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Managing Expectations When You Move Closer to Family in Retirement

Emily Guy Birken

Retiring closer to family might be something you’ve been planning and dreaming of for years, or it may be a practical decision that helps you stretch a less-than-robust retirement income. No matter why you are moving closer to your family, you have to recognize that such a relocation comes with its own potential issues and conflicts. You might be harboring Norman Rockwell expectations — when the reality may be more like the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

This is why it’s so important to have a frank conversation with your family prior to committing to moving closer to them. Make sure you and your adult children are on the same page regarding how your relationships will change once everyone is in the same ZIP code.

Before the moving truck arrives, meet with your family and come to an understanding on these four important issues:

1. How Much Time You Will Spend with the Grandkids

Grandchildren are one of the biggest reasons why you might choose to relocate in retirement. Being a long-distance grandparent is tough, and it’s perfectly natural to dream of the kind of close-knit relationship you can foster when you see your grandkids on a more regular basis.

This can become a problem if you and your adult children have different definitions of “a more regular basis.” While your adult kids are imagining sharing twice-a-month dinners with the whole family, you are busy planning a twice-a-week grandparent date with the little ones, or vice versa.

You need to get ahead of the potential emotional landmines these mismatched expectations represent by talking to your adult children. Ask them to describe the ideal relationship they envision having with you once you move. This should reveal if their expectations are different from yours.

Even if your emotional expectations match those of your family, it’s a good idea to ask your adult children to tell you about their family schedule and logistics, since that can also impact your ability to see your grandchildren as often as you’d like.

You will naturally feel disappointed if you learn that your family is not planning on spending as much time with you as you’d like — but it is far better to know ahead of time what to expect and to plan for it, rather than to feel that disappointment over and over again because you didn’t talk before the move. Such repeated disappointment is a recipe for resentment and arguments, and that is not what you want for your relationship with your family.

2. If Your Adult Children Expect You to Help with Childcare

While some grandparents relish the thought of becoming the de facto childcare providers for their grandchildren, others would rather not be pressed into unpaid babysitting service all the time. This can be an incredibly delicate situation, since saying no to requests for childcare help can sometimes feel as if you’re saying you don’t love your grandchildren enough.

To avoid any potential hurt feelings, set up firm boundaries with your adult children before you move. If you know that being expected to handle pre-school pickup every day and Saturday night babysitting every week is more than you want to handle, then you owe it to your family to make that clear. Ask your adult children what they are hoping you will help with, and let them know what your comfort level is for babysitting.

Remember that guilt has no place in this conversation. You will be a much more loving, attentive, supportive, and happy grandparent — and parent — if you don’t take on more childcare than you want.

3. How You Will Structure Your Social Life

There is an excellent reason why psychologists rank moving as one of the most stressful life events you can experience, after the death of a spouse and divorce: Not only do you have to deal with the logistical headaches of moving, but you also have to start over with your social and community support network (including health care providers) in your new home.

You might assume that having a family to welcome you to your new community will alleviate a lot of this stress, but that is not necessarily the case. Your adult children can’t necessarily shepherd you through the tough work necessary to meet new people and create a new community, either because of their own family and work obligations or because they struggle with those skills for themselves.

Before you officially move, do some research into your new home to find out if you will be able to easily find like-minded friends and community resources to help you create a full and vibrant life in retirement. You will certainly want to include family time in your plans, but it’s important that you don’t go into your move with the assumption that your family will fill in all of the social and community gaps that your relocation will leave open.

4. How You Will Pay for Unexpected Moving Costs

No matter how well you budget for a big move, it’s likely that you will encounter unexpected and unavoidable costs. When you move during your career, these costs can cause you some budgetary discomfort, but generally, your regular paycheck protects you. However, once you have retired and are living on a fixed income, unexpected moving costs can throw a major monkey wrench in your carefully planned budget.

Since you are moving closer to your family, it makes perfect sense to ask them for financial help when you are hit with an unexpected expense. But this can be an uncomfortable situation if your family can’t help you out — and you don’t find this out until after the unexpected expense hits.

While you are still in the planning stage for your move, have a chat with your family about how to handle unexpected relocation costs. Let them know how much of a cushion you have set aside for such expenses, and ask them if they would be able to help you if something unexpected comes up.

And remember: Help isn’t always financial. For instance, if your new home isn’t ready on time, your family could offer to let you store your things in their garage while they park on the street to save you the cost of renting a storage facility.

Happiness Is a Close-Knit Family

Moving closer to your family can be one of the most satisfying and fulfilling retirement decisions you make: You get to experience the day-to-day ups and downs of your family’s lives firsthand, and foster close relationships with multiple generations. However, making such a move without having some frank conversations ahead of time has the potential to cause hurt feelings and resentment.

Before you embark on this new journey of retirement near your loved ones, make sure you speak honestly with them about what to expect from your move. Then you can get down to the important business of enjoying happy times with your kids and grandkids. With the right planning — and open communication along the way — moving closer to family can benefit everyone.

READ MORE: 5 Challenges in Adjusting to Retirement

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