Retiring Overseas -- What About the Grandchildren?

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Salinas, Ecuador

I remember the day I told my neighbor Jo Alice that my wife Ann and I were selling our beautiful waterfront home in Maryland and moving to the beach town of Salinas on the Pacific coast of Ecuador.

Jo Alice thought I was joking. I wasn't. Why would I? In Ecuador our cost of living is $1,200 a month, the weather is perfect, and our condo has sweeping ocean views. The savings we make from living in an affordable country mean that we can indulge our love of travel, we're making new friends all the time, and in general, life is an enjoyable adventure.

Salinas, Ecuador

When Jo realized I was serious and that our move was a matter of weeks away, she said something I heard more than once before leaving the U.S: "I could never do something like that!"

Of course, people have different reasons for thinking that way. And I'll grant you, our move to Ecuador wasn't what's called "normal." At 55 and 62 years of age we were supposed to be settling into a routine, shopping for rocking chairs to sit out on the porch and dandle grandbabies on our knees.

Salinas, Ecuador

But for us, retirement doesn't have to be just the "last chapter of your life"--it can be the start of a new one!

Sometimes it's the thought of learning a new language that deters folks, and some are afraid they would feel too isolated in a different culture. One friend told me he could never live somewhere that wouldn't let him bring all of his guns! And of course, some are tied to jobs or mortgages from which they can't (or won't) escape. But Ann and I have found that for people our age, who have adult children starting their own families, the number one reason we hear is: "I couldn't be that far from my grandchildren."

Well, between us, Ann and I have four adult children, all married. We have six grandchildren now ranging from one month to 11 years old, with another due in four months. So what's wrong with us? Are we cruel and heartless grandparents, who don't care about our kids or their kids?

It's a question that we thought about when considering life overseas. Everyone has their own opinions about what it means to be a family, and what is expected of you. For our part, we felt that our goals as parents were to raise our children to be able to take care of themselves, to provide an example of how to be happy with your spouse and enjoy life, and to educate them on what the world has to offer.

Salinas, Ecuador

I don't mean to say that there is something wrong with grandparents who want to stay near their families and be part of their day-to-day life. I just think there is another case to be made.

We believe it's a good thing to have our grandchildren exposed to the idea that it is a big world out there, and it is full of different people, languages and customs. They will learn by example--really, the only way anyone learns anything--that you are not limited in your choices in life. We understand that for logistical and financial reasons our children and their families may only be able to come and see us in Ecuador a few times. But when they do, they will see things they would never have seen if we lived down the block.

They will love the beach. (There are three a short walk from our new home.)

They will see flocks of pelicans flying by our windows followed by screaming wild parakeets, and children their own age living a completely different kind of life.

We will be able to take them to see rainforests, volcanoes, the Galapagos Islands, and more.

Salinas, Ecuador

More often, it will be us going back to visit with them. When we do we will be there for a week or more, exclusively visiting with family. A long stay like that--with new exciting things to discuss and share--is just as good as lots of brief visits.

Right now our children's lives are very full. They are focused on their growing families, as they should be at this stage of their lives; going to school events, doctor's appointments, soccer games and so on.

How many grandparents end up as shuttle service for complicated after-school and weekend activity schedules, mostly seeing the grandkids in the rear-view mirror of the car?

We want our children to know that we will be there to help them, but we hope we're showing them, too, that after the hard work of raising kids, there can come a time to reconnect as a couple, and to get out and see some of the world. And when it comes down to it, how far away are we really?

Right now we are sitting in Salinas, Ecuador. We have near instant communication via email and text with children spread over three states. We can use Skype to call or do video chats. If you dial our U.S. cell numbers, it routes to our MagicJack and allows us to answer it here.

One last consideration--when we are in Salinas, we feel healthier and are living a healthier lifestyle. With the mild climate we are outside more often. We walk to the market and the local grocery instead of jumping in a car. We eat wonderful fruits and vegetables grown without chemicals, additives, and hormones.

So in the long run, it could actually mean more time with our grandchildren, with more active and healthier years ahead of us. Who knows, maybe we are improving the odds that we will still be around for their graduations, weddings--maybe even long enough to see our grandchildren have kids and start the cycle all over again.