- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

Michael and Marilyn Spiro did not want to spend their golden years on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The highway was where they found themselves often after Mr. Spiro, an economic professor, retired from the University of Pittsburgh in 1999. Around the same time, their grown daughters, Juliet McClellan of Reston and Andra Davis of Severna Park, each were starting families of their own. The Spiros wanted to see their children and grandchildren, but were weary of the travel involved.

So in 2002, the couple decided to make Silver Spring their retirement home. The large Leisure World facility there had everything they were looking for, Mr. Spiro says. The location was just about halfway between their daughters’ neighborhoods. Its proximity to Washington meant that the Spiros, who are passionate about classical music, could enjoy the District’s many cultural offerings.

“The girls urged us to make the move,” says Mr. Spiro, 71. “We have an excellent relationship. I never doubted for a moment they would welcome it.”

Mrs. McClellan says she was surprised — but thrilled — when her parents announced they were leaving Pittsburgh after more than 30 years there. Mrs. Spiro died suddenly late last year, and both father and daughter say living closer together has been a great source of comfort for everyone.

“I really haven’t seen a downside,” says Mrs. McClellan, a human resources professional and mother of Andrew, 5, and Gabrielle, 2. “I did not grow up with grandparents close by, so I think it is wonderful for my kids. I’m glad he is close by.”

Moving closer to grown children and grandchildren is a whole new option for retirees, says Elinor Ginzler, manager for independent living and long-term care for AARP. AARP does not keep official statistics on this category, but Ms. Ginzler says she can see it happening all over the country as far-flung relatives are choosing to relocate to be near one another after they don’t need to be near their jobs anymore.

“First, people decide they don’t want to live in their house anymore,” Ms. Ginzler says. “So then they think, ‘Well, where should we live?’ There is that old cliche about moving South, but that is not an automatic anymore.”

In fact, the Washington area has many draws for retirees, Ms. Ginzler says. The history, culture and dynamics of the nation’s capital can be a big draw — whether the retirees are looking for a contrast to their small-town life or seeking to continue being a patron of restaurants and museums in a new city.

While housing in the metropolitan area can be quite expensive, many other aspects don’t have to be, Ms. Ginzler says.

“Here in Washington, you can take the grandchildren to the Smithsonian or the National Zoo, and it is free,” she says. “You might only have to pay for snacks. Those things end up being a lot cheaper than in other cities.”

Thinking it over

Before plunking down a deposit on a condo, retirees and their grown children should all sit down and talk about it, says Dale Atkins, a New York psychologist and author of the book, “I’m OK, You’re My Parents: How to Overcome Guilt, Let Go of Anger, and Create a Relationship That Works.”

“A lot of times, the parents are making this decision out of their own needs,” Ms. Atkins says. “They want to be in the vicinity of their grandchildren. They want to know as they get older and infirm that they will be closer to their children. Those are realistic ideas in their own mind, but they may not have discussed it with their children.”

Meanwhile, the adult children may have expectations of their own, Ms. Atkins says. One might think about a built-in baby sitter and forget old feuds or that the retirees never liked her husband.

“These kinds of things are rarely discussed beforehand,” Ms. Atkins says. “You may only see your parents at holidays now, and that is very different.”

As with any big decision, there are going to be pluses and minuses, she says.

“The good part is the grandparents can spend time with the grandkids,” Ms. Atkins says. “They can bond, they can have the joy of seeing their grandchildren grow up, and they can help you with baby-sitting. But the negatives may be that they might not approve of the way you are parenting your children. Or they may be so vital and active they might not be sitting around waiting to be asked to baby-sit.”

A discussion of expectations should include talk about boundaries, Ms. Atkins says. Should the retirees live in the same town or perhaps two towns over to give their grown children some space? Should they call first or feel free to drop by anytime?

Beth Robertson, a Northern Virginia woman who asked that her real name not be used in order to protect her mother’s privacy, says she wishes she would have thought about these things more seriously when her parents, then in their late 60s, moved from New York soon after Mrs. Robertson’s 1991 wedding.

Mrs. Robertson’s mother said to her back then: “We don’t have to be right on top of you. We can live in Maryland.” Mrs. Robertson’s parents ended up moving less than two miles away from her.

“At the time, I looked at living close by as an advantage,” says Mrs. Robertson, who now has two preteen daughters. “I figured I could spend half an hour with them instead of having to drive half an hour and spend the day with them. But then I gave them a key to the house. They would walk right in without knocking. I finally had to have a heart-to-heart talk with them. I told them to call first. They said they understood, but my mom acted insulted.”

Mr. Spiro and Mrs. McClellan say they both try to be respectful of one another’s privacy. They see each other about once a week, sometimes meeting for dinner or enjoying time at home with Mrs. McClellan, her husband, Greg, and the children. Mr. Spiro will occasionally baby-sit. He sees Mrs. Davis, her husband and two small children about as often, he says.

“In an emergency, I am always available,” Mr. Spiro says. “I always call first. I would never just drop in.”

Included in those discussions of boundaries should be talk of when to include the grandparents and how often. To baby boomers who are busy with careers, social lives and the needs of their own children, having parents suddenly living nearby can be a big change.

“You have to think about what your life is like at this point,” Ms. Atkins says. “Your kids may be in their teens, and the last thing they want to do is hang out with Grandma. You may be going back to work and have a limited amount of time.”

Mrs. Robertson is seeing both of those things happening. Since their grandparents have always lived close by, the Robertson girls have enjoyed a close relationship with them. But now that the girls are getting older, their priority is spending weekends with their friends.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Robertson, who has a part-time job and is working on her master’s degree, says she feels she is under pressure. The situation has really been exacerbated since her father died last year.

“At holiday times, I feel totally obligated to include them,” she says. “It is exhausting always having to think about other people.”

Whatever families decide, the discussion should include the spouse of the adult child, Ms. Atkins says. The dynamics of their life will also change if their in-laws move to town, she says.

Mrs. Robertson says her husband has been supportive all along, which has been very helpful.

“Between my parents and the children, everyone needs attention,” she says. “Often, my husband gets the least of it. But I am lucky; he is easygoing. He respects me wanting to care about my parents, and I never spring on him, ‘My mom is coming over.’ I ask him, and once in a while he will say, ‘I kind of want it to be just us tonight.’

“If he didn’t support me, I would be a mess,” she adds. “Or I would have said to my parents, ‘Don’t move here,’ and then I would have felt guilty forever.”

Down the road

When Barbara Foelber’s parents, Bill and Charlene Greener, relocated from North Carolina to Sterling last fall, Mrs. Foelber looked at it as a bonus for everyone. The Greeners, who are in their late 70s, are fit and healthy now but were looking to the future when they moved to Falcon’s Landing, a continuing care facility for retired Air Force officers and their spouses.

“It was such an unselfish thing they did,” says Mrs. Foelber, who lives in Alexandria. Three of the Greeners’ five grown children and their families live in the Washington area. “They had a lovely place in North Carolina, but they wanted to be somewhere where their needs would be taken care of through the years. I have a lot of friends who are having a tough time getting to see their parents. My parents wanted to be in a situation where their kids would not have to take care of them.”

Mr. Greener — a retired lieutenant colonel who also was an assistant secretary of defense during the Ford administration — says anyone considering moving to be closer to their children should ask themselves if they would be happy living there even if the children move away.

“I’ve seen this happen,” Mr. Greener says. “People move closer to the children, and the children don’t know whether they are going to stay there. We have enough going on here that we would be fine.”

Mr. Spiro also took that into consideration.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Would we be comfortable in Silver Spring if our daughters moved away,’” he says. “The mobility of people is high, so that is always a reasonable likelihood. The answer was that we would still like to live there.”

Both families say the key to everyone’s happiness is the retirees finding activities, interests and friendships to supplement.

Ms. Ginzler of AARP agrees.

“Moving to a community with social opportunities puts you in a situation where you are not 100 percent dependent on your kids,” she says.

In fact, Mrs. Foelber doesn’t see her parents as often as she would like because her parents are so busy.

“I play golf,” Mr. Greener says. “Charlene is active in a couple of bridge clubs. She volunteers at the assisted-living center here. We both volunteer for Meals on Wheels. We work out at the gym three times a week. She does water aerobics. Being close to the kids is an important part of the package, but it is not the be-all and end-all. We have enough going on here.”

THINKINGOF MOVING?

If you are considering moving to be closer to your children and grandchildren, keep the following tips in mind:

• How close do you want to live to your adult children? Do you want to live down the street, or would a 15-mile drive put a necessary buffer zone between you?

• What sort of community do you want? Are you seeking to buy another home and keep up with the maintenance (yardwork, snow shoveling, etc.) involved? Or do you see your retirement in a condo where all of that is taken care of?

• How old are you? Are you 60 and vibrant or 80 and in failing health? This will help determine your needs. In picking a retirement home, think about what will happen should the future change fast, such as if a spouse dies or if you have to give up your driver’s license.

Many senior communities are located close to public transportation or in walking distance to shopping centers for this reason. Many also have continuing care facilities, which can give you assisted living care should you need it one day.

• What other social opportunities will you have? Is it wise to depend on your grown children for every holiday dinner or even simple weekend plans? Moving to an active retirement community can provide opportunities for social interaction with other seniors.

• Do you envision working part time in your retirement? Consider what the economy is like where your grown children live before making the move.

• What will the general boundaries be? Should you call first or just drop in? Will you be expected to baby-sit on a moment’s notice or just occasionally? Will you join the same church or synagogue or carve out your own niche?

• Consider all that is going on in your adult children’s lives. Jobs, spouses, children and civic activities keep people very busy these days. Fitting the retirees in may take some adjusting and getting used to, so everyone should be patient, and don’t dwell on hurt feelings.

• Remember that your adult children are not the people they were 20, 30 or 40 years ago. You might see your daughter as the spoiled baby of the family, for instance, but the rest of her community sees her as an accomplished attorney or competent PTA president.

Try to recognize that the children are not the same and neither are you and that everyone will be able to adapt to the present-day personalities.

Sources: AARP, psychologist Dale Atkins.

MORE INFO:

BOOKS —

• “I’M OK, YOU’RE MY PARENTS: HOW TO OVERCOME GUILT, LET GO OF ANGER, AND CREATE A RELATIONSHIP THAT WORKS,” BY DALE ATKINS, HENRY HOLT, 2004. THIS BOOK DETAILS HOW GROWN CHILDREN AND THEIR PARENTS CAN STRENGTHEN AND EVEN REINVENT THEIR RELATIONSHIP.

• “NOBODY’S BABY NOW: IMPROVING YOUR ADULT RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR MOTHER AND FATHER,” BY SUSAN NEWMAN, WALKER AND CO., 2003. THIS BOOK HAS GOOD ADVICE FOR GROWN CHILDREN WHO LIVE CLOSE TO THEIR PARENTS.

• “RETIREMENT PLACES RATED,” BY DAVID SAVAGEAU, JOHN WILEY & SONS, 1999. THIS BOOK OUTLINES FACTORS SUCH AS COST-OF-LIVING, HOUSING, CLIMATE AND OTHER DETAILS OF MORE THAN 200 TOP PLACES TO RETIRE.

• “THE NEW FACE OF GRANDPARENTING: WHY PARENTS NEED THEIR OWN PARENTS,” BY DON SCHMITZ, GRANDKIDSANDME, 2003. THE AUTHOR WRITES ABOUT THE CHANGING ROLES OF GRANDPARENTS IN THIS BOOK.

ASSOCIATION —

• AARP, 601 E ST. NW, WASHINGTON, DC 20049. PHONE: 800/687-2277. WEB SITE: WWW.AARP.ORG. THIS ADVOCACY ORGANIZATION HAS MANY RESOURCES FOR RETIREES, INCLUDING TIPS ON DECIDING WHERE TO RETIRE, WHAT RETIREMENT WILL COST AND HOW TO BE A BETTER GRANDPARENT.

ONLINE —

• RETIREMENT LIVING (WWW.RETIREMENT-LIVING.COM), A COMMERCIAL WEB SITE FOR FAMILIES IN THE MID-ATLANTIC AREA, FEATURES ARTICLES ABOUT CHOOSING A RETIREMENT COMMUNITY, MOVING, RELATIONSHIPS AND OTHER SUBJECTS OF INTEREST TO SENIORS.

• ON SENIOR WOMEN WEB (WWW.SENIORWOMEN.COM), A SITE RUN BY SEVERAL WOMEN OLDER THAN 50, VISITORS CAN FIND ARTICLES ON EVERYTHING FROM RELATIONSHIPS TO MANAGING MONEY IN RETIREMENT.


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