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Roots vs. Roaming : While some would rather just stay put, others find moving offers them a chance to spread their wings.

October 09, 1994|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Since moving into their Granada Hills home 33 years ago, the McGraths never considered leaving. In this long, rambling ranch house they raised seven children and have since opened the home's doors to 11 grandchildren.

"Things just wouldn't be the same if we moved into a different house," said Geraldine McGrath, 64, who has directed a nearby church choir for the past 40 years.

"Our kids couldn't bring their children here and tell them things like, 'This is where I sat when I did my homework,' " McGrath said. "I think an attachment to the past is important. You don't set down those kind of roots if you move around."

For Jay Livingston, 60, the concept of filling up closet space in one house is a foreign one. The novelist and video writer, director and producer calls himself a nomad, and he has definitely earned the title. He has moved 45 times in his life, with no regrets.

"All the moves made me who I am--an extrovert who can get along with just about anyone and adjust to almost any situation," he said.

Livingston, who now lives in the South Bay, is married and has two children. As a child he lived, among other places, in New York City; on a dude ranch in Santa Maria, where he rode horseback to a one-room schoolhouse, and in a 36-room English tudor mansion in Cleveland, Ohio, where he held his senior prom in the third-floor ballroom.

During his adult life, Livingston and his wife and children have lived on the Palos Verdes peninsula, Upstate New York and on a tiny island off the coast of Seattle.

While most people today don't move around as often as the Livingstons, changing residences has become a lot more common than in years past.

"Thirty years ago families were much less mobile," said Joanie Heinemann, an individual and relationship therapist at Coastline Counseling Center in Newport Beach. "People would tend to stay in the same jobs, and some families would even pass homes down through the generations."

Today, for a variety of reasons, including job changes and transfers, divorce and the need for bigger or smaller living quarters, moving has become much more common. Every seven years the average Californian moves, according to the California Assn. of Realtors.

What that number doesn't show is how moving and staying put affects families and the individuals in them. For some personality types, moving represents a chance to spread their wings and experience new things, while for others it is a stressful time and they would much rather stay put.

"Not much research has focused on the subject, but moving affects us psychologically and emotionally much more than anyone gives credence," says Heinemann. "The fact that a move can and usually does affect our work/school and personal relationships makes it a major life stressor."

Even when the move is an anticipated "step up," leaving a home represents a loss of a way of life, including daily routines, friends and neighbors. And when someone doesn't want to move, leaving a way of life can be very traumatic and potentially threatening to a person's emotional well being, Heinemann said.

Long-distance moves tend to be much harder and more disruptive than local moves.

"Moving far away, out of the state or country, is very hard on people of all ages, because it represents pulling away from important ties in their life," Heinemann said. "Cross-country moves very often put distance between close families. It's hard to be directly involved in someone's life if he or she lives across the United States or world."

Local moves aren't as traumatic for most people, because friends and family are still close. Although for some individuals, even leaving a particular house and neighborhood can be hard.

Staying in the same house, on the other hand, can create familiarity and stability in a person's life.

"There is an intense feeling of home you develop when you've lived in a house for some time," said Carlfred Broderick, who is a professor of sociology at USC and director of the school's Marriage and Family Therapy Training program. Originally from Long Beach, as an adult Broderick lived in various areas of the United States for 20 years, finally settling in his present Cerritos home 22 years ago.

"When I counsel people, and they tell me they've moved a lot, usually they consider moving a deficit, rather than an asset," Broderick said. "People will say the frequent moves hampered their sense of self-identity. Some people will even say that constant moves have caused them to avoid putting down roots anywhere; they don't unpack physically as well as emotionally."

For other people, moving has its benefits. "For some people, moving away from family and friends puts excitement and change into their lives," Heinemann said. "They'll start new hobbies and develop new interests."

Staying in the same house year after year isn't for everyone. "Some people are risk-takers and thrive on change; they tend to get stagnant and bored with their surroundings if they don't make a move," Heinemann said.

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