The value of having and maintaining a strong social structure is critical to the happiness and longevity of those in retirement.
A strong social structure is built upon the foundation of friends and family members who help to support, nurture, entertain and bring joy into the lives of those enjoying their “golden years.”
Many of us considering retirement spend time reading the columns that discuss the “best places to retire” We’re told to look for towns or even countries, where there’s warm weather, lots of activities and opportunities for retirees to continue to grow and learn, such as living in college towns. These decisions must also include consideration of existing social connections and the opportunity for continuing to grow one’s social network as well.
As Jack Hansen and Jerry Haas point out in their well researched and readable book, ‘Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement‘, the move to a dream location in retirement can turn into a nightmare. They state, ” The nightmare quality often hinges on their having left behind a network of friends with appreciating the difficulty of building a new one or a clear idea of how to go about it. In retirement, as in other phases of adult life, significant friendships are critical to a sense of connectedness and fulfillment.”
In their book, Hansen and Haas spent much time talking to retirees and their book has findings based upon their research that shows real life experiences that provide lessons for everyone either in, or planning for retirement. The authors report that half of the people they spoke to had relocated in retirement.
Most had moved “back” to communities where they had lived and reconnected with friends and a community that they knew. Of these, there were many stories of retirees returning to communities where many of their old friends were no longer living and many found that they had to build “new” friendships as if they had relocated to an area that was “new” to them.
This was a similar experience for those who had moved to new communities who Hansen and Haas found the concern that it’s ” harder to break into a well established community because people’s ‘relationship plate is already pretty full.”
When considering relocation in retirement or in one’s later years, what we often see is the well meaning adult children encouraging their parents to relocate closer to a community that they knew and built: their own family.
Many retirees relish the ability to enjoy time in retirement with their grandchildren. This can create much joy not only for the retiree and the grandchild, but it can also satisfy a need for the adult children who has a loved one who can assist with the parenting needs of young children. Many view the return of retirees to either the home or neighborhood of their adult children as a “win win” for everyone.
But is it really?
This is obviously one of those items that is a personal decision and there can be no blanket statements about it being right or wrong for everyone. Everyone’s situation is different and that is how it should be evaluated.
It’s important for both the adult children and the parents to understand the importance of the social structure that’s needed to support retirees as they age. There are wonderful benefits for being around their children and grandchildren but if this move puts them into a new neighborhood where they’ve left the friends and social connections that have been nurturing them, it may not be the right move. It could cripple the social structure that they’ve built and ultimately have an adverse impact of them.
When considering the move “back home with family,” the following questions should be considered by the adult child before it’s recommended to a parent:
- Do I need to have my parent closer to home because of their health concerns?
- Is this more about making something convenient for me or is it what’s best for my parent?
- Is there a risk that this arrangement could damage the relationship with my parents and counteract any of the rewards that could be gained from it?
- Will there be a social structure beyond just our family that my parents can tap into and nurture that will benefit them?
As Hansen and Haas found in their book, ” for the majority of individuals (who had relocated), a feeling of ‘being at home’ in a community seemed to have more to do with significant friendships than with proximity to family members”.