Life after Retirement

Susan Donnelly, MSW, LCSW has been a practicing psychotherapist ( She has earned a reputation for empathy and a sense of humor, and explains that empathy is the ability to walk a bit in someone else's shoes so they might walk further or more easily: "It involves both an aptitude and a commitment. A sense of humor helps us learn wisdom." Susan is a SHARE, INC. volunteer and she welcomes your questions.

We tend to look forward to retirement. We anticipate freedom from routine, schedules, deadlines, perhaps difficult bosses. We might plan to pursue a new hobby, spend more time with friends, and perhaps travel.

We can also look forward to being able to spend more time with our families, including adult children and grandchildren. This can of course be a wonderful thing, but generally not one hundred percent of the time. Unresolved issues or conflicts with adult children can surface, which is part of family life. Working towards resolution requires that all parties be involved and can be a lengthy process.

Another potential pitfall of retirement is if our adult children are overwhelmed, or simply needy, and assume now that we are no longer working we can become a good part of their child care. It can be meaningful for grandparents and invaluable for grandchildren to spend time alone together. This is as long as the time spent remains within reasonable limits, and is equally agreed upon. And mutual agreement does not include situations where grandparents are directly or indirectly guilt-tripped into saying yes. Manipulation is not consent.

Grandchildren may be even more difficult to care for if they have any sort of special need, for example, a learning disability, a behavioral issue, severe allergies, diabetes, or autism. It is in these situations where parents are even more likely to be overwhelmed and to sometimes, without thinking, impose upon their parents. There is certainly nothing wrong with grandparents responding with care and support, as not only do they love their adult children, but also their grandchildren. The parameters are how much and what type of care and support is provided.

Special needs children can require patience, stamina, and an extensive skill set which grandparents should not be expected to exemplify. While many seniors are very active well into their 90's, caring for behaviorally challenged children is not supposed to be high on their list of preferred activities. It really is okay for grandparents to "just say no".

Limiting one's time with grandchildren is not evidence of lack of love for them or their parents, nor is it evidence of selfishness. It is simply setting boundaries which include showing respect for oneself.

A yoga teacher I know frequently says, "When we do something kind for ourselves, the whole world benefits".