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Grandparents answer a call

More are relocating to live closer to their adult children and grandchildren.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 26, 2009

Ms. Garza cooks a meal for her four grandchildren.

j. michael short/special to the christian science monitor

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As a third-generation native of Brownsville, Texas, Mildred Garza never planned to move away. Even when her daughter and son, both divorced, asked her to relocate to San Antonio to help with their children, she politely refused.

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"My mother loves small towns and hates change," explains her daughter, Lisa Marie Gomez. Only after a year of friendly persuasion did Ms. Garza finally say yes.

That was four years ago. Today all three generations hail the move as a success, giving them a closer relationship than they would have had in separate cities.

"The children adore her, and she adores them," Ms. Gomez says.

No statistics track the number of grandparents like Garza who are pulling up stakes and moving closer to adult children and grandchildren. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that the trend, while still modest, is growing.

Even President Obama's mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, has agreed to leave Chicago and move into the White House to help care for her granddaughters, Malia and Sasha.

In a poll released last week by Grandparents.com, 83 percent of respondents said Mrs. Robinson's high-profile relocation will redefine the importance of grandparents in the American family. Two-thirds believe more families will follow the Obamas' expanded family structure.

"In the 1960s we were all a little wild and couldn't get away from home far enough or fast enough to prove we could do it on our own," says Christine Crosby, publisher of Grand, a magazine for grandparents. "We've matured now as a generation and realize how important family is and how important it is to be near them, especially when you're raising children."

For Gomez, a single mother of three teenagers, her mother's help takes many forms.

"I used to pay a baby sitter $600 a month to pick up the kids from school at 3:30 and take them home until I returned," she says. "Now my mother picks them up every day, helps them with homework, makes them dinner, and enjoys spending time with them."

"Mamu," as the children affectionately call their grandmother, even taught Gomez's 16-year-old daughter to drive a stick-shift car and cook tortillas.

Garza, a former kindergarten teacher, laughs when she talks about her busy schedule.

"My friends ask, 'How does it feel to be retired?'" she says. "I tell them, 'I'll let you know when I get there.'"

Initially, Gomez says, the biggest challenge her mother faced was loneliness.

"She also had trouble finding her way around this city. But she now has tons of friends and is very happy."

Another contented transplant is Patricia Nan Anderson, author of "Parenting: A Field Guide." After her son and daughter-in-law's first baby was born, she experienced what she terms "the call of the grandchild." In 2005, she packed up and moved from suburban Chicago to Seattle.

Before you rush to the aid of offspring

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

• Is your child or his or her spouse likely to have a job relocation in the near future?

• How well do you get along with your son- or daughter-in-law?

• What are your expectations for this arrangement?

• Are you being taken advantage of in terms of time you will be asked to spend with your grandchildren?

• Is your son or daughter too dependent on you?

• Are you moving for your adult child or for your own reasons?

• How jarring will this move be in terms of your own social network? Do you make new friends easily? Can you give up the friends you have?

• Will you feel cut off? Your adult children will have a life of their own and commitments that won't always include you.

• If you are still working, what are the job prospects in the new location?

• What activities are available?

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