Adjusting to family life after retirement



NOT everyone adjusts well to life after retirement. If you’ve always been a take-charge type of person, it can be tough letting go and allowing your kids to lead the way.

Counselling psychologist Cathie Wu, of Rekindle Centre for Systemic Therapy ( says that if a person’s identity is too attached to their careers, upon retiring, they can experience an especially heightened sense of loss of their identity.

“Their self-confidence and self-esteem can suffer tremendously when a person largely defines their self-worth and life purpose within the confines of their careers. For others who invest in relationships and self-fulfilment, the risk of this crisis is reduced,” she says via email.

There is a risk of falling into depression after retirement if you are unable to adjust to your new life.

Wu says she has seen many older adults develop depression in their post-retirement years.

She advises those who haven’t retired yet to invest time and energy on building lasting relationships rather than merely focusing on their careers.

“Learn to see our careers as what we choose to do, rather than what defines us. Make time to explore self-interests as well. These are the things that will give meaning and purpose to one after retirement, and propel one to continue living with fulfilment,” she advises.

In a family situation, the senior citizens might even find themselves in a situation where there is a role reversal as their adult children take charge and start making decisions that involve the whole family.

“The adult children are finding their own identity and starting to build their own careers. Their priorities are shifted outside of the family at this point, whereas the retired parents’ domains are often returned to the family and home.

“There is a reversal in the balance of power in the family, especially if the kids who are building their careers now become the main breadwinners.

“As adults now, there should gradually be more assumption of responsibility and autonomy by the children,” says Wu.

This role reversal or the transference of “power” within the family should be done delicately and with a lot of open communication. And, there is no reason to rush it.

According to Wu open communication is key in mutual understanding of the handing over of responsibilities from parents to children.

“Often, retired parents find it hard to completely distance themselves in sharing responsibility, especially if all are living in the same home. Therefore, clarification is crucial in minimising misunderstanding and conflict,” says Wu.

According to her, the retired parents should remain emotionally involved in the family to achieve both autonomy and the ability to be heard and respected.

They should express their desire to retain their autonomy but play other roles in contributing to the wellbeing of the family.

While the retirees allow their adult children to lead the way or have more say in family decisions, it is also important to do so with guidance and support.

“Provide your adult children with the emotional safety and trust to promote more sharing. Support and guide, but also respect your children’s individual identities and the autonomy to make their own decisions. Listen more and be slow to judge; communicate with love and not with critique,” advises Wu.

This means not letting go of all responsibilities, as the retired parents should continue to stay involved individually in things that give them meaning and purpose.

“Retired parents should realise that respect is not defined as one’s employment or financial ability. They should stay involved within the family and be seen as a valuable member, not only for what they can provide physically, but for the role of providing emotional and psychological support to their children and grandchildren,” advises Wu.

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