In what way is retirement an end phase of life?

For women who are still working outside the home as the time for retirement approaches, retirement is an important transition signaling the end of a career. That career may have occupied all of their adult years or have been launched when they stepped out of the parenting role. It might have been part time to supplement or complement the family income or as the primary provider. For the majority of women, that career was juggled with responsibilities in the home and in the community.

The transition may be fuzzier or non-existent for women who chose to work only within the home. In fact, they may be resentful that they don\’t get to “retire”, that all their duties and responsibilities remain the same. Only now they have an aimless spouse underfoot!

Psychological research says that men are more likely to find their sole identity in their careers; thus, experiencing an identity crisis when they retire.

Women, regardless of whether their outside-the-home careers were part-time or full-time also can face that identity crisis. I remember well my shock when I stepped out of my career for only a few months after the birth of my children. I was in a grocery store and a woman approached me with the question, “Aren\’t you Zach\’s Mom?” Whatever happened to Doctor Stephen I wondered.

Women working outside the home must also face the loss of social connections when they retire. They have the sudden realization that they must figure out what women do in the daytime hours and where they do it. They have never been part of that world.

Retirement is also the end of having that regular paycheck to rely on. Even when women have adequately planned for retirement, it can be a scary prospect. And a large number of women, especially those who are single, face a dramatic change in lifestyle related to a drop in financial resources, especially in today\’s economy. It has always been said that most women are three paychecks away from living in their cars.

In what ways is retirement a beginning phase of life?

We have dreamed about beginnings that start with retirement all of our lives. We think of travel, of more time with our spouses if we have one, of freedom from a commute, of more time for church activities and women friends…of sleeping in!

But this generation has a bigger challenge because we live longer and we\’re healthier than our mothers\’ generation. We have more years to fill with meaningful activity. The tag “Golden Years” is no longer appropriate. We may want to think second career years (doing something we love). We may want to think legacy years—what can we contributed or create to pass on to the next generation, even if that is simply our own grandchildren.

What are the biggest stumbling blocks to a successful retirement?

The biggest mistake is to wait until retirement to start engaging in retirement activities…not just planning for them, but engaging in them. The transition is sometimes so jarring that women shut down, develop depression, can\’t make decisions, and have no idea what they want to do. But if they are already taking those interesting classes (through the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning or community resources), have ties to other women and activities that can fill the daytime hours, and have explored or renewed interests they haven\’t had time to pursue before, they will be way ahead of the game.

The second mistake is to assume it will all go as planned. I know dozens of women (both personally and professionally) who thought their retirement was set, their dreams in place, when they suddenly lost their spouse or had a major shift in terms of their health, or lost their home, or had a grown child die. Others have had to accept that they must move to a more affordable community or one with adequate support resources. Still others are faced with the disappointment that their children are not going to provide the requisite grandchildren.

How do we overcome the stumbling blocks?

One is to encourage a sort of flexibility within ourselves…both mentally and emotionally. We think too often of specific solutions and not overall themes or values. For example, instead of saying that we have to keep our current home no matter what, we could think about what constitutes an adequate living environment. I found that making the transition to a shared living situation with my daughter and son-in-law before retirement has been a great relief. I am accustomed to my cottage living space (after all, I only live in one room at a time) and am benefiting already from the financial and social perks of shared, yet independent, living. And I know it will continue to be affordable after I do retire when my resources will be diminished by half.

The other is to enhance our spiritual resources. If there ever was a time when we needed guidance, thoughtfulness, courage, and grace, it is in the retirement years. Odds are that every woman is going to spend part of these retirement years of her own. Yes, planning for adequate financial resources are important (although, whenever I hear those programs on TV, I discover it\’s already too late!) but planning for spiritual resources are even more important. If you don\’t have a faith community or spiritual connection, now is the time.

A SAFETY REMINDER: If you feel you have a psychiatric emergency, go directly to a family member, a friend, your physician, your pastor, or the nearest hospital emergency room and tell them you are in crisis and in need of immediate help.

Or Call 911 or one of these numbers:
• 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433
• 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255
• For a Suicide Hotline in your state: www.suicidehotlines.com

Suicide is a permanent and tragic solution to a temporary problem. Get help.

Next Month: Thinking of Retirement—the End or the Beginning