I have always had a mental picture of how I would spend my ‘old age’ (which, until I met my now-husband, was a rather solitary vision) – I would take up residence in an idyllic cottage with lots of windows, a generous front porch and an English-style garden, and spend my days writing and socializing with cats instead of people. As luck would have it, before I reached that point, I met a man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and his vision for retirement wasn’t all that different from mine (he wanted a large plot of land somewhere in the country where he could ‘tinker with cars’ – as I call his passion for anything with an engine and four wheels – and leave the hubbub of the city behind). It didn’t take much to meld our individual dreams into a single fantasy of ‘life after work’, and we started planning –albeit unhurriedly – for that ‘someday’ eventuality.
In the beginning, our ‘perfect’ retirement property was far to the west – the Okanagan Valley area of British Columbia to be precise. The promise of wide open spaces, moderate year-round temperatures, and a view of the mountains was enticing (and 15 years ago, it was an affordable dream). But as prices in that area of the country skyrocketed, reasonably priced properties became scarce. That reality, combined with my reluctance to actually move 3,000 miles away from my two boys (who were grown but still a vital part of my life), had us shifting our focus a little closer to ‘home’.
Our next choice was the eastern shores of Lake Huron. My parents had retired to a small town there in 1981 and my boys and I had a lot of fond memories of time spent in the area. Our main focus was an area slightly north of where my parents had lived, near a community that has been called ‘Canada’s prettiest town’. I had vacationed there in 2007 and found the town charming and the people disarmingly friendly. Research showed there were properties available that met our criteria, in a price range we were comfortable with. However, the weather can be dicey (particularly in the winter when the winds whip in off Georgian Bay) and there was the genuine threat of wind turbines being built on the cliffs above the lake (something I wanted to avoid at all costs; two wind farm developments have since been approved in the area, despite protests from nearby residents about the negative impact on humans and farm animals).
So we turned our attention to properties further south – closer to Lake Erie than Lake Ontario (where we currently live). Attractive homes on generous plots of land at reasonable prices were plentiful and the weather, we knew, would be very similar to what we were used to. I kept an eye on realtor.ca (the Canadian multiple listing service site) and printed out examples of ‘perfect places’ for future reference. Unfortunately, some of the areas we were considering were also being targeted for wind farm developments, and more people seemed to be moving out of the area than into it, so we knew we would have to be very careful. But it seemed entirely do-able.
Then things changed again. In February 2015, my eldest son and his wife blessed me with my first grandchild. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. However, the reality of travelling even further than I already do to visit (I spend one day a week with my precious granddaughter; it’s a 75 minute drive each way) was daunting. So our focus shifted again – to an area a little closer to the grandbaby and her parents, but still not too far distant from son number two and his wife.
And this time, it was for real. My husband had decided he’d had enough of the rat race (I’d retired in 2010) and he moved his retirement date up a full year – to September 1 of this year. It was time to get serious about finding our perfect retirement home.
I spent quite a bit of time over the next several months looking online at properties in our ‘target zone’. Prices were a little higher than in the other areas we’d considered, and there were fewer places available (especially on several acres of land, which was a must; we wanted to distance ourselves from annoying neighbours). We debated selling first, renting something for a year, buying land and building my dream house (I have a well thumbed catalogue from Viceroy Homes – the two pages I’d ‘bookmarked’ for consideration were mid-sized houses with soaring windows and loft bedrooms that would provide clear views over our ‘country estate’) and his dream ‘shop’ (something large enough to accommodate our daily drivers as well as work-in-progress cars and all the paraphernalia that goes with his ‘hobby’). But neither of us was particularly keen on turning our lives upside down for a year or more to see that plan through. We wanted to buy something already built and move-in ready.
So, in March of this year, we decided to connect with a realtor who specialized in properties in the area and get some professional help. We made arrangements to meet for coffee on Saturday, April 2 at a restaurant in Paris (Ontario; a lovely little town central to the zone where we hoped to buy) to give her our ‘property profile’.
In order to prepare for that meeting, on the Friday I decided to expand my search criteria slightly to see if I could find something (anywhere in southern Ontario) that was approximately what we were looking for (as an example to accompany the detailed list I’d already typed up related to property size, setting, home type, number of bedrooms, etc.) I certainly didn’t expect to find a ‘perfect’ match. And I absolutely never imagined finding it a mere five minutes outside the area we’d been perusing for months. But I did.
I don’t believe in ‘coincidence’. I have faith, instead, in fate (or karma or kismet or serendipity or whatever you want to call it when miracles happen that simply cannot be explained any other way). Months ago, when my husband and I had been discussing when to start the house-hunting process, a little voice in my head said “April 1st”. I had no idea at the time what that meant, but I filed it away. As I sat in front of my computer, staring at the house of my dreams sitting next to the shop of my husband’s dreams nestled in the midst of a forest, those words came back to me in a flash. It was April 1st. I had found what I thought was an impossible dream. Months before we had anticipated being ‘lucky enough’ to even come close. And with almost no effort. Could it actually be true?
When I showed my husband the listing that evening, he asked me if it was an April Fool’s joke. “No,” I said, “It’s real.” We agreed to contact the realtor we were scheduled to meet the next day and ask if she could get us a viewing (the listing agent just happened to work for the same real estate firm she did, only out of another office). She booked us in for the Saturday at 12:30. We met her there. We fell in love immediately with the property, the house, the shop. Smartly, she suggested we go back the next day for another, less ‘emotionally-driven’ look. We did. We still loved every inch of the place. Pride of ownership was evident throughout (the seller had upgraded flooring, mechanicals, the kitchen and so much more prior to listing the property; family circumstances were forcing him to sell – he had tears in his eyes when he talked about having to move).
We couldn’t have built a more perfect house (or shop) on a more perfect property for the price he was asking. The house is a cedar chalet style with soaring windows and a loft bedroom; the shop is fully insulated with its own woodstove, three garage doors, and room for eight vehicles; the property is a heavily forested 4½ acres several miles from the nearest ‘big city’, but close enough to several smaller ones – and a couple of lovely little towns – to not feel totally isolated. It’s a 50 minute drive north to son number one’s home, and only 60 minutes east to son number two’s. Perfect doesn’t even begin to describe it.
We put in an offer that afternoon; it was accepted the next day. We take possession the end of July. We can hardly believe it. Everything we have ever wanted, hoped for, dreamed of, has come true. “Someday” has become “today”.
Of course, that’s just the beginning of our journey towards actual retirement. Now comes the hard part (packing up and prepping this house – where we’ve lived for 16 years – for sale; living ‘minimally’ while it’s on the market; adjusting our schedules to accommodate viewings; making hard decisions about what to keep and what to take and what to do with the rest) – but that’s another post altogether!
In the meantime, I’m ever so glad now (and forever more) that I’m on … the other side of 55.
In response to the challenge posed by Cindy at Mama’s Empty Nest, I’m posting my answers (three for each question) to this meme:
Three names I answer to:
Three places I’ve called home:
- Oakville, Ontario
- Burlington, Ontario
- TBA (honestly, I’ve only lived in two places, although I had three different ‘homes’ in Oakville and two in Burlington … does that count?!?!?)
Three places I’ve worked:
- Sheridan College, Oakville, Ontario
- Halton Board of Education Adult Ed Department, Burlington, Ontario
- Mohawk College, Hamilton, Ontario
Three things I love to watch:
- My granddaughter
- Waves washing onto the shore
Three things I love to eat:
- Dark chocolate
- Potato chips (kettle cooked)
- Shortbread cookies (homemade)
Three things I’m looking forward to:
- My granddaughter’s first Christmas
- My husband’s retirement (only eight months to go!)
- The third act of my life
Three fond Christmas memories:
- 1960- the year Santa brought me the ‘articulated’ ballerina doll I’d asked for (I still have her)
- Staying up late when my boys were little to set up the one ‘big’ gift they’d asked Santa for under the tree
- Christmas 2000 – a new home, a new husband, a new life just begun
Three bloggers I follow who might like to play along too:
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Life just keeps getting better here on … the other side of 55.
When I was young, it wasn’t unusual for people to say to me, “Oh, you’re Kay and Laurie’s daughter”. We were the only family in town with our unique last name, and the fifties were a period when everyone pretty much knew everyone else!
In school, as I moved from one grade to another and one school to another, teachers would occasionally identify me as the sister of one or the other of my siblings (I had two older sisters and an older brother who’d gone to the same schools and had many of the same teachers).
Many years later, with two children of my own, I became, “Michael’s mom” and “Derek’s mother”, labels I embraced enthusiastically.
More recently, I was introduced as “the mother of the groom” at my youngest son’s wedding – an ‘identifier’ that thrilled me no end.
All of these ‘labels’ were connected to who I was related to – and therefore identified with – at the time. They had (in my mind, anyway) nothing to do with how I saw myself, or how others perceived me. I was simply a daughter, a sister, a mother.
In February of this year, I proudly took on another label – “grandmother” (or “Grammy” for short). I delight in the role and everything it encompasses; I couldn’t be happier. Except …
On October 30th, my son’s company hosted a Halloween party for the employees’ children. Pretty much everyone who works there is under forty and many have had children in the last few years. Since I was going to be taking care of my granddaughter later that evening (while her parents went to another party), I accompanied my daughter-in-law and granddaughter to the party in the afternoon.
When we joined my son and his colleagues in the boardroom, I didn’t feel at all out of place (having been a College teacher for years, I’m comfortable around people of all ages), although I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind it must have registered that I was the oldest person in the room.
I was enjoying being an observer of a ritual I hadn’t participated in for a good many years (a costume party for little ones!) when a young man dressed as Luke Skywalker came over and said, “You must be Maddie’s grandmother.” My first reaction (honestly) was to reply, “No, I’m Michael’s mother.” But, of course, he was right – I AM “Maddie’s grandmother” – I’d just never actually been ‘labelled’ that way by someone outside my own family. It took me by surprise. For despite the fact that I KNOW I’m a grandmother, I don’t really see myself that way.
I wouldn’t have thought I was biased enough to think that grandmothers are all old, grey-haired and wrinkled (like my own grandmothers were), but that’s exactly what went through my mind in that moment.
I’ve never been hung up on the idea of “anti-aging” products and I don’t really have a fear of getting older. After all, it’s inevitable. And while I admit to colouring my hair (I’ve been ‘going grey’ since I was in my teens) and upgrading my moisturizer to something with collagen and elastin in it (to help minimize those inevitable wrinkles), I recognize the inescapable reality of the years passing me by.
However, when I glance in a mirror, I expect to see the smiling face of the woman from my wedding photos (circa 2003) – not someone’s grandmother – looking back at me. And if (as the adage goes) I didn’t know how old I was and someone asked me my age, I’d probably say, “Forty” – because that’s how old I feel (some say we’ll always be a reflection of every age we’ve ever been, because of the memories we carry – I like that idea).
But, of course, I’m not forty (or eight or fifteen or twenty-one or thirty three) – I AM someone’s grandmother, and I’m definitely on … the other side of 55.
I was standing in line at the coffee shop one day last week, listening-but-not-really-listening as the young(ish) man in front of me placed his order while I patiently waited my turn. The scenario went something like this:
“I’ll have a large decaf, one cream, one sugar,” he said.
The server poured his coffee and passed it to him; before she could ring it up, he said, “Oh, and a sugar doughnut too.”
The server put the doughnut in a bag and handed it over. As she punched in the amounts on the cash register, he pointed to the display case and said, “And give me six of those oatmeal cookies. And a couple extra napkins.”
The server put the cookies in a separate bag and added some napkins. “Anything else?” she asked.
“Yeah, a bottle of water. It’s hot out there.”
She put the water beside his coffee, rang it in, and told him the total. He gave her a twenty dollar bill and waited for his change, but said nothing further.
“Next,” the server called when he’d turned and gone.
I approached the counter. “A small coffee, one cream and a sweetener on the side please.”
The server looked up at me with a surprised expression on her face. “You’re the first person today who’s used the magic word,” she told me. “I’d almost forgotten what it sounds like.”
The magic word. That’s what my mother used to call ‘please’. If you asked for something and didn’t tack on a ‘please’, she’d say, “What’s the magic word?” It was a given in our house that if you wanted something you always – ALWAYS – said ‘please’ (and ‘thank you’ afterwards – the two always went hand-in-hand). I used the same approach with my own boys. I wanted them to grow up well-mannered, respectful, and grateful for whatever they were given. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ were an integral part of their upbringing (and I still have some of the very polite letters they wrote to their grandmother when they were little to prove that it worked … for a while, anyway).
As I thanked the lady behind the counter, paid for my coffee, and left, I thought back to the previous customer’s ‘conversation’ with the server. He’d asked for five things and hadn’t uttered the word ‘please’ even once! And from what she’d said, he wasn’t the only one who’d forgotten ‘the magic word’ that morning. Perplexed (since ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are such a regular part of my vocabulary), I decided to do a little research to see if this was an isolated incident, a generational one (heaven knows, the ‘younger’ generations seem to have an exaggerated sense of entitlement), or a much bigger problem (i.e., an overall decline in civility caused [perhaps] by our technology-driven society, our lack of patience and respect for others, or some sort of intolerance for the age-old tenets of common courtesy).
Over the next week, I ‘eavesdropped’ on conversations wherever I went – coffee shops, restaurants, offices, retail stores, grocery stores, the pharmacy. I asked friends and former colleagues (mostly community college teachers who have students of all ages in their classrooms) to keep an ear out for the ‘magic word’ and report back to me on how often (and under what circumstances) it was used. What I discovered both astounded and saddened me. It seems the ‘magic word’ has all but disappeared from general conversation and is used only rarely (and then almost exclusively by those over the age of about 60) when asking for something, seeking a favour, or just generally interacting with others in a give-and-take situation.
I heard lots of requests prefaced with phrases like “Can I have …” and “Could you give/get me …” and “I want …” and “If you wouldn’t mind …” and “I was hoping you’d …”, but very few of them included the word ‘please’. It was as if the people asking felt that being ‘polite’ wasn’t necessary, given the obvious importance (to them) of whatever it was they were seeking. Even in situations where someone was clearly asking for a favour (i.e., where good old common sense would dictate that a polite appeal would be far more likely to have the desired effect), it was missing (for example, in this email sent from a college student to his professor [and – no – I’m not making this up]: “Can you double check my midterm mark? I’m pretty sure you made a mistake. I know I did better than the grade you posted. I need a good mark in this class if I’m going to graduate. Get back to me ASAP. OK?”)
At the same time (and in the same or slightly different scenarios), I rarely heard the phrase ‘thank you’ uttered either. When I asked a small group of 30-somethings (who were sitting at a table next to me in a restaurant; I approached them saying I was conducting research) why they hadn’t said ‘thank you’ when their meals were delivered to their table, or when someone passed them something during dinner, I was shocked to be told that “Saying thank you is old fashioned”. When I then asked if they said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to friends or parents when asking for and/or being given favours, gifts or money, etc., one girl said (and the others tended to agree), “If someone that’s close to you gives you something – like a birthday present or at Christmas, or even for a wedding or whatever – you shouldn’t have to say ‘thank you’. They should just know you appreciate it.” (When I finally managed to recover from the shock of this statement, I said, “That’s not the point. It’s just good manners to express it.” Most of them looked at me like I was suggesting they self-flagellate in front of the gift-giver!)
There are thousands of blog posts and articles online about the disappearance of these two words (and other demonstrations of politeness) from our language, our social interactions and our general behaviour. Some blame technology, others stress, still others a reduction in basic civility all around. I suspect some parents simply don’t stress ‘polite behaviour’ anymore (is this another thing they think should be taught in schools, but isn’t?!?!?) It worries me that I see it everywhere I go (and, hard as this is for me to admit, have even noticed that my own boys often ‘forget’ to include ‘please’ when asking for something, or to say ‘thank you’ for gifts, favours bestowed, etc.) I suspect this is a trend brought about by the more ‘casual’ communication protocols most people now depend on, but I’m disappointed (and distressed) that it’s so pervasive (and I suspect it’s only going to get worse). And if we lose our civility, what will separate us from all the other ‘animals’ out there? It’s a sad state of affairs!
I, however, am going to persevere. I will continue to use ‘the magic word’ (‘please’), and its counterpart (‘thank you’) in my interactions with the people around me. I will set a good example and show my gratitude for what others provide for me – because I am, after all, on … the other side of 55.
NOTE: Please feel free to comment on this post. Thank you for reading it! (See, that wasn’t so hard, was it!?!?!?)
Last week, my husband ordered brakes for his truck (he does his own repairs). Since the specific brand he wanted isn’t available in Canada, he ordered them from a company in New York state. Their warehouse is located on Long Island, an 8½ hour drive (approximately) from where we live (in southern Ontario).
The total weight of the parts he ordered was a little over 55 pounds; the delivery charge was $70. Considering the rather short distance involved, I would have expected the package to be sent directly from New York to Ontario (with perhaps a short detour through a FedEx hub on the eastern seaboard), and that it would take maybe a day or two to arrive (allowing for customs clearance and a transfer from one type of truck to another for local delivery). Instead, here’s where it went:
- The order was picked up by FedEx in Bethpage, New York on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 26th. From there it travelled three- quarters of the way across the U.S.A. (approximately 2,500 miles westward) to Phoenix, Arizona (where it apparently sat for two days because of an issue of some sort with the customs paperwork).
- Once cleared, the box headed back east 535 miles to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and then another 680 miles to Mt. Vernon, Missouri (arriving just after 8:00 pm on Friday, May 29th, when it was awarded a much-needed rest over the weekend).
- On Monday, June 1st, the package continued its eastward cross-country journey, landing in Perrysburg, Ohio (a distance of 700 miles from Mt. Vernon) at 7:20 in the evening; it was there that the paperwork necessary for the border crossing into Ontario was completed.
- On June 2nd, hubby’s brakes travelled across the border into Canada and along the highway that runs adjacent to the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario (practically past our front door) nearly 300 miles (still going east) to the FedEx depot in Mississauga (near Toronto).
- That evening, the box was put on another truck and sent westward once again 35 miles to Stoney Creek (passing back through our fair city), to the area distribution centre.
- Finally, this morning (Wednesday, June 3rd), the box was dropped off at my front door at 9:30 a.m. (the shortest part of the journey was this last 10 mile trip).
So, all in all, instead of a quick hop, skip and jump across the border from New York to southern Ontario (a driving distance of approximately 480 miles), a box of brake rotors and pads travelled nearly ten times that distance (a total of 4760 ‘road miles’) and was ‘in transit’ for over a week. Can anyone explain the logic or efficiency in that to me? Surely my bewilderment over this unnecessarily long journey isn’t just because I’m on … the other side of 55.
For the first ten years of my life, my family lived on the main floor of a large house my father had converted to a triplex a decade or so before I was born; his mother lived in one of the ‘overhead’ apartments and my mom’s mother and father (who died when I was 2½) lived in the other. From my mother’s perspective, having two grandmothers living in the same house had both its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, there was always someone around to babysit in an emergency; on the other, there was frequently a mother or mother-in-law turning up at the front door to ask why the baby (or other child) was crying. While no one had to worry about picking up or dropping off grandparents for special occasions, there were no celebrations (or even Sunday dinners) with ‘just us’ in attendance. And as they aged, keeping an eye on their health and well being was certainly easier for Mom, but with five children and two seniors under the same roof (separate apartments or not), she didn’t get much of a break from the role of care-giver.
I have fond memories of the years when my two ‘Grammys’ lived upstairs (we moved several blocks up the street when I was 10, but my parents held onto the ‘old house’ for three more years, renting out our former living space and allowing the grandmothers to remain in their respective apartments). My mother’s mom was the ‘fun’ grandmother. When my sister and I climbed the cedar tree in the back yard and scrambled onto the second-storey roof, she would let us in through her apartment window (despite repeated requests from my mother not to), then serve us milky tea and Digestive cookies and let us watch hockey (she was a die-hard Maple Leafs fan) or wrestling on TV (she even took my oldest brother to live wrestling matches when he was young); she had a unique sense of humour and a zest for life. Dad’s mom was more reserved; she didn’t entertain or molly coddle us, but she did teach me the proper way to iron a man’s shirt and a woman’s hemline, and she gave my sister and I several of her old dresses (with bustles on the back) and fur wraps to use for playing ‘dress up’. Mom’s mom lived a full and active life until she passed away in 1980 at the age of 94. Unfortunately, Dad’s mom suffered from dementia in her final few years and died in 1967 at 91. Each, in their own way, taught me something about the role of ‘Grandmother’.
My own mother first became a grandmother when she was only 42 years of age; she had twelve grandchildren in all (and, at the time of her death, 9 great-grandchildren). By the time my boys were born, she and my Dad had moved 120 miles away, but she still managed to involve herself in her grandchildren’s lives in the very best of ways – keeping track of their activities and milestones, celebrating birthdays, ‘spoiling’ them when they visited (I don’t remember being allowed to have strawberries and ice cream for breakfast when I was growing up!!!!!) She was an active, ‘hands on’ Grammy – when we visited she’d take the boys for walks, to the beach, to the shops, bake cookies with them, read to them. At the time I wished she lived closer (but not necessarily under the same roof!) so we could all spend more time together and she could ‘spoil’ the boys on an regular basis (my parents moved back this way in 2004, but by then the boys were pretty much grown and gone). When she died (in 2012, at nearly 94), the loss was deep and profound. But her legacy lives on, because I can now put everything she (and my own two grandmothers) taught me about being a ‘Grammy’ into practice.
This will be my first Mother’s Day as a Grandmother. Since the birth of my granddaughter in February (coincidentally – or not – on my mother’s birthday, the 14th), I have taken on the role (and title) of ‘Grammy’ in our little family. I held my new granddaughter in my arms when she was barely 30 hours old, I spend one afternoon a week with her (marvelling at the changes I see in her each time I visit) while her mother gets some much-deserved ‘quiet time’, and I plan on being an active and integral part of her life as she continues to grow (right now we live about an hour apart; when my husband retires, we plan on moving just a little closer to my son and his family). I certainly don’t want to miss out on any part of her growing up! I’ll do as my ‘Grammys’ did – encourage her to seek out adventure, master life skills, and play dress-up, as well as all the things my mother did with my boys – and more! I’ll be the very best ‘Grammy’ I can be. It’s a role I know I was born for! I think it’s what I’ve been waiting for ever since I reached … the other side of 55.
I have always been a firm believer in the child-rearing adage: ‘Give them roots and give them wings’. I suppose that comes from the era, and the environment, in which I was raised.
I grew up as one of five in a household where children weren’t molly-coddled, showered with (unearned) praise, inundated with extravagant gifts, or given handouts. We were expected to earn our meager allowance by doing regular chores around the house (setting and clearing the table, washing dishes, dusting and lemon-oil-polishing the dining room suite, ironing, raking the yard and mowing the lawn), and to work part time from a very young age (I was babysitting my oldest brother’s three boys when I was 11, and taking care of various children around the neighbourhood a year later. When I was 15, I actually put an ad in the local newspaper looking for summer employment – from which I got a job at a variety store in the north end of town). Growing up, we were taught the difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’, and we understood that ‘If you don’t have the money in the bank/your wallet, then you can’t afford it’ (a rule I still live by!)
My parents also believed that we should be out of the house and living on our own within six months of securing a full time job, or by the time we were 23, whichever came first. (And if it was the former, then as soon as you landed said job, you were expected to pay room and board – I clearly remember coming home with my first paycheck and my mother putting out her hand for her $15 [25% of my lofty $60 a week salary]). Once you had ‘left home’, you didn’t go back, either – you were expected to manage, no matter the circumstances. You were, after all, an adult!
As grownups, four out of the five of us – at one time or another – sought financial assistance from our parents, but the money provided was always a loan, not a gift; we were expected to pay it back (sometimes with interest). My parents enjoyed a moderate lifestyle because they consistently followed the rules they’d taught us about finances: be smart, be frugal, be practical, and don’t throw your money away on things you don’t need! (After he retired, Dad used to joke that they were ‘spending the kids’ inheritance’; I’d tell him to go right ahead – he’d earned the money, and he and Mom deserved to spend it any way they wanted!)
When my boys were growing up, I admit to ‘spoiling’ them just a little; like many of my generation, I wanted them to enjoy the things I hadn’t had during my own youth, and I had the financial resources to provide them. We lived in a big house with an over-sized yard and a pool in the back, went on family vacations every year, bought too many toys for birthdays and Christmas, and while I didn’t give them a regular allowance, I rarely said ‘No’ to a request for money to go to the show or the bowling alley or the mini-golf course. At the same time, they had regular chores they were required to do around the house (including their own laundry by the time they were 12), they babysat for the neighbours, volunteered at the local animal shelter, and had part time jobs by the time they were 16 (and half of all the money they earned was required to be put into a savings account for the future!) I like to think they appreciated everything they had growing up, and that they also learned the basic rules of finance (money doesn’t grow on trees – you have to earn it; you have to have it before you can spend it; you should always have a ‘little something’ set aside for a rainy day).
The boys are, of course, both grown up and have been out on their own (and doing pretty well) for many years. But the time has finally come for them to ‘put down roots’ of their own and that has brought me to something of a decision-making crossroads – how much do I ‘help’ them in their quest to find a permanent home and establish a comfortable long term lifestyle?
I’m not one of those people who believes parents ‘owe’ their kids anything. Beyond giving them a safe, loving home (including food and shelter and the other basic necessities of life), a wholesome upbringing (including teaching them the value of honesty, courtesy, morality, and good manners), a proper education (through one post secondary degree or diploma), and common-sense advice and guidance (on everything else), I believe that once they reach adulthood, they should manage on their own. That’s not to say I’m not there to help them over the odd rough patch, or am unwilling to provide counsel or assistance when they ask, but the ‘give them wings’ part of parenting (in my opinion) means they can’t come running home every time the going gets tough, or ask for money because they’ve foolishly misspent their wages (or quit their job without having another one to go to), or expect me to buy them a car, or pay their rent, or spring for groceries because the cupboard is bare. (It’s important to say here that my boys have never done any of these things; however, I’ve watched as family and friends have repeatedly paid for multiple college degrees, trips to Europe, exotic vacations, cars, rent, the down payment on a house, general and sundry bills, expensive weddings, etc. for their offspring – oftentimes putting their own financial futures in jeopardy in order to ‘bail out’ their grown children.)
So, as one son starts the process of searching for a house to buy for his growing family, and the other plans a wedding (with house hunting a few years down the road, but anticipated), and my husband and I look forward to his retirement (in two years time), I find myself in a quandary as to how and where to allocate the funds I’ve spent the last several decades accumulating (I’m hardly rich, but I’ve managed my money well and according to the ‘rules’ my parents instilled in me, and I’m in reasonably good shape). I definitely plan to (as Dad used to say), ‘spend the kids’ inheritance’, but I also want to be able to give them a ‘leg up’ in this tight job and housing market. The question is – by how much and on what terms?
According to a recent Canadian bank’s ‘Home Buying Report’, 40% of first time buyers said they couldn’t afford a home without financial help from their parents (or other relatives). In order to meet the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s ‘20% down’ requirement (if you don’t want to pay a significant additional fee for ‘mortgage insurance’), my son will need nearly $60,000 in order to purchase an ‘average’ (3 bedroom) home in his preferred area (house prices in other areas of southern Ontario are similar, or higher – in my neighbourhood, for example, a basic three bedroom bungalow sells for $700,000 or more). How many young couples can save sixty grand when they’re earning (on average) $50,000 – $60,000 a year and paying $1,500 a month for rent? It certainly seems like the ‘Bank of Mom and/or Dad’ is their only option if they want to get into the housing market.
But do I just hand over the money (as a ‘gift’ and/or ‘advance on their inheritance’)? Do I attach some sort of stipulation to it (e.g., pay off your credit card debt first)? Or do I offer it as a loan (with or without interest; with or without a specified term)? Do I make them sit through a ‘lecture’ about finances before I hand over the cheque (whether they want to hear it or not)? Do I ask for some sort of assurance that they actually, honestly, without-a-doubt appreciate what it took for me to earn (and save) that amount of money, and understand its true value (in the long term)? Do I give it to them even if they might not be entirely appreciative of my ‘involvement’ in the process of buying their first home (I know I wanted to do it entirely on my own, as proof that I was a grown up and could take that major step without my parents’ involvement/advice)? And how do I make it clear that this is a ‘one time only’ offer – that the ‘Bank of Mom’ isn’t going to keep handing over money if they make poor choices about future expenditures, or decide they want to ‘move up’ and can’t afford it (or the supposed housing ‘bubble’ bursts or interest rates rise and they’re overextended)? How, ultimately, do I ‘do the right thing’ without feeling like I’m going against the very tenets of financial planning (and security) my father drilled into me so effectively?
I suppose, in the end, it will come down to what the boys are ultimately ‘comfortable’ with – whether they want to ‘go it alone’ or accept my help (and money) or some combination of the two. In the meantime, I’ll just keep trying to keep up with the never ending changes that are happening all around me here on … the other side of 55.