Grandparents, Resist the Impulse Move

After a difficult year when many grandparents didn't see their grandchildren in person due to the pandemic, some may be reevaluating their relationship, so to say. Specifically, those who are retired and live some distance away from their grandchildren may feel like they're no longer tethered to their current homes and don't want to miss out on anything else. But should the emotional pull of moving closer to family always win out over the practical considerations of such a big decision? 

First, consider the research on retiree satisfaction. The top drivers of satisfaction include fulfilling relationships with partners and friends, and good health. Interestingly, spending time with grandchildren is not among the leading factors contributing to retiree happiness. Still, a separate study shows those who are single, on the younger side and have high levels of education and wealth are the most likely to move to be near grandchildren and report high degrees of satisfaction.

Also, think about the quality of the relationship you have with your child and partner, if they have one. Have a serious heart to heart conversation about how you envision being nearer to each other playing out and what kind of boundaries would be in place. Would they want you to assist with childcare? Make sure you discuss ahead of time whether it would be a regular or sporadic thing, and what your comfort level is with any potential arrangements.

Weigh the financial considerations, too. Moving is a major financial expense. Selling a house requires a lump sum payment to a real estate agent and moving costs. The housing market is tilted to sellers right now, so while you may reap big gains, you may be hard pressed to find something affordable in the new locale. If you have more than one adult child you would need to travel. Don’t move without serious budget projections.

And think about whether where they live is where you ultimately want to be, apart from your grandchildren. Does the area promote your health, your friendships and let you pursue your interests? Moving to the Northeast when you imagined spending your retirement years warm and outside could take away from your life satisfaction.

Don't forget, your adult children could potentially move too for a job or life change. Imagine that were to happen a year after you relocated. Would you follow them?

Instead of making such a big change all at once, trying it out slowly might be more prudent. Consider renting first for six months in the new location. See if you make new friends and can have a healthy lifestyle. Investigate the health-care options. It's important to see how life is - and interactions with your child and grandchildren are - not just in vacation mode.

Lastly, some of the best ways to imagine a new life is to talk to others who have made a similar decision. I like these vignettes of joy and regret about older people who moved near their grandchildren. But talk to people you know who have done it, along with those who have stayed put. FaceTime may not be so bad after all.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Teresa Ghilarducci is the Schwartz Professor of Economics at the New School for Social Research. She's the co-author of "Rescuing Retirement" and a member of the board of directors of the Economic Policy Institute.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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