NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When Pam Boutelle moved from her home in Kansas City to marry her once high school sweetheart who now lives in Virginia, she left behind far more than her life-long home – she left her grown kids and grandkids too.
As a result Boutelle learned that it can take a little negotiating and planning to see her family. Her son has visited her once in Virginia, but her daughter and her three children have never made the trip east.
“It’s too much for my daughter to bring herself and her three little kids out,” says Boutelle. Instead, she and her husband make the trek back to their hometown to visit at least three or four times per year.
“When I tell them I’m coming, they always make time to see me,” Boutelle says. The couple typically stays with her mother, who has the room to accommodate them. That arrangement also eliminates the possibility one of her kids might feel she’s spending more time with the other.
“At Christmas, though, we’re staying in a hotel so no one family feels slighted,” says Boutelle. “We’ll spend Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas morning with his.”
John Duffy, a Chicago-based psychologist and author of the book, “The Available Parent: Radical Optimism in Raising Teens and Tweens,” says it’s very important to recognize that there are several aspects to negotiating time with your family when one of you has moved.
“We live in a transient society and it’s more a case now than it’s ever been,” says Duffy.”Kids move and parents move too. Because we have Facebook and texting, it makes it more palatable, but there’s still the question of who comes where and who pays.”
Visiting a College Student
If the kids are lucky enough to attend the college of their choice and it happens to be out of state, there’s typically no negotiating on who pays, says Duffy. “With college students, who typically have limited resources, the parents usually do the paying,” says Duffy. “Parents usually visit on parent weekends and kids come home at Thanksgiving, Christmas and for summer breaks.”
Sometimes this may not always be possible, especially in this economy when so many baby boomers have lost jobs and their savings, which may have included their retirement, says Julia Simens, author of “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child.” Simens says the family needs to take an honest look at its financial situation.
“The parent may say to the child, ‘We’d love to see you, but we can only send you $500 for a Christmas ticket to come and visit us, can you join us?” Or, Simens says it may even be that the parent or parents cannot afford a ticket, offering instead to pay for all of their meals if they can foot the bill.
“This type of honest communication lays out the ground rules so no one’s feelings are hurt or they are misunderstood,” says Simens.
Simens adds that the child also needs to communicate with his or her parents, asking for help if they need it. “Problems only happen when people are not honest to each other prior to the traveling. Clear expectations around money are needed to keep everyone happy and not disappointed,” she says.
When the Family Spreads Out
As children graduate from college and embark on their professional lives, chances are good that they will not remain in the same city in which they grew up. Increasingly, young working adults are not just moving out of state, but out of the country.
Many empty nest parents do the same when they retire and move to a new locale. Others, like Boutelle, find themselves single and when they remarry they may also make a move out of state.
“As kids get older, it really should become more reciprocal as for who pays,” says Duffy. “I work with a client who literally takes turns with his kids once a month: they come and see him and he goes and sees them. Everyone then has time with their families and no one person incurs the expenses alone.”
One way to help ensure that the expenses are spread out is for visitors to be sensitive to the fact that hosting guests usually involves more work and expense than traveling, Simens says. So, she advises, offering to pick up dinner or bring groceries on your visit can be a great help to the host, and to your relationship.
If the family can afford it, continuing a tradition like a vacation to Hawaii or Lake Tahoe for the holidays may be important to some parents, but not all younger generations can spare the expense. Simens says that having honest conversations with grown kids and families about continuing such traditions is important.
Vacationing in a different place can be a good way to relieve anyone of the burden of hosting, as well as placing people on neutral territory. “This is good especially if there are some control issues,” says Duffy. “It eases a lot of tensions in some families because it is no one’s home and no one is ‘in charge’.”
Simens says hotels, especially ones that have lobbies or common areas where the families can meet up or ones that offer free breakfasts, are good places for such vacations. “If you have a family that wants a suite and can afford it, you live the lifestyle you want and your older parents who might just want a cheap room can do that,” says Simens.
Wherever you meet up, the key Simens says is to not plan too long of a time together. “Everyone can make due for a few days but a long time adds more stress on everyone, even if you love the invited guest a lot,” says Simens. “My father-in-law always says he needs to stay less than a week because a guest is like a fish...ok for a while in your life but can get stinky after a long time.”
There are other ways besides empty nests that changing times have affected older Americans. Check out MainStreet's Gray Date: Rules of the Game for Older Daters or 10 Tips to Navigate Empty Nest Divorce! And for any seniors out there who are getting back on the job market, here are 7 Resume Tips for Older Workers!