Expectations and Family Communication

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Elderly couple holding small children

Part of the adventure of moving into a new phase of life is the surprises that come your way.  The difference between pleasant and unpleasant surprises often comes down to family communication and managing your expectations.

Moving to be with the kids?

In my reading I’ve come across several sad stories of people moving to be near their kids and finding little joy in their new place.  These retirees were comfortable in their longtime home areas but the kids had moved far away.  So they moved to a place they didn’t know to be close to a child’s family.  Guess what?  That family was so crazy-busy they hardly had any time for Grandma or Grandpa.  What’s more, now the retirees had no friends, no familiar places to go to, and it was harder to get around.

Where it was a Grandma and Grandpa couple, things got even more complicated.  One would insist on moving to live near the kids, while the other would just go along.  This leaves the one who wanted to move open to resentment for causing the situation.  That’s not fair, but it can work that way.

Communication is key.

As the adult child, I would want to have a conversation with my parents about what their plans are and try to be supportive.  Part of being supportive is helping them consider the big picture.  While it is so much fun for the grandkids to have Grandma and Grandpa at holidays or in the summer, during school they don’t have the free time.

I would also ask about how they would see their friends and follow their interests in a new environment.  What about their health and getting new doctors? They would need to bring their own lives if they move.  I would love to have them closer. But they should not depend on my little nuclear family for all their entertainment and support.

As a member of the Grandma and Grandpa couple, I would want to know that we are not a burden to the kids, and not a free babysitting service either.  After all, I may have other ideas for how to use my time.  I might give up a lot in order for this to happen.  Or maybe I think that my spouse is investing too much or too little in this idea.  There may be better ways than moving closer to enrich family members’  lives by spending special time together.  Maybe figuring that out would be better than moving.

Single retirees struggle too.

The saddest case of all is the lady who, as a widow, left her city home and moved to a suburb to be with her kids.  While they told her of course they would be happy to have her close by, they didn’t want to say that the family was already quite busy with their lives.  The lady was all alone with no place to walk to.  She was used to walking to everything she needed.  She really didn’t feel comfortable driving so much.  This lady was now forced to think about what else to do because her best idea didn’t work, and she felt lost.

It’s so sad to see that lady’s plight.  She led with her heart and it didn’t work out.  A lifelong Mom and Wife who had lost the Wife part of her job, she had to fall back on the Mom role, when there really wasn’t much demand for one in her family.  Now that our society seems to reject extended families living closely, we have to communicate more effectively with our families and ourselves.

Everyone has a life.

My mother-in-law already lived in the same town as a daughter, a son, their families, and her brother and sisters and their kids.  She did fine while she could still drive and volunteer.  She was able to fold her grandkids and great-grandkids into her life and enjoy being surrounded by family.

But when she could no longer feel safe driving, everything changed for her.  Those grands and great-grands were growing up fast.  She had to ask for rides to do grocery shopping, drug store trips and doctor appointments.  She couldn’t get to church, which had kept her busy in the past. Family members tried to help but couldn’t always because they worked or were in school.  She got a volunteer to take her shopping, so she got  guaranteed company 2 hours a week.

We had a continuing conversation with my mother-in-law, especially after she quit driving.  My husband, already retired, occasionally drove the 140 miles down to help her choose a Medicare Part D plan, or fix her faucet, or get the emergency pendant she wore to work with her phone.  We went to see her on holidays and sometimes just went on a weekend to go places with her.   But sadly we couldn’t fill in for a town full of relatives.

Mostly this lifelong mother just wanted company.  Why would it be so hard?  She had so many relatives close by.  She lived alone in her own place so the folks presumed she was OK.  Since she was OK, there was no need to visit.  The children and grandchildren would include her in family events.  Nobody could really get why she was so needy sometimes.

When communication works.

One of my retired friends sometimes goes to her son’s house about 100 miles away to babysit his family’s dogs while the family takes a trip.  She also babysits the kids when son and daughter-in-law need a weekend away.  And at times her son will come up with the family and work on her house while she enjoys the grandkids at home.  This works for them, for now.  They have worked it out to where everyone is happy most of the time.  And yes, she can  say “no” when she wants to.

My aunt and her husband moved to be near their younger daughter and that worked out well.  It turned out that their daughter had cancer and so did her father, so they went through chemo together.  They were a close-knit group but had their own lives, so they didn’t depend on one another for everything.  Since her husband passed, my aunt has moved to be near her elder daughter for a while, to give the younger one “a break.”  Whenever they can get the younger one to come to them, a big party ensues.

The trick to avoiding unhappy surprises with family is to be open and honest with one another and with yourself.  Let others know what you think and how you feel about things.  They may not read your mind correctly, even after all these years.

What are your hopes and expectations about family contacts when you retire?  Have you shared them with your family and spouse?










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