Sunday, February 4, 2018


My friends, my peers and many of my relatives are beginning to retire or have already.  As a woman of a certain age, I’ve had the opportunity to have a variety of careers and have, so far, retired 3 times, if you count when I left the practice of law to have my first child. I’ve also not worked for long periods of time.

Women like me grew up in a time when we weren’t expected to have a serious career and working after having children was frowned upon.  Even when our children had grown or at least were in school all day, going back to work wasn’t a requirement.  Many of my peers stayed home indefinitely being volunteers, playing golf, tennis and bridge and joining garden clubs and the Junior League. Women my age have already figured out how to make life worth living without working.

On the other hand, my husband and just about every male I know in my generation has been working at his career since his mid to early twenties and has put his job in the center of his life. Putting work first was how we were raised and how we raised our kids.  Mothers, including me, went to the sports events, the back to school nights, the school trips and extracurricular outings.

I have come to realize that particular division of labor was not great for anyone.  I think kids suffer not having both their parents involved in their every day lives.  Being the main breadwinner also put an unfair burden on husbands who felt that their family’s livelihood was entirely on their shoulders.  And it was not good for wives and mothers who never gained the confidence that can come from having a career.

I live in Manhattan now.  We moved here fifteen years ago after raising our children in the suburbs.  Because city living is such a communal situation I get to closely observe my fellow citizens and see, either on the elevator in my building, on the crosstown bus or just walking the neighborhood streets, how the next generation deals with their kids.  My takeaway is how much more involved fathers are now. It’s as likely that a dad will be escorting a child to school on the bus or running alongside their preschooler riding his scooter on the way to nursery school. 

I also get to hear the conversations. I get teary for what my husband and my children missed, when I overhear a dad and his son or daughter talk about their day and question what they’ve seen and what they’ve heard. The conversations in such settings come about naturally and lead to important issues. I had the same kind when I ferried my children to their practices and lessons or did carpools. As anyone who’s had them knows, they’re priceless and a great basis for later years when kids aren’t so apt to be open.  Back in the day, very few dads ever had the benefit.

But on top of that loss, that special relationship with their children, many men and some woman I know now have a hard time facing retirement.  They worked all their lives, focused on their jobs instead of cultivating other interests and have no idea what to do once they don’t have that job. 

It’s true that some have more or less figured it out.  I’m thinking of the golfers who throw themselves into the game the same way they threw themselves into their careers. Golf can—at least until you’re in your mid to late 80’s—for some be something to focus on.  But not everyone is a golfer or wants to be one.  Some retirees travel and can’t wait to take cruises to Alaska and Europe and the Caribbean.  Others, like my husband, who is not retired yet, but wishes he were, garden. But it’s the rare individual who finds golf or a life of travel, or even gardening, as engaging or stimulating as the job they once had.

Of course I’m talking about the advantaged, not the retirees who are struggling financially.  But I’m not so sure it’s any different for them.  Their jobs may not have been as engaging or rewarding, but like the more affluent, the burden of supporting their families was on them and like people of means, if they’re reaching retirement age, they too have to figure out how to find meaning in their days.

Bottom line, defining ourselves by our jobs has major limitations and perhaps it’s the one area where women of a certain age have the advantage.

1 comment:

  1. I am blessed. I live a charmed life. My husband is the nicest person I have ever met and I have good, honest, caring children. My husband has always been the breadwinner. We have a cottage, we winter in Florida, we see our children frequently and we travel extensively. I retired from teaching in 1971 when I got pregnant. I appreciated having the choice to stay home. I know that many don’t have that choice. My husband never missed a teacher conference or sports activity and in many cases, coached the team. Through the years, we have been the caregivers for my mother, his parents and my sister and brother in law. We chose not to go to Naples this winter because my other brother in law is dying and we wanted to be here to support my sister in law. We made the right decision.

    My husband is retired. He was forced to do this because he lost his hearing and now has cochlear implants in both ears. You can’t be deaf and practice law. He worked at the same law firm for over forty years, finally owned it and then sold it when he retired. He would give ANYTHING to still be working. I think he would have worked forever. He is happiest when he is helping our children and spending time with our four grandchildren. Two grands live in Ann Arbor which is only forty five minutes away. Fortunately our other daughter, her husband and two children come from Austin to our cottage in northern Michigan for the summer. Like your son, ours just got married in Sept. They live in NYC so we love visiting there.

    I think if I had had a career, not just a job, I would have been happy to work. Teaching was not my passion, and sadly, I still don’t know what that would have been. I worry about how short my obituary will be! LOL. So for me retirement has been just a continuation of my life. I’m content.

    Debbie, you have been equally blessed. You had and continue to have multiple careers. You will never have to retire. Your observations on men and retirement are dead on. It’s hard for them and maybe that’s because they haven’t had the time or taken the time to develop friendships like women do. My friends are a mixed group. Some had careers, a few still do, and some always stayed home. I have nine college friends and we travel together every two years. We didn’t start until the families were grown. Now we rent a big house for a week every summer. Our conversations are so stimulating. We’re from all over the U.S. Six are married to their first husbands. The first of the husbands died last year. Three are divorced and remarried. One has no children and one is gay and has never been married. Three are breast cancer survivors. One has lost a child and one has lost a grandchild. We share the good times and the bad times and try to get together more often in smaller groups.

    I think my biggest job now is to continue being supportive of my husband as he deals with his retirement and his very limited hearing. It’s great in a sound proof room but very compromised in a restaurant or party or any group situation. We don’t live in a sound proof room. I feel so bad for him. He never complains.

    I actually love being a “woman of a certain age”. Naples is a great place to see others in the same stage of life. Everyone is very comfortable, they all take care of themselves and they stay active. In general, people are very friendly. They know how to have fun. And of course, having grown up on Long Island, I love spending my days at the beach. Winter in Michigan is not quite as fun.

    So if anyone out there is contemplating retirement, think about going to a place where people are all in the same boat and do it while you and your spouse can. Nothing is more important than your health and if you’ve made it to this age, you probably have some good years left so seize the day!