When Sam Frank asked his mother, Roseann Frank, to relocate 2,600 miles to help him and his to wife raise their infant son Owen, she said yes.
Within six weeks, Roseann, a schoolteacher of 28 years living in Waterbury, Connecticut, had tendered her retirement papers, sold her house and relocated to Prescott, Arizona, where Sam lived with his expecting wife, Katie. They lived there three years before Sam was offered a job in Bend. Without deliberation, the quartet moved here in 2014.
“Most people are either hot or cold on the idea of living in the same town as your parents,” said Sam, 37. “My mother and I have a good relationship; she wanted to retire anyway, so it was a good turn of events.”
Roseann, 66, represents Deschutes County’s third-largest age group moving into the area, according to a report published by Portland State University. Plus, U.S. Census Bureau data found 11 percent of Deschutes County residents 65 and older lived in a different house outside the county in the past year.
Why is this happening? There’s no official data that explains the motives behind this migration, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest one of the top reasons the age group is moving to Central Oregon is to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
“Unless you gathered up all the folks who moved to Bend in the past year and asked them why they moved there, it’s really tough to ascertain the reasons why they’re moving to a given location,” said professor Jason Jurjevich, who studies migration at PSU’s College of Urban & Public Affairs: Population Research Center.
More than 60 percent of married-households featuring parents who both worked, according to the Department of Labor. As a result, working parents are typically locked down geographically; Boomer retirees are more mobile.
“Before it was the (parents) moving to where the grandparents are,” said Christine Crosby, 71 and the editorial director of Grand: the Lifestyle Magazine for Awesome Grandparents, pointing out how it’s common that both parents hold down jobs to make ends meet. “Now it’s the grandparents are more ready, willing and able to move to the grandkids.”
Also, grandparents are aware grandchildren can be rejuvenating, Crosby added.
“Having grandchildren is like boarding on a jet plane to the future,” said Crosby, who has four grandchildren and one great grandchild. “I’m there, zooming along with them, because I love them so much. We get stimulated by these little people like you wouldn’t believe.”
Retired and uprooted
A widow of 14 years who has survived both parents, Roseann Frank said relocating with her son’s family was feasible because, beyond extended family in Connecticut, nothing tied her there; and much less to Arizona.
“I missed my kids very much,” she said, also referring to her daughter who lives in California. Of the life overhaul in which she also sold most of her possessions, Roseann said with a laugh: “I wanted to have a smaller footprint. Talk about a cleansing experience.”
Frank’s movements offer insight into why data on baby boomers is hard to find.
Lori Bitter is the author of the 2015 book “The Grandparent Economy.” She also acknowledges the heightened mobility of boomers, who had adopted the traditional snow-bird retirement pattern. Using predictive data models, she found about 10-15 percent of them — she focused on East Coasters — were moving back to or frequently visiting their hometowns because they wanted to help out with raising grandchildren. Bitter collected anecdotal information; when she began writing her book, she said she was surprised by the dearth of data on baby boomers.
Because of the Great Recession, Boomers were more likely to rent their warm-climate homes, which means they fell through the cracks of real estate studies, which are usually good sources for the migratory motives of homebuyers.
“Nobody has really looked at anything more than just anecdotal things about boomers,” Bitter said. “There are a lot of interesting living models going on with this generation than in previous generations. And this whole idea of being mobile is one of those things.”
Frank said she had heard of parents relocating to be near grandchildren, but she wasn’t interested in living in the same home as her son and daughter-in-law.
“I didn’t want that. I like my independence,” she said. “Also, when you’re newlyweds raising a young family, you want to do that on your own without having a mother hanging around all the time.”
Frank rented a nearby apartment, as she had in Arizona, but she said rising rents prompted her to purchase a house, which she settled into two weeks ago.
To stay active and social, Frank works part time at a card shop and attends activities at the Bend Senior Center. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Frank and Owen spend “Gram time” — Owen’s affectionate term for the period they spend from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. when they visit playgrounds, swim, go for walks or float the Deschutes River. Sam and Katie use their free time to work, study (Sam studies nursing at COCC) or spend an afternoon skiing. Sometimes Owen spends the night in the bedroom his grandmother keeps for him. On Sundays the trio visits Frank for dinner and dips in her pool.
“They’re two puzzle pieces that fit together nicely,” Sam said of his mother and son.
“Owen has very special place in my heart. I so look forward to being with him,” Roseann said. “He just enriches my life.”
Frank said she’s been impressed by younger generations’ ideas about parenting, particularly the self-soothing method in which the parent doesn’t rush to comfort the child after every boo-boo. Sam said raising Owen has been a group effort. The three trade notes to ensure they’re consistent with Owen, who attends preschool at Montessori in the Pines.
Sam said his mom and his son have “a special kind of love;” he calls his grandmother “Gram Rose.”
Owen said he likes spending time with his grandmother.
“I love when she brings me to some places. I love it when she brings me to the pool,” Owen said. “I give her hugs and kisses before she leaves.”
Leaving the nest, again
Other families’ relocations, however, don’t go according to plan.
Earl and Marcia Modean, living in Saddle River, New Jersey. often visited their Bend-situated daughter Kathy Murphy, 57, her husband Colin Murphy, 58, and their growing brood. The Modeans loved Bend so much they relocated here 13 years ago. Kathy welcomed the move, even overseeing the yearlong construction of her parents’ new home on Awbrey Butte. She had told her parents, however, that Colin’s career in investment banking and real estate, which he paused for four years, might cause them to relocate. Six months later, Colin found a job in real estate development, requiring them to move to Austin, Texas. The Modeans stayed put.
“We love Bend, Oregon,” Marcia, 87, said with a laugh. “We’re up on the butte and we love it.”
Earl, 89, said “the quality of life was exceedingly different and better” than on the East Coast. While he considers his family close, Earl said doesn’t find child-rearing a transgenerational effort. His daughter Kathy contradicted her father’s sentiment, calling him “like an au pair” for his hands-on involvement during her three children’s early years. Kathy Murphy said she makes it back to Bend several times a year.
“It was a no-brainer having your parents in your children’s lives,” she said. “I was always thankful for whatever my parents did.”
A familial place
Ilena Fleming, 78, also moved to Bend to be near grandchildren only to have work pressures ferret her son and his family away. Fleming’s father raised his family in Salem; he stoked his daughter’s love of Central Oregon by taking her on hunting and fishing trips. Later in life, Fleming raised her five children in Bend during the late 70s for almost four years before opening a real estate office in Sumpter. When she was ready to retire, she sold her real estate business of 18 years. Wanting to be close to two great-grandchildren, she looked for a duplex on the Oregon Coast but soured on the idea after a fruitless five-month search. Then her youngest son James Garrett, who was living in Bend with his wife Annette Garrett and three children, tapped her on the shoulder.
“‘Mom, why don’t you come over here? We used to have so much fun,’” she recalled him saying. The area’s medical facilities further enticed her. Fleming stayed with her son and his family during a trial period during the 2012 winter. In spring, she found a simple yet “very beautiful” plot near Tumalo. She loved the location but was leery of the trailer home that came with the property. At her son’s urging, she paid cash and he renovated the home. “We got it to where it’s very livable,” she said.
Then Garrett’s construction company partner beckoned him to Seattle; he moved there three months after she moved to Tumalo, she said. Now he’s in Portland, roughly equidistant from work and his mother. She didn’t consider relocating.
“I love it here, so I stayed,” she said. Fleming was one of four people at the Bend Senior Center on a recent Friday who said they moved to Central Oregon to be near their adult children and grandchild.
“Growing kids is wonderful. Like the old saying goes, ‘If I’d known grandkids were so enjoyable, I would have had them first,’” she said with a laugh.
Ties, not roots
Roseann Frank said she doesn’t worry about her son’s family leaving, although she said she would follow them most anywhere. Potentially tugging on her other arm, however, is Frank’s daughter Rachel Dickinson, 30, who recently married and lives in Truckee, California. Should she have children, Frank said she would consider living in California a portion of the year to be with them.
But Frank added a caveat: “Only if they ask me. I don’t go unless they ask.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org