The High Cost of Leaving


The Empty Nest…Sad? Or..?

In contemplating a move to Panama, it’s inevitable that someone will ask about the children we’ll ‘leave behind.’ In our case that would be three daughters, a grandson and a granddaughter. They’re scattered all over the country—Iowa, Texas, Georgia and we have the usual contact with them on-line, using Facetime, texting, Facebook posts etc. So in our case the leaving behind isn’t so much a drastic, cut-and-run kind of thing but a geographic relocation that shouldn’t be too disruptive, and may even mean better & more frequent access and interaction with them. Here’s Kris Cunningham from The Panama Adventure: ‘ Since we use more video chats now rather than regular phone calls, sometimes I feel like I actually see more of my kids than before.’

But choosing the expat route does send a clear message that we’re ready to live our lives free of the encumbrance that offspring require. No getting around it, kids can be a pain in the tookus, costly, a drain on time, resources and the old cuenta bancaria. Speaking of which, from The Tombseekers Chapter 3: Loving Retirement in Panama, ‘After shopping in David and Boquete, little Berkeley is going to meet her abuelos ‘sin regalos’ (without gifts).’ Showering kids with gifts may no longer be an option. Good thing? Bad thing? From our perspective this is a very good thing. Not only might the kids in question learn to be less materialistic, but they may grow up knowing their abuelo & abuela for who they are, not for the kitsch they schlep on and off the airplane. That also means more $$$ for said abuelos to spend doing what they wish, including traveling on the airplane to spend quality time with the little…er…darlings.

Here are some of the financial facts about what I’ll refer to as the abuelo expat economy: According to the website ‘,’ ‘There are 56 million Grandparents in the United States. On average $27.5 billion is spent nationwide on grandchildren per year.’ A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money, as Senator Everett Dirksen may or may not have said. What does this mean for a potential expat abuelo and/or abuela? Good question. As a survival kit, when the sons and daughters say ‘you’re moving where?’, (between the lines, they’re saying how can you abandon your dear, sweet, cuddly, lovable nietos/nietas this way?) here’s a list of responses that may come in handy:

Mention all that extra disposable income, for one. With the reduced cost of living in Panama, all that abuelo economy cash has to find an outlet somewhere, and Amazon Prime still works from remote locales, or so I’m told. Perhaps that extra cash is headed toward the dear, sweet, huggable nieto’s 529(C)3? Perhaps toward much needed orthodonture for the nieta? Maybe some of that dinero will provide a flight to Panama for a few weeks so the grandkids can give mom & dad some quality time?

And here’s the bigger issue: the self-sufficiency of ones offspring— especially when it involves having them solve their own problems—is beyond gratifying. Yes, the family circle is warm, fulfilling, enriching and affirming. But seeing our adult kids nurture and protect their own kids is proof that our parenting skills worked, even if it means we leave the picture entirely. Which we will do, of course, somewhere way beyond Panama. If the kids leave the nest, we need to as well.

So if you’re contemplating a move to expat-land, be it Panama or anywhere else, don’t be afraid to bid the kids and grandkids adios and get on with your life. An empty nest leaves more room for you, your main squeeze and your next move, wherever it happens to be.