Newly retired, my wife and I are enjoying this stage that we’ve worked so hard to achieve. Leisurely breakfasts, jaunts to the gym, attending stimulating classes, and visits to our out-of-town kids and grandkids have replaced the grueling grind of our previous 9-to-5 work schedule. I highly recommend it! But our kids are clamoring, which brings me to the reason for writing this letter.
“Why should you live so far away? Don’t you want to watch your grandchildren grow up?”
My wife and I lock eyes after yet another one of these intense conversations between us and one of our four adult children. It’s a conspiracy, you see; they’re taking turns launching attacks. Rest assured: Of course we love them and want to be more involved in their lives, um, we think. But what exactly does that mean? Carpool duty? Babysitting expectations? Let’s leave the kids with Grandma and Grandpa for the weekend so we can get away? To be honest, that doesn’t sound like much of a retirement package. It sounds like we’ve ended one set of jobs only to exchange them for responsibilities that may be even more intense.
Please don’t misunderstand me. The love for our children and grands is there. Sundays at the park, trips to the beach, school plays, or just going out for ice cream together sound quite appealing. But then there’s the flip side. We already put in so many years of carpooling and babysitting. Can’t we have a break in our golden years? Our stamina is certainly not what it used to be. Or are we making a mistake? Will we look back and regret our decision not to be closer, because when all is said and done, what is more important than family?
What a dilemma! You sacrificed years of your life to raise your family, and now you want some time off to do the things you never had time for while you were busy working, nurturing your marriage, and guiding your children towards independence. The list of activities that overtook your younger years is unending: shopping, paying bills, doctor appointments, babysitting. … Who wouldn’t want a breather?
And yet, your heartstrings are pulled. You want to be an involved parent and grandparent; your love and caring for your family shine through every word of your letter. While you want to be intimately involved with the myriad details of your children’s and grandchildren’s lives, you also want to enjoy some of the privileges that accompany this new stage of life – unhampered. So, what’s a Grandpa to do?
I’m going to suggest a compromise, and perhaps it can work in your situation. Can you and your wife plan several extended trips per year during which you spend quality time with your family? Perhaps you can even rent an apartment in their city, providing you can handle that financially?
Based on my own experience, may I also suggest the following? Even during these family visits, it can be therapeutic for you and your wife to carve out a little chunk of time for yourselves. Take a walk, read a book, give yourselves a chance to get in touch with your deepest selves so that you don’t completely deplete your reserves while performing grandparent duty.
I think these visits may ultimately shed light on your dilemma. Perhaps, after spending weeks with your family, you and Grandma will want to take the plunge and move closer. The closeness may generate a yearning for more of the same and tearing yourselves away will hurt. Or, it may work the other way. After weeks of “employment” as a full-time Grandma and Grandpa, it may become clear that these segments are the time you can handle, and your hearts may crave solitude and independence.
Follow your heart, my friend. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to go on this journey. I think each person is an individual with his or her own strengths, talents, desires, and needs, and he or she must be truthful to him or herself. Because ultimately, if Grandpa and Grandma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Best of luck, Grandpa!
Warmly, Rachel Stein