Grandparenting: Retirement stereotypes limit life's possibilities

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By Tom and Dee Hardy, and Cousin Key Kidder/ Daily News Correspondents
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Q: My parents just announced they are thinking about pulling up stakes and moving closer to us for their “happy retirement years, watching their grandchildren grow up.” Dad, a dentist, still works six days a week.

My big worry is that they’ll move near us and Dad will find he can’t handle retirement, and then I’ll be stuck with two morose parents who’ve put all their retirement eggs in one basket. Do you see my point? WORRIED, Springfield, Mass.

A: It was F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of America’s literary giants, who said there were no second acts in life. He was wrong — Americans of all ages are increasingly transitioning into second, third and even fourth acts of their lives.

But the old stereotypes about retirement still have a powerful grip on many in your parents’ generation, and can limit their ability to see the wide array of available choices. Retiring and relocating to be near family can be well and good, and can often seem like a safe bet at such an uncertain juncture in their lives. We see your point, and why you are worried. Are they really prepared for this?

We think they may be selling themselves short on life’s possibilities. Perhaps they’d benefit from the services of the new breed of advisers and counselors, sometimes called “retirement coaches,” who help educate today’s seniors about how to maximize their golden years. At the very least, they could inject some new ideas into your parents’ thinking. Maybe you might even do some research and give your grandparents some leads.

On the subject of happy retirements, many of the factors that make grands and others of retirement age happy are quite different from those associated with a happy and contented middle age, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The study said the happiest retirees are those able to give specific examples of activities they found rewarding and/or creative. For example, your dad might move nearer to you — but not too near — and still remain active as a part-time dentist.

Unhappy retirees tend to engage in activities while on automatic pilot, like watching TV obsessively, or even gambling, and having unrealistic expectations about spending all their time with their grandchildren.

We were also interested to learn that retirement happiness does not depend on wealth.

Grand Remark of the Week

When my nephew, Matt, a blue-eyed redhead, was in the third grade, he said he was learning about cells. I said, “Isn’t it interesting how cells multiply.” His answer: “No, Susie, they divide!” — RUTH ANN STROBEL, The Villages, Fla.

Dee and Tom Hardie, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Key Kidder is a dedicated husband and father of two.

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