Five Things You Need to Know When Your Parents Retire

By Mary Lloyd
Author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair,
Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love

Parenting is a full time effort, but sometimes it’s your own parents who need attention-especially when they are getting ready to retire. As a culture, we do a lousy job of helping people with this transition. At best, we encourage them to be sure they have enough money. But that’s just the price of admission. To retire well, there are a whole lot more important things to consider.

Here are five of them:

The Golden Years is a myth. The idea that you can be happy living a leisure-centered life was concocted by Del Webb to promote the first Sun City development back in 1960. Travel and home improvements are likely to be satisfying for a while, but people start to get restless with that strategy after about a year. Eventually, you need something more to keep life meaningful.

Helping your folks figure out what that “more” is will be crucial. It might be books or conversations, but getting them to think beyond “maybe I’ll buy a horse” is important.

Flexibility is the real deal. Flexibility, not leisure, is the most important benefit of retirement. Respect their right to it. If you’ve been assuming they’re willing to be an on-call or even full-time childcare solution for you, have an honest conversation. Expecting them to be available at your convenience is denying them one of the best benefits of what they worked hard for.

  • Ask what they really want to do and how much they’d like to be part of your kids’ lives. And respect their answers. Talk about what works best for all of you.
  • A sense of purpose is super health insurance. Knowing what you believe in and doing something about it is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health. Just how much this can make a difference was demonstrated in a study of nuns who donated their brains to science after they died. Researchers found the physical lesions of Alzheimer’s in some of those brains although none of the women had exhibited Alzheimer’s symptoms while alive. They attributed this to their continued engagement. As members of the religious order, they had responsibilities and consistent involvement no matter how old they were.

  • Encourage your parents to stay involved or get involved. Help them uncover their true interests and the things they are passionate about. That knowledge can make all the difference.
  • When you stop earning money, saving money becomes the best way to prove yourself. We’ve all heard stories about millionaires who clip coupons and demand senior discounts. That behavior is not just penny-pinching. When your income is no longer a function of your effort, the obvious way to confirm your financial competence is to spend less. It’s a matter of mastery not miserliness. With older guys in particular, it can become a competition to see who can spend less. That plays out in marital dynamics in all sorts of unpleasant ways.

  • Helping your folks understand what’s behind the “cheapskate behaviors” can help a lot.
  • Retirement is long term. Treating retirement like it’s the waiting room for the funeral parlor is a tragic waste of skill, talent and wisdom. Some of us will spend as many years in retirement as we did in the workforce. Most of us are still in good health when we stop working. It’s wise to plan for the long term (but keep it flexible). The saddest tragedy you will ever find is the person who’s run out of things to learn, do, and try before they run out of life.

  • Ask your parents “What are you going to do next?” every once in a while. Confirming that they aren’t anywhere near done with life will reinforce their enthusiasm for staying involved.
  • You can do a lot to help your folks retire well. Talk about challenges Help them find resources. Listen to their dreams and encourage their plans. If you do, they’ll be happier, healthier, and live longer, more enjoyable lives. And that’s good for all of you.

    Mary Lloyd

    Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of [email protected]

    Patti Hermes

    Patti Hermes, Parent to Parent, is living the dream with her high school sweetheart, raising their boys in the Midwest because it's a good starting point for epic road trips. While writing, reading and homeschooling take up most of her time, she still blogs at
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