Let Me Try that Again: Grandparents Take II

Yesterday, I wrote a bad post.  My apologies: It was my fault for framing a post in terms of “why don’t more Mormons adopt X model?”  I want to keep the comments closed because I think the post I wrote tends to narrow the conversation to debating the pros and cons of a certain model. I don’t want to repeat an Amy Chua Asian parent debate here! But since it isn’t really fair to dangle an intriguing topic and then close comments, I want to reframe part of the issue here:

Few of us live near extended family anymore.  What ways have you found to preserve those relationships?

Specific questions :

If you are approaching retirement, do you think about where your children live as you decide where you want to be?  Or if you have lots of children do you just pick a place you enjoy and hope they visit you?

How does the Mormon view of retirement as a time for church service and new opportunities impact long-term family relationships?

How do people with many children balance which children and grandchildren they devote resources to?  Or is such balance impossible?

Again, thank you with your patience with me.  I still have learning to do as a blogger.


  1. I’m glad you put up a new post. I had two close chinese friends growing up. The families had immigrated together. The four parents worked and the four grandparents parented. It was such a great feeling to walk into their homes…generally all four grandparents would be in one home playing mahjong and the smell of ginger from some soup like something on the stove. The four children would play together.

    We have spent years close to family, including some help caretaking dad, and the last few years far from family. It is hard to know mom is alone (one of her granddaughters just moved in to be there).

    We have come to view grandparents as the spoilers…I don’t think it’s always been so, nor need it be. I know my mom likes to work with the children and when they visit her they frequently help her garden.

    I’m still working out how to stay close from far away.

  2. For what it’s worth, I thought your original post was interesting, not inflammatory at all.

    My husband and two children and I live very, very far away from both of our extended families. We always have, through nine years of marriage. Sometimes it’s hard to know that the grandparents get to spend a lot more time with our brothers and sisters and their families than they do with us. At times, I pine for free, willing, loving, convenient childcare and I envy those who have it (and often take it for granted).

    I don’t have solutions (beyond Gmail videochat) or anything meaningful to contribute. I just wanted to say the above and add that I think balance is impossible. We all do the best we can but the results are imperfect.

  3. Obviously, travel and technology are very good tools for staying close to family who are far away. I wonder, though, why living far away is a given–you can certainly choose not to.

  4. My parents lived in the same large city as both sets of their grandchildren, but on opposite sides of town (no special reason for that; it’s just how it worked out). It was something of an effort for either generation to visit the other what with traffic and work schedules and elderly drivers, but they were near enough to help in case of need.

    My parents established quite a few traditions to stay close to their grandchildren. Some of the traditions were the same with both sets (portraits taken on birthdays and half-birthdays; visiting Grandma to bake your own birthday cake, and a trip with Grandpa to the bookstore while it was cooling; going to the kids’ school performances); other traditions developed because of different needs of the two families (Grandma always made a huge pot of vegetable beef soup to take over to one family when there was a new baby). All of those things were done originally in consultation with the parents — the grandparents would never have dreamed of interfering in their kids’ family life by expecting the grandchildren to visit on their birthdays if it hadn’t also been at the suggestion or with the full cooperation of the parents.

    I only knew one grandparent myself, and we had our own traditions with her. When she was very elderly and I was college age, she came to live with us for a few years, before becoming healthy enough to go live on her own again. We may have seen her only two or three times a year while we were growing up, but we felt like we knew her, looked forward to her birthday cards, wrote her letters ourselves, and wanted her to visit at Thanksgiving.

  5. Oh, and after my mother died, my father moved in with one son and a passel of grandkids. I think that was possible largely because of the example of my own grandmother living with us when she couldn’t be on her own. Dad couldn’t care for the grandkids (a la yesterday’s post) at that point, but he could be the storyteller and the distributor-of-dollar-bills.

  6. Natalie B. says:

    2: I agree that balance is impossible to obtain. But I still struggle with it. We have one family member who will not speak to one of my parents anymore because she felt her parents gave too much to us grandkids while neglecting her. It really saddens me. I alternate between thinking that her perspective is immature and sympathizing quite a bit with how she felt treated.

  7. Natalie B. says:

    #4: Writing letters was also important to me. My only living grandparents for most of my life were in Hawaii, so we saw them once every 2-3 years. Because our only communication was typically through letter, I think it influenced the kind of relationship we had. The letters were mostly about ideas, and they’d send me The Economist and various stock reports in exchange. I liked it. It was odd when we met in person, however. We never developed a relationship based on actual interaction.

    I later learned that my cousins in Hawaii had a very different relationship with them. My grandpa did the Asian model with them–he’d pick them up from school on set days and took them to various activities. They seemed to think of him more as a parent and less as an intellectual friend. Both relationships were good, but very different because of the kind of contact.

  8. OP(2) “Few of us live near extended family anymore. What ways have you found to preserve those relationships?”
    Marry a local guy or gal. That’s one thing I have never liked about someone going to BYU to get married__One of the two will be giving up their family, maybe both. I married a local girl_both sets of parents lived near us. My children have the same thing. My daughter lives across the street with her five kids.

  9. Bob Sheedy says:

    From the grandparents’ side…We have recently retired and since we have been living 1100 miles away from our closest grandchildren, we plan to spend the next two years visiting them. Our first stop started on Christmas Eve and will be ending the middle of April. We been trying to integrate with the family while at the same time not interfering with the way our child and in-law are bringing up their children. They are doing a great job but it is different than the way we would do it. It’s hard to keep quiet but that is what we decided to do. Some of our children are not active in the church and that may present an even tougher situation. We intend to honor the parents decisions while we are guests in their households. We have six children and they don’t live close to each other. We plan to make two visits to each household during the next two years before deciding where to settle. Right now, we are thinking that separate living accommodations (motorhome or travel trailer) may be the best way if local zoning laws will permit us to park at the home for a few months at a time.

  10. I also live in Hawaii and my grandchildren are in Idaho and Missouri. Due to weddings and new babies being born, I’ve been lucky for the last several years to have been able to see them at least once or twice a year, but it’s definitely a challenge to be a part of their lives.

    My oldest grandson is almost 5. Since he was about 2, I’ve sent him postcards on a semi-frequent basis. He loves to get mail, and touristy postcards are ubiquitous and inexpensive here. Now that he’s a bit older and learning to read, it’s even more fun to write to him. I send silly riddles, or just whatever, mostly so he’ll know I’m thinking of him.

    My daughter has been great, keeping my picture in his room and always telling him stories about me. She even made a little scrap book that included me. The first time he saw me (that he was old enough to remember) he ran and got the book she’d made for him to show me. It was almost like Big Bird stepped out of one of his story books for him, but he knew that I was someone special and that I loved him. He’s old enough now that he can use the phone. Our extended family all has the same cell phone provider, so we don’t have to worry about minutes or long distance charges. He called me after the tsunami warning to explain how the “world shook and made a huge wave”.

    Skype is one of my best friends. My daughter who lives in Missouri skypes us at least once a week. My grandson there is just learning to crawl, so it’s wonderful to see how he’s growing and he gets very excited to see us on the screen.

    I don’t intend to live in Hawaii for the rest of my life, but it’s where I am now. When I move back to the mainland, I’ll go to where I find employment… but I’ll definitely try to get close to at least one of my children.

  11. Thanks for reopening this idea for discussion. I loved the other post and was sad that I didn’t get a chance to comment. Personally, my mom was a single working mother and I was cared for by my grandma (who charged my mom a nominal fee for child care services and food, etc). As an adult, I am still very close to my grandma.

    Meanwhile, I live about 12,000 away from my mom and my own kids see her about 2-3 times a year. They don’t have nearly the same relationship with her, and it pains me. We email and talk on the phone, but even then, it’s not the same. I think one way to preserve the relationship is to make time for fun activities when you are together and do simple things that the children will enjoy and remember. My kids love my own grandma because every summer when we see her, she takes them out to her garden to help pick strawberries.

  12. Natalie B. says:

    #9: What a fun idea! Having a motorhome might be perfect–it would give you privacy and continuity as you travel. Have fun.

  13. The problem with living close to home is that one’s parents can still move away. It’s hard to see myself making major sacrifices to be near them if they aren’t committed to a particular place themselves.

  14. My mother and stepfather live in Utah, my father and stepmother in south Georgia, my sister and her husband are in England (near his family), and I attend university in North Carolina. As much as I love the idea of being near my family, there’s just no way it could happen (particularly with my parents being in different time zones). Thus, Skype and Facebook are my two best friends, even though it never completely eliminates the feeling of being emotionally torn in two about the prospect of having to figure out where to live after graduation.

  15. I grew up VERY far away from family. One side had very fun, organized, definite family reunions with a definite family identity.
    Now I have my own family. With my siblings and parents we visit each other a lot. Eventually my parents chose to live near us for part of the year.
    I am glad that they don’t live here the whole year. Having them here part of the year is perfect.
    I think because I grew up without extended family nearby I prefer to have holidays at my own house now that my kid are older (I want them to imagine Xmas at our house with our family). I want the option to have other friends and activities (it is impossible to make friends with people who have lived somewhere forever and have lots of family because they won’t make room in their life for you–I notice that we don’t invite as many other people when my parents are in town).
    I haven’t felt too shortchanged having my parents and siblings live far away. My mother has come for every baby’s birth to take care of me and my family. I have many older single siblings who come visit me. Once my whole family came to visit me for Xmas.
    I think we are closer than many other families. We don’t take each other for granted. We spend more time quality time together because it is something special.
    My sister gave me a plane ticket to come see her for my 40th birthday!!! Yippee. It is awesome having a sister in NYC to visit.
    Other things we’ve done:
    Fantasy Football League
    Phone calls
    amazon wish lists for xmas
    If you want to make it a priority you do. I have to admit it helps that my parents can afford plane tickets. We wouldn’t be able to see them as often if we had to pay for the tickets to bring them here. (They have even helped us go see them).

  16. Natalie, yesterday’s post was interesting, and I was sorry to see it close before I could comment. But on to today’s post: I really resonated to the comment #8, regarding the value of staying in your local area or region for post-high school training and education, which increases the chances of finding someone to marry who has family ties to the area. Of my four adult kids, two are married, both to partners whose families have deep ties in our west coast state. My kids all live within two hours of us, and we get to see them frequently. My surving parent and my wife’s parents both life in state. In fact, my wife’s parents live five blocks in one direction and our oldest daughter and her husband and our granddaughter live five blocks the other direction. We are able to help both out quite a bit, and we benefit from it tremendously. I’ve always kind of felt sorry for the local families who sent their kids to BYU and they then married someone from another part of the country, went far away for work opportunities, and saw them once or twice a year if they were lucky. I would much rather have my family within the same region if at all possible. We sacrifice way too much for our careerism.

  17. Bro. Jones says:

    My wife and I are the only members in our family, so our experience is not representative, but: my mother-in-law is retiring this year and plans to move in with us for at least several years and, among other things, provide daycare for our children.

    This isn’t just a favor to us: she is divorced, financially strapped, in a job which causes her measurable physical and mental distress, and is not very attached to the family that is located nearest to her. The birth of our first daughter was an immense joy for her, and the prospect of taking a few years to get a fresh start and spend time with grandchildren is very attractive to her.

    Now, if she had 4 kids and each of them had grandchildren for her to spend time with, things might be very different. But with LDS families getting smaller in the aggregate, maybe grandparents or other extended family coming to live with the next generation and their kids might become more common. Not every senior citizen in the church serves a mission, after all.

  18. If you like having your elderly parents around, make the same mistake I did: have the only single story house in the family! As these parents age, you are the only one that can house them.

  19. Ben Pratt says:

    On a large scale: family reunions. The descendants of my great-grandparents have been gathering regularly since the oldest of their 10 children left home ~70 years ago. This eventually developed into wonderfully-organized reunions occurring about bi-annually since around 1979. Due to these I know/knew my dad’s nine paternal aunts and their husbands, most of their ~75 children and scores of my 2nd cousins. Now my children know lots of those people and many of their 3rd cousins. My imaginings about what it will be like to gather with loved ones after death are based largely on these awesome reunions.

    The thing that’s so impressive about these great gatherings is that they occur despite the family being scattered all over creation (perhaps 90% are in the western US, northern Mexico, or BC). Not everyone comes every time, of course, but attendance is typically 250+. Reunion swag always includes an updated family directory, which allows for keeping in touch. My grandfather and his sisters also wrote monthly family letters that were then distributed to their children and grandchildren as desired, first by letter and eventually via email.

    Middle scale: For the last 30 years or so the descendants of my own grandparents have held our own mini-reunion in conjunction with the big one. We also do monthly family letters via email, and have regular local get-togethers wherever some of us live near each other.

    Small scale: Skype, Facebook, cell phones w/ texting, and gatherings when possible. All my wife’s siblings and their families live within 20 minutes of my parents-in-law, so they gather for monthly FHE and we’re represented on a laptop in the room via Skype. My family also has monthly FHE together with everyone except a brother on a mission.

    Last year when we lived in WA, 24 hours away from my family, we flew my mom up to watch our daughters during spring break rather than pay for extra day-care. After we decided to take a drive that week to attend the Vancouver temple open house, my brother and DW’s parents ended up joining us for that excursion.

    One more thing: I was born during my grandparents first mission together, and their fourth mission coincided with my own. Corresponding with grandparents is awesome, especially while they are missionaries.

  20. Bob – so true. Our split level home is impossible for my husband’s mother. But these days she doesn’t want to travel at all to see us anymore. My children are the last of her grandchildren. The grandchildren who are in their 20s and 30s are very close to her. My children are limited in developing a relationship with her because she only pretends to hear what they say and they can tell she’s faking it.

  21. Natalie B. says:

    #20–Part of the reason I wrote letters rather than called my grandparents was that they never could hear anything I said over the phone! My parents aren’t even that old, and they already want a single-story home (and better, yet, a condo with no yard).

  22. Natalie B. says:

    To everyone sorry that the post closed: Please feel free to leave comments on that topic here if you’d like. I made the mistake of blogging with a fever, so probably thought it was more controversial than it actually was!

  23. In regards to first OP, I think it is totally awesome if grandparents are available to help with child-care, and I believe that was the point that Natalie was trying to make. Unfortunately, several people seemed to have interpreted it as an expectation for grandparents to take over the child-care.

    I am the sixth of six boys and I have two younger sisters. Of my siblings, only the youngest (who is sixteen-almost-seventeen) is unmarried (well, one of my older brothers is engaged, but for all practical purposes they are close enough to be considered married). We are scattered across the nation, with family in several states, including Oregon, Utah, Missouri, and Illinois. When my wife and I have children, we will be in a “fortunate” situation, I suppose, since we live in the same town as her parents and my parents are a mere 90 miles away. (One of my brothers lives in the same town as my parents, too). I am quite confident that when my wife and I have children, her family will be helping out with child-care. My parents are not able to travel to see all of their grandchildren, but they are involved by sending cards, letters, emailing, blogging, using facebook, etc.

    I don’t know that any of my siblings feel left out if my parents can’t travel to visit all the time. Mum and Dad will travel for births and try to make it to baptisms, but it isn’t always possible for the latter. I think we all understand their circumstances, though. If my folks were wealthy and still didn’t visit, the situation would be considerably different.

  24. Naismith says:

    My in-laws did help with childcare on occasion, but they retired in their mid-50s. By the time they were in their 70s, they were pretty much past it.

    And the thing is, nowadays most of us are going to have to work for pay until age 70, which is not going to leave much productive time to spend on grandchild care. So that’s a function of the economy and social security, etc.

    Also, when our kids were little, we let them fly alone from as young as age 5 to visit the grandparents. That’s kind of fun, to just have one child to focus on, not near as demanding as the entire brood. But nowadays we know parents who absolutely would not consider sending a child on a trip like that. Partly it is 9/11, but that was 10 years ago, and the fact that flying is still statistically safer than driving seems to have no impact on their decision.

  25. Brandon Flowers says:

    Now the kids were all grateful when they left the nest/
    And Jackie wasn’t perfect but she did her best/
    Thought you’d cease the opportunity to get you some rest/
    But you can’t sleep on account of screaming grandkids/

    The golden years are meant to leave a gleam in your eye/
    You’re starting to discover it’s a great big lie/
    They’ll work you like a dog ’til you quit or you die/
    But you can’t quit cause Jackie needs the benefits/

  26. #24: Naismith,
    Most people can’t work at age 70, and no one is wants to have 70 year old workers. If still working at 70 is anyone’s plan ‘A’__they better come up with at new one as soon as possible.

  27. #3: ESO:

    Choosing to live close to family isn’t always an option, depending on one’s field of employment, available opportunities in one’s hometown, etc.

  28. BTW–I think that the intergenerational caretaking things cut both ways: those Asian families where grandparents act as daycare turn into the families where the grandparents move in with you during the years they need assistance. While my parents can be enormously helpful now, the time will come when I am taking care of them.

  29. Laura–noted, but I think it is more of an option than many people allow. It just depends on priorities. I, personally, would rather work a job near my parents than pursue a job that can only be done in certain far away cities or pays better elsewhere; many of my siblings feel differently. I would guess, though, that most people who wanted to could pursue the career of their choice within a few hours drive of any given spot in the US.

  30. My wife and I are utterly flexible. We know where we like living, but we’re willing to let God tell us where we should go. It’s our prerogative, not our children’s…

    We’ve always told our kids that they should live where they feel inspired to live, and we’ll let technology work it out.

    In our experience, people who make an effort to see each other, no matter the distance, do so. It doesn’t matter if you all live in the same ward or 2000 miles away…

  31. LovelyLauren says:

    I grew up with my Grandma just a few blocks away. My family even lived with her for several months while building a house. She was always one of our primary babysitters growing up. My other set of grandparents were about ten hours away and we just became very good at sitting in the car. Travelling with kids is far more possible than many people think it is. That being said, my cousins who lived very near my maternal grandparents were much closer to them than I ever was and I was always a bit jealous since they were younger and far more active than my paternal grandparents. Living very close really does make a huge difference.

    Because of this, I have consciously decided to stay closer to home than most of my peers. My husband and I don’t have kids yet, and probably won’t for a few years, but I want them to grow up knowing their grandparents well and feeling close to them. I’m in school to be a teacher and one of the blessings of the field is that I can live almost anywhere. My husband, who is in the health care field, shares the same option.

  32. Naismith says:

    “Most people can’t work at age 70, and no one is wants to have 70 year old workers.”

    I think it depends on the job. For physically demanding work such as construction, even the official social security retirement age of 67 is probably too high.

    In other areas, it depends. At BYU, Doug Thayer was still teaching English in his late 70s. I am currently working at a second-tier university, and they make it a point to bring in faculty who are forced to retire from Yale, Harvard, etc. Those folks start working here at 65 and hang on into their 80s. At least 20% of our faculty are over age 70.

    All of my siblings have been unemployed for significant periods of times, for various reasons during this downward economy. Thus they need to work extra years to accumulate the retirement savings they need.

  33. fghjfjkg says:

    I have frequently seen the grandma babysitting so both parents can work with my non-member friends. Both parents have always been working for economic reasons in these instances. If there was any other reason (e.g., the wife pursuing a passion for writing or teaching) these strong willed grandmas have told my mom they would lay the kabosh down. They don’t see womens’ lib as just passing off the mother role to another woman. I have always wondered about that idea. It seems somewhat strange to think that many woman see full-time mothering as below them, yet feel free enlisting a woman of a lower socio-econmic class in the same duty. Its a complex world we live in.

  34. We have always lived a great distance from grandparetns, largely because that is where the work was. Although when I went to grad school in the city where my parents lived, they moved away two months later. They were not particularly interested in being the “babysitting” grandparents. But we visited at least yearly.

  35. Natalie B. says:

    #33–I’ve had those same thoughts about complexity. Some thoughts:

    1. I don’t think many feminist goals related to women in the workplace are attainable without fundamental shifts in how we think about family–including the need for increased intergenerational and social support–and what roles we play when. I often admire cultures with strong intergenerational connections, because I think by thinking outside the nuclear family box they often find ways to sensibly ensure that family is provided for at all stages of life.

    2. Being raised in the church, I grew up (rightly or wrongly) with the impression that motherhood was never as important as men’s careers. But now full-time mothering frankly sounds a lot more appealing to me than most jobs. The major downside I see is that it isn’t paid and doesn’t provide the skills to get a high paying job later.

  36. For the record, my family had a model similar to the one you mention in the previous post: my grandparents picked me up from school and watched us (or let us run wild and barefoot) at their place for a few hours before one of my parents picked us up on their way home from work. (Our homes were 15 min apart) All of us loved it, but I realize it wouldn’t work for everyone.

    I think my mom kinda hopes she’ll be able to do something similar for our eventual kids, but my dad wants to go on a mission and we currently live on separate coasts. Either way, I think my parents want proximity to both my brother and I when they retire, but our future locations up very much up in the air and nobody know when or where they will land.

  37. We live 3+ hours on a plane from both sets of parents.

    I know that my parents would really love for us to be closer so they could have more time with my kid. I’d like that in theory, but in practice, my mom has completely made a second life post 5-kids-by-30 now that we are all grown. I doubt she would be of much daily help. It sure would be nice to have someone cover the random school district doesn’t match university spring breaks!!

    My mom did have a great example of a long distant grandparent in her own mother who was super involved in my life from afar. Long-distance grandparenting can be special in its own way IF you make the effort with cards, and spending special gifts for holidays, traveling for the birthday (makes it super special!) and such. Mom tries. And we both recognize that there is something terribly special about staying for a long weekend a couple times a year and seeing the kid 24-7 in their own element that down the street grandparents might not get.

    My (not mormon) inlaws would certainly be up for a more traditional 3 generation arrangement if they lived closer. Father in law was tended by his grandma… husband tended by grandma… usually as the youngest turned 3 or 4 which allowed the mothers to return to work and not latch-key the kids. When they do come for several weeks at a time, they totally do the lions’ share of the childcare. Even though it would be a significant adjustment, I’ve made it clear that they are welcome to come for lengthier periods of time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them relocate when she retires this year. But, then again, husband is one of only 2 and my kid is the only grandkid. Totally different family and cultural expectations.

    One thing that has been interesting is that 2 of my siblings (coincidentally !?! the most ‘active’ LDS of the 5 of us and also on the Wasatch front) who live away from my parents WILL NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES allow my parents to stay with them for more than a single night when they visit. They both claim they don’t have big enough space, but (as someone who has hosted both sets of parents in several tiny apartments for birthdays and such) it seems to me there is an ultra valuing of privacy. My parents are financially secure, but not able to swing hotels for weeks at a time, etc. I’m not quite sure what the siblings expect them to do. It sure has made my parents anxious about going up to see them. They feel more comfortable spending a week with me than 4 days between the 2 of them.

  38. I think that to the extent that your first post was a little bit of a fail, this post succeeds. I am glad you decided to do a “take 2”. These are interesting issues. I have a fairly demanding career and I can remember having that same fantasy of how great it would be if my parents could just move in with me. It is certainly a long way from realistic in my case, because they have their own home, jobs, hobbies, etc. They are the ones that get to travel to Europe. I think that is the way it should be.

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that in cultures where multiple generations live together, adult children often are still expected to submit to the authority of their parents. They often have far less autonomy and less independence in making decisions about their own lives. Not appealing.

  39. The thread seems to be going back to the terminated thread from Saturday regarding multi-generational living arrangements (it is a good topic!). I’ll add my $0.02: for those of you exhausted young parents who are pining for having your parents or in-laws live with you to take the stress of of child care so you can pursue demanding careers or simply be able to take a nap or shower when you need it, consider that adopting one particular aspect of traditional Asian cultures without being part of the broader cultural mindset would not work the same way in western cultures. If you are an American who was raised to value independence, autonomy, self-fulfillment, and self-determination, you would likely find many unforseen conflicts in having a multi-generational household. I’ve had adult children (with my lovely grandkids) move back home for periods of time, and was surprised at the stressful adjustment–much different than having them visit for a week. Once a parent, always a parent.

  40. My family is spread all over the place, but my husband’s four sisters never left Georgia, married local boys, and now they all live in the same ward boundaries. At first, I thought this was a sign of their lack of ambition (since everyone I grew up with left home to attend college elsewhere), but I get it more now. In some ways, I’m envious of their frequent family get-togethers, easy access to free childcare in the form of sisters and grandma, and their ability to lay down permanent roots in one place. But even though they all live in the same area and see each other frequently, they have rather superficial relationships with one another and are incapable of having a relationship with me and my husband because it requires work. They know nothing about us, much to my husband’s dismay. My sister and I, on the other hand, are incredibly close despite the fact that we live 6,000 miles away because we call each other constantly and work hard to maintain our relationship.

    The idea of being close to family is enticing, but my husband and I will probably not ever chose to live near our families. Part of this is because of his career (he’s in the military) and part of this is because the way we’ve chosen to raise our children is very different than how we were raised ourselves. I’m afraid that it would be very difficult to parent in our chosen way if we lived in closer proximity to our families. Unfortunately, we both have some family members who are not very good examples and I feel that my children need limited contact with those people. I wonder how others maintain relationships or limit boundaries with these types of family members?

    Sorry for wandering so far off topic. I guess I have nothing relevant to add to this conversation. :)

  41. There’s an extended family where I live that really supports each other and visits together in a way I envy. The grandparents on any given day might be watching one or another set of grandkids for a couple hours, but nothing too crazy. The parents do the same amongst themselves. The best I feel I can hope for is to find really close friends who would like to support each other this way. It’s really wonderful to have a support system you can use and contribute to in a way that isn’t about trying to keep track of who owes whom.

  42. And I second the suggestion of marrying someone who grew up near you. I did that and since there were no jobs anywhere upon graduation we just moved back to my hometown (thought neither of us has any really dependable family nearby). If you love where you’re from, try to find a spouse who loves it there, too.

  43. Natalie B. says:

    I’m so envious of people who marry locals. But, alas, for those who grow up outside of major Mormon areas, it is hard to marry both a local and a Mormon. I can’t actually name a single friend from the ward I grew up in who managed to do both.

  44. It occured to me that one way we keep our parents in the picture though they are far away is simple. We talk about them. We talk about the stories we know from their childhood. We refer to their travels or missions or whatever. They are a part of our lives, so they are a part of the lives of our children.

    I do wish they were closer. We’ve never really expereienced the grandparent as babysitter. When we did live close to family, we were in a caretaking role, not the other way around.

  45. My 7 grand kids live across the country from us. We spend lots of hours every month on the phone and email/Facebook making sure they know us, etc.

    Our daughter is looking on moving with her husband and 2 sons back to the South east, so we are actually looking at moving back down South to be near them. (Too cold for us in Indiana).

    And yes, future mission, etc., will probably impact all of this. But one has different priorities at varying times of life.

    We’ve lived away from both families for years. The last 8 years we have been near my wife’s family, so that she can help care for her mother. But we now feel it is time to spend more time with our own kids and grandkids.

  46. In my opinion, marrying a local is overrated and can lead to a fairly insular cultural experience. We never lived close to my grandparents – halfway across the country – and we never stayed in one place for more than 8 years when I was a child. The rich experience of living in multiple cities across the East and Midwest opened my eyes to a broader world than my street, my town, and my Ward.

    In fact I almost married a girl who was local to where we landed in my final years of high school but as I look back at that experience, I’m glad to have married a girl who has no connection to where I grew and in fact was born and raised in another country. Together we bring a very rich patchwork quilt of experiences and perspectives that enable us to turn our children’s eyes outward to a broad world and a diverse set of cultures.

    The fact that we moved back to the area where my parents and a couple of my siblings live was more accidental than planned due to employment choices. However, we made the distinct choice to move far enough away from everyone that we:

    A) were in a separate Stake such that we could be a family of our own making and contribute to the Church by our own capabilities rather than being part of the known “family clan” as is the case with my siblings.

    B) were far enough away (40 minutes to an hour) that no one was going to just drop by without making effort.

    This has allowed us to build a family culture that enables us to engage with the larger family clan in a manner that we choose while allowing my parents to engage with our children and build strong connections. The challenge of course is that as soon as my father retired – about the same time we started having children – my parents began the mission and travel efforts that my mother long desired to do. So while we live physically close to their home, we still only see my parents for a couple of weeks a year as their mission rules allow since they have been “stationed” in areas that are half way around the world.

    So email, blogs, photos, videos, and skype become our primary means of communication and staying close with grandparents. I believe that as technology evolves it will be possible to maintain a stronger connection to family members even if you are distributed across the world. Capabilities like facetime on a smart phone make strong personal connections even when you’re on the go a much different experience from long distance phone calls, post cards and letters that were the experience of my childhood.

    My wife would love to be closer to family who all live out West and if the right employment opportunity arises we will probably make that shift. However, we both subscribe heavily to my Dad’s theory which is go where the Lord wants you to be and everything else will fall into place. Every move we have made, both in my childhood and now with my own family, has made careful consideration of where we can best serve in the Lord’s vineyard of the utmost priority.

  47. Let me edit to say, that I almost married a young woman who was local to where my parents finally moved us in my final years of high school. The way it’s written my previous post makes it sound like I almost had to get married in high school. We dated before my mission, she then went and served a mission, and ultimately we spent time together as friends at BYU. But we realized that there were better fish in the sea for both of us.


  48. I have no roots myself. Neither do my parents. It is awesome to travel and take my kids to church in different places.

  49. John Mansfield says:

    Well, good thing there are some stay-at-home types to preserve the world’s rich patchwork quilt from homogenizing cosmopolitanism for the sake of those who like the different places they visit to actually differ.

  50. I wonder, do today’s values of Mormons work against the extended family? BYU, retired missions. large families (not on farms), moving to the best place for a job?
    I have lived near Latino Culture my whole life. Now I am in the minority. The extended family for Latio Culture seems to be a norm(?) They don’t move much, the grandparents always seem to be in the groups_(the cars and stores), lots of family businesses. etc . Maybe It’s just what I see?

  51. @John Mansfield #49, I intended no offense in my explanation of my experiences but please allow me to elaborate because it speaks to an undercurrent of Natalie’s original questions around dealing with how few of us live near extended family any longer.

    Of the last two Wards that my family lived in, one in the Midwest and one out East – both in large metropolitan regions that rank in the top 10 population-wise in the United States, both of which I experienced as a teenager, virtually none of my friends from Church still live in those areas. We’re talking about a cross section of two different groups of 30 youth so a sample of 60 people. And to add to that dynamic, virtually none of their parents still live in those areas either. Many of them moved away in the 6 years of middle and high school so it wasn’t just marrying a non-local that led to the diaspora. And I wouldn’t even call it a diaspora because all of those families were 1st generation in the area anyway.

    My parents’ Ward until the borders were redrawn ~10 years ago, included a military base that added to the transitory nature of the Ward. The fact that one of my friends from back then and I actually live in the same Ward now (different Ward, different Stake) is something that baffles both he and I and especially our mutual friends who “grew up with us” back then in that Ward. That just doesn’t happen.

    Likely the transitory nature of these Wards has to do with the large corporations that supply a deep bench of transplants of members who move through the areas where I live and lived. My parents’ Ward saw a 20% turn over almost every single year. So what does it mean to be rooted anywhere today? I can pinpoint a handful, and I mean a handful (like 5 families) in the two Stakes I know well right now where roots go deeper than 2 generations.

    This is the reality of those who live outside of the western Mormon enclaves unless they are converts to the Church.

  52. We lived far away from grandparents when I was small, and my husband and I lived far away when our children were small, and so I have had to get rid of my unexamined assumptions about being self-sufficient as a nuclear family. Now my mother-in-law lives with us and two of our children with children live fairly close as well. My husband and I are both still working full-time but have somewhat flexible schedules.

    One set of parents ask us to take their two very active preschoolers for several days at a time at least once a month (usually with little advance notice). We are glad to have them, but it is quite difficult. The kids are excited to be at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and it is hard to get them into their regular routine of naps and bedtime etc. Now they are toilet trained it is easier, but still impossible to do anything else during that time but tend them. If we hesitate about saying “yes” it hurts their parents’ feelings.

    We love the kids and we love having them. It is a sacrifice, however, there’s no denying it. I don’t know if we’ve forgotten what it was like to care for small children, or if we just don’t have the energy we used to have. Sometimes I sigh when I have to give up my weekend (or longer) plans again to watch the babies, but I don’t sigh where the kids or grandkids can hear. Difficult but worth it.

  53. I think the loss of an extended family in Mormonism is a big issue. Mormonism was founded on the gathering of it’s people , building a Zion, then came Mormon villages. Now, the Church values a strong family seens limited to young couples with kids__that can live anywhere on it’s own__with the help of the Church.

  54. The “living near both families” doesn’t always work, either. One of our kids married local, and the catch is that the other family thinks they OWN my grandchildren. Every holiday, every birthday. It is not fun at all. They make it into a constant competition, and I have no interest in playing that game.

  55. John Mansfield says:

    Here’s an odd extended Mormon family story for you. My wife’s parents happened to be called as missionaries and assigned to the temple visitors center located in our stake (a couple thousand miles from their home, just to be clear). They also do the standard proselytizing work of older missionaries. A couple months ago, my wife attended the temple in the morning, and her parents, who weren’t due at the visitors center until later, watched our two preschool children in their apartment and took them to a park. They said having the little grandchildren with them in the park was a great way to strike up conversations, as missionaries are also trying to do.

  56. I live near Portland, OR and there are lots of people I grew up with who are still here and married others from nearby. My husband is from about an hour away — I went to BYU but met him here. I think we all just like it enough here that we didn’t want to leave. :)

  57. John Mansfield says:

    Alain (#51), I see what you mean. (“We want to live in a company town”) I’ve moved several places and experienced what you describe. I’ve also experienced rendevouses with a half dozen people my wife or I shared a ward with in another state. My current ward in Maryland is unusual in that it has a dozen adults who are siblings or cousins from three families. It adds a structure and culture that is a benefit to non-relatives like me. I like having relatives around, even if they’re not my relatives.

  58. CRW, it is hard work! You can’t do anything else when you’ve got two little kids….which is exactly why their parents want a babysitter. You are kind to say yes, and very wonderful parents/grandparents to never complain in their hearing.
    My parents tend young grandchildren once a week per family and I KNOW they can’t do anything else during that time. When they come to my state for 4 months they ask if I need help with tending but I don’t. I need help with chauffering to multiple activities or taking an older child shopping or things like that.
    I’m wondering about our 20 year anniversary. How long could we ask them to babysit? Our kids are older now so it is easier, next summer they will be from 14 to 4. But if I have them come for a long time will their other children (with the younger grandkids) start expecting long trips? I don’t want to start a precedent that my parents won’t be able to keep up. One of my siblings could afford long expensive trips quite often. However, my SIL seems to be aware that it is physically demanding for my parents to care for their children.

  59. Natalie B. says:

    50: I think that the answer is, yes, there are ways in which Mormon values cut against the extended family.

    But I also think that American culture in general does. If you think about things like the estate tax and ban on fee-tail inheritance of property, we seem invested in not allowing the family dynasties to develop that we see in some other cultures. And maybe this can be a good thing–if we don’t have our primary allegiance being to the family clan, then we might be able to promote other values better.

  60. Stephanie says:

    Here are my random thoughts related to the past two posts and comments:

    1. I grew up with one grandmother who lived 12 hours away and one who lived one hour away. I felt closest to the one who put forth an effort to show interest in me.

    2. When I was pregnant with my first and deciding whether to accept any of my job offers, I considered buying a big house to move my mom and two teenage brothers in with us so she could watch all the kids while I worked. I ultimately decided against it (and stayed home myself instead.) Later, when she and one teenage brother moved in with me so we could help them out for a few years, I realized just what a wise decision I had made. Those years were hard. I learned a lot about why my childhood was the way it was those years, and I am glad I gave my kids something different.

    3. My mom lived with us for 3 years, but I don’t think my kids feel any closer to her than to my in-laws, who have always lived 24+ hours away.

    4. My in-laws choose to live in small towns (they moved from one small town to another). Two adult children live in the basement because they can’t find jobs in the small town. Two adult children married spouses from their hometown (siblings, in fact), lived there until they realized they could never afford to support a family in that small town, and then moved away. My husband went to BYU, married me, and then moved across the country to follow school and work. Sure, if living by family was that important, we could go move into my in-laws’ basement, but no thanks. I am really the only “outsider” in the family (when we got together, all they did was gossip about people in the small town), and I am glad. So, so glad to not be living in a small town.

  61. Stephanie says:

    I guess the sum of my thoughts is this: whether or not my children have close relationships with their grandparents depends a lot more on the choices made by their grandparents than the choices made by me. But that is only because we try to be as welcome and accommodating to the grandparents as possible. I think the questions posed in this post are excellent.

  62. The “living near both families” doesn’t always work, either. One of our kids married local, and the catch is that the other family thinks they OWN my grandchildren. Every holiday, every birthday. It is not fun at all. They make it into a constant competition, and I have no interest in playing that game.

    Even before we got married, my wife and I knew that we would have to work out a system to appease (for lack of a better word) both sets of parents. As mentioned before, we live in the same town as her parents and live just an hour and a half from mine. Fortunately, we are able to balance holidays fairly well. We alternate which family will have us for Thanksgiving dinner, have Christmas Eve with her family, Christmas Day with my family. Our work schedules are such that we tend to spend our birthdays here in town, but we regularly visit my parents (about once every couple of months currently, but more frequently when finances allow).

    When children enter into the equation, I am sure we will have to adjust our schedules more, but we will continue to establish early on a plan for sharing time with family. I’m glad that we are fortunate enough with two sets of parents who are understanding.

  63. IMO_ even if you start with an extened family__it will not hold up. People will drop out for many reasons. It also will get bigger and bigger. When I married my wife_ we had four sets of parents! Each of our parents divorced and married again. All were local. Merry Christmas everybody! There were no bad feelings. Mostly each “real” parent came alone to see the grandchilden.

  64. I don’t see that the church per se had anything to do with our living far from both sets of parents, except that the church sponsored the university where my wife (from The West) and I (from The East) met.

    Early on, economic circumstances forced us to establish our own holiday traditions independent of our parents, and that has been one of the greatest blessings of our lives. Even my wife’s very large family has over the years learned how to establish boundaries between what individual families do and what the extended family does (for those who do live close to one another), and they’ve handled it well.

    It has helped that both our sets of parents (only my wife’s mother is still alive now) were willing to let us set the terms of our relationship: they were will to be as involved as they could be and as involved as we wanted them to be. None of us depended on the other for our happiness or our services, and (perhaps because of the physical distance) we welcomed one another into our lives as we could.

  65. My in-laws live on a different continent, so we intentionally chose to live in the same city as my parents. It’s been interesting to watch the different dynamics, as the kids get to spend a few hours each month with one set of grandparents, and live 24 hours a day with the other set for a month or so each year. In general, I think they feel closer to the far-away grandparents than to the close ones, though of course we wish we could visit more often. Unfortunately, the far-away relatives are technologically challenged, and old enough that that will probably not change, so the kids don’t get any other contact except phone calls.

    Distance really kills relationships with the extended family, though. The kids don’t know at all their great aunts, uncles, or second cousins. My dad’s family is from eastern Idaho, and a good percentage of his extended family is still there. Whenever we visit, I always envy the friendship and easy commaradarie shared by my first/second/third cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. It really is one, big, happy family, and I wish my family could have that experience, too.