A lot has been written about how to stay in touch when you live far from your adult children, but little has been written about how to make it work when you live nearby. To find out I spoke with several parents and grown children who live close to one another and found they drew great warmth, comfort, and companionship from the situation. Here is what they had to say.
Presence makes the heart grow fonder
All the parents I spoke with insisted they would be as emotionally close to their kids if they were physically far away, but being in the same town or reasonable driving distance was so much more satisfying. Differences can be smoothed over faster and more effectively face-to-face than through electronic devices. And with repeated contact comes closeness.
--As one man said of the son who does his legal work, “I know we could do all our business over the phone, but our lunches are the highlight of my week.”
--For the kids who come back to the place where they grew up, the familiar environment seems to be the draw. But one mother opined, “My daughter took a look at her two decrepit parents and probably thought, “How many years have they got left? They’ll need me.”
--According to a member of the younger generation, “In some ways it’s easier having my parents close by because the visits can be so much more natural, spontaneous, and shorter. When we lived apart we had to cram all these activities into a short period of time, and it felt so much more pressured and artificial.”
--Said another young man of his father, “We both have some kind of internal alarm clock that goes off when we haven’t seen each other for a few days. Then we’ll take the dogs for a walk or meet for a cup of coffee. I can’t say we have any set rituals, but we do manage to see each other fairly often.”
--“She’s spontaneous and I’m a planner,” volunteered one parent whose daughter just moved a few blocks away. “But I’m trying to loosen up and she’s trying to work ahead because otherwise we’ll never connect.”
Please include me—on my terms
When grandchildren are involved, making arrangements becomes more complicated, but grandparents will move heaven and earth to be with their children’s children. They know that their peers would give their eyeteeth to have the grandchildren close by. Sometimes, though, they could do with less togetherness.
--“Babysitting is not what I do, it’s not who I am,” one grandma told me. “Other women love to cluck, bake, and fuss, but it’s just not my thing. I know this is a disappointment to my son, but my first priority now is my husband, his stepfather.”
--“They expect me to be at every recital, soccer game, and birthday party,” lamented a grandfather. “If I hesitate to commit, I can hear the unspoken reproach, ‘Well, what else do you have to do with your time?’ I say yes because otherwise I’d feel guilty, but sometimes I’d just as soon stay home and get the executive report later.”
“I’m my own person!” was a refrain I heard time and again from parents. They were proud of the fact that their adult children didn’t consider them a burden.
--“My daughter rarely asks me to sleep over, which, if I am perfectly truthful, is fine with me,” one father told me. ‘My’ room in her house is actually the storeroom, and I’d just as soon sleep in my own bed.”
On the other hand, additional attention would be flattering. “I’m glad my kids know I’m self-sufficient. Still, I wouldn’t mind if they worried about me a little more!” one divorcee confessed.
The Spouse Factor
When two generations live in the same town, spouses have to be considered.
--As one young woman said, “We do things as a family, but I would say I see my mom more often on my own. You shouldn’t try to do everything all together – it’s too much.”
--Another chimed in, “You have to have frank discussions with your husband about the relationship when your folks are nearby because he didn’t grow up in your home. Things you don’t see, brush off, don’t bother you, or seem natural may grate on him or seem downright weird. Also, he might resent your closeness to your folks if his are far away, emotionally or physically.”
To sum up, there’s no doubt that parents and grown children who choose to live near one other are a self-selected group. Nevertheless, their caring and closeness are heartwarming compared to the rancor I see in so many adult families today.
--“We have such a good time together,” was a refrain I heard again and again from my interviewees.
--“Aside from the mother/daughter thing, we are friends,” several said, not without a little surprise.
--And finally, “I have lived far away as well as close by my parents,” one grown daughter reflected. “Living close by is not without its challenges, but at the end of the day I’d have to say it’s definitely a net plus.”
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