Female baby boomers are the first generation to retire who are well-educated, healthy, energetic, and with well-paid careers. Consequently, many agree that the boomers’ retirement will be different from the retirement of previous generations.
Changes Brewing for Baby Boomers
The current stereotype of grandma baking cookies for lots of grandchildren is becoming less realistic. The traditional mindset about the needs and activities of mature adult females may no longer be valid.
As Lim S.G. notes in “Rethinking ambition: Women on the edge of retiring,” an essay in Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide, compiled and edited by N. Bauer-Maglin A. Radosh, for professional women especially:
“…moving from regulated work to free work, ambition need not take a back seat but instead finally moves into the forefront, where it will prompt us to ask not what the institution wants but what we want out of our lives and the work we can and wish to do” (p. 124).
Retirement is the time for both sexes to find fulfilling activities. But barriers and stereotypes remain for older women. They have been carers of the family. Society and culture expects them to continue or expand that role in retirement.
The Designated Caregiver
Retired women are often the designated caregiver for two sets of individuals: grandchildren and parents/children/spouse with health or aging issues. Caring has been an integral part of the female life span.
While men’s life span often follows this path: born, learn, earn, retire, and die, women’s life span is more likely to be: born, learn, earn some, care, earn some more and care, retire and care, die.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that women may feel they have little choice and may become trapped in that caring role. Caring may take over their retirement and stop them from finding fulfilling activities.
Although it is difficult to say no to a request to care for someone who needs it, it is a viable answer. I babysat my school age grandchildren for a few years once a week after school. They have grown beyond that and I do miss seeing them weekly.
I was a small part of their life and knew what was happening, but it was not an overwhelming responsibility. If I was travelling, I would give plenty of notice and their parents would make other arrangements.
On Your Own Terms
It is important to recognise that caring can be a positive benefit to the carer, but it must be on one’s own terms.
I know someone whose child asked her to care for her grandchildren for 2 weeks. She thought about it and said no, she wasn’t interested in caring for toddlers for that length of time. She did not feel comfortable caring for children that young given their needs.
Women, whether married or single, should plan for their own retirement needs, besides planning for finance and health care needs. Women should explore how to achieve emotional/social wellbeing in retirement. Some elements could be:
- researching to find their unique passion and purpose,
- considering what legacy they want to leave behind,
- what communities they would like to serve,
- and what are their boundaries about caring.
Baby boomers have different expectations for retirement. They will challenge the expectations of retirement as they have other phases of their lives. Female baby boomers are equal to this challenge, but also need to decide if, how, and when they are available for caring for others.
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