked in two nursing homes and one retirement community saw scores of people enter nursing home care “because they insisted on staying in places that had become completely unsuitable for them,” she says. “I also have a lot of younger friends with older parents who refuse to leave their home of decades. These friends, at the peak of their careers and often with teenagers, find themselves having to drop everything and fly about once a month to take care of Mom after she fell down the stairs, or Dad after he hurt his back shoveling snow.” Worse, these people may learn that their determination to “stay put” still lands them in a nursing home with no choice about it.
One man moved near his son, daughter-in-law, and two young grandsons so he and the boys could become closer, and so he could help their parents with child care. Another woman had moved frequently with her late entrepreneur husband. Well aware of the challenges of making friends and establishing a full life in a new community, she decided she could make a move more successfully while “young-old,” rather than waiting until she truly needed help.
A couple who moved halfway across the country to be closer to their grandchildren simply explained, “This is the best thing we can do right now.” One social worker who had worked in aging services knew that the older he got, the more likely he would need help to organize and supervise care. Who better to do that than a child with whom he was close? Another couple moved near their daughter who had proclaimed, “Mom and Dad, I want to take care of you when you get old!”
Let’s face it: Short-term, this move may not benefit you. It’s to make life easier for your family. Longer term, it will benefit you because at a time you may need help, your family will live closer and know you more deeply. And if you never need help? The worst thing that can happen is that your family will live closer and know you more deeply.
Here are some ways to love your new environment and life, before and after the move.
Getting ready to move closer to your family
Have “the talk.” If you haven’t done so already, discuss the possibility with your children. Most of us have difficulty considering new ideas that aren’t ours, so don’t be surprised or disappointed at an initial lack of enthusiasm. Give them time to think about it. If you and they are not very close emotionally, you can point out that this is an opportunity to get to know one another better.
Start decluttering. There are many books and articles to help you. Start now so you can take your time, thinking about both the big things (extra furniture) and the small (boxes of photos and memories). Bless everything that leaves and wish it well in its new surroundings.
Figure out the costs. Moving is always expensive. Calculate how much money and time you’ll need to get it done, then double or triple it. (It can be like remodeling, only worse.) Since recurring expenses and medical catastrophes really eat away at your nest egg, moving into a smaller place closer to family may help you stretch your money.
Do your research. Explore online to find living options in your new community. If possible, focus your search within a mile or two of your family’s home. Every time you visit, invest a bit of time in looking at housing options. Start following social groups and volunteer opportunities online.
Say goodbye, for now. When you start telling your local friends and contacts about your plans, they won’t like the idea at all. Talk about how you’ll stay in touch. Many people plan visits at least once a year, and some have standing phone dates with their closest ones. Have business cards printed with your cell phone number and email address, even before you have a residential address. (And don’t change your cell phone number.) Send-off lunches or other events take a surprising amount of time and are very important to cement your friendships. Some friends may decide to drop you—and you’ll know that they are acquaintances, not friends.
Take it easy on yourself. Get help with packing and all aspects of preparation. When you actually move, you will be exhausted, grieving about what you are losing, and anxious about the future. Don’t try to make a marathon drive or catch a red-eye flight.
Once you’ve moved
A few boxes can wait. More important than speedy unpacking, get to know your neighbors and neighborhood, and get help if you need it. Spend time with your family. After all—they are why you moved!
Find your niches. Within the first week, sniff out somewhere you can engage in one of your favorite pastimes. Join or just show up. Start collecting names and contact information of people you meet doing things you like to do, give them your card, and take the initiative to invite them for lunch, a movie, a game of pool, or whatever. Volunteer for an organization doing something you value. There’s no better way to feel part of a community, or to meet people you enjoy.
Treat yourself—in moderation. A glass of beer or bite of chocolate can help ease moving stress, but don’t overdo the alcohol or food because you feel bored or lonesome.
Get to know your family. Figure out new things to do with your grandchildren, if you have any. One woman started teaching her grandsons to cook, because their single mom didn’t have time. Your children’s friends may have parents who are “friendship material.” Ask for introductions.
Set boundaries. Decide how much babysitting, transportation, and restaurant-treating you want to do, so that you don’t feel imposed upon. And invite your children to set explicit boundaries with you, too—for instance, whether they like drop-in visits or would prefer that you call or text first.
It Can Take Time
Expect it to take at least 18 months before you really feel at home. By then, your transition will feel like an adventure, not a tribulation, and you’ll be proud of your “old dog” self for having learned so many new tricks!
Judy Ruckstuhl Wright retired and moved to Seattle three years ago to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren, after 30 years in the Kansas City area. She volunteers for three organizations, has a large friendship circle, hosts for Airbnb, and does freelance writing. She can be reached at judyRwright88@gmail.com.
“Tips for Moving Your Parent Close to You“—Moving parents closer to you is still a move away from their home, friends and community. Helping them through each step will ease this often difficult but necessary transition.