Great Expectations: Tips for Boomer Women

Amara Rose February 12, 2013 5

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Retiring Retiree Myths: Part 2
Great Expectations: Tips for Boomer Women

“The hardest years in life are those between ten and seventy.” ~ Helen Hayes at 82

The Baby Boomers are the largest group to grey as a collective in history: for the next two decades, 10,000 people a day will turn 65, according to the Pew Research Center. “By force of numbers alone, they almost certainly will redefine old age in America, just as they’ve made their mark on teen culture, young adult life and middle age,” says Pew.

Perhaps surprisingly, given their landmark opportunities and successes, older Boomer women report high rates of depression and pessimism. An article in The Atlantic suggests they can learn a few tips from their slightly older sisters, the generation that immediately preceded them, known as the Silent Generation. As reverse mortgage professionals who work with this population, you may wish to take note of what’s transpiring as they move into their elder years.

The very fact of Boomers’ enormous contributions is now precipitating unhappiness, says Harvard psychiatrist and healthy aging expert George Vaillant. Boomer women have put a premium on having it all: being Supermoms and career women. Now as they enter retirement, these dual losses (i.e., empty nest and career cessation) catalyze an identity crisis more severe than that of adolescence, because, having realized their expectations, they don’t know how to redefine their identities.

By contrast, those now in their 70s, more accustomed to traditional roles, paradoxically had an easier time making the transition to elderhood. “I’m tickled to think of myself as an old lady,” says Ellen Cole, a 71-year-old Harvard-trained psychologist and professor at the College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y. “It’s a fabulously rich period of life.” To celebrate this life stage and share stories about graceful aging, two years ago Cole and a colleague launched 70 Candles, a blog devoted to women 70 plus.

Their advice for Boomer women?

  • Embrace aging. It sounds basic, and it is: if you cling to youth you’re going to be unhappy, because, despite Botox, yoga and plastic surgery, there’s still no way to stop the clock. Once you accept growing older, you’ll find the humor in it, as one woman reported: she and her husband were driving through a densely populated area and passed a sign warning people to go slowly. It read “Thickly Settled.” While the words referred to the number of children, dogs, etc., in the vicinity, the woman laughed as she immediately decided the phrase perfectly described her post-middle-aged body: ‘Thickly Settled’!
  • Release “retirement”. Unless a reverse mortgage client chooses to be passive, there’s no need to resort to a rocking chair existence in one’s later years, says Cole. Doing meaningful work, whether that entails volunteering, being with grandchildren, or working for pay, are all ways to stay involved and connected. Just because someone is eligible for Medicare and Social Security doesn’t mean they must stop working. Many women keep working for the income. Of course, this is also where a reverse mortgage can help tremendously, and it is an option worth exploring as women (and men) approach their later years.
  • Create community. This is key as women age: friendships from raising children or from work often fall away when those doors close, and people suddenly find themselves isolated at precisely the time in their lives when they most need and want connection.

When Boomers can accept their evolving selves, find new ways to be involved, and form new friendships in their later years, depression is supplanted by joie de vivre — even if a senior is facing health issues or financial challenges, says aging expert Vaillant. When life has meaning and purpose, you want more of it — at any age.

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5 Comments »

  1. Joyce Hanson February 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    Hi Amara, great article!! I am a single senior woman myself. I have been doing Reverse Mortgages since 1995. I have done many Reverse mortgages for women my age to help them with their financial situation. I personally don’t plan on retiring until I absolutely have to. I encourage my aging “sisters” to enjoy the years they have left and not deprive themselves of traveling, shopping or doing the things they have put off. The Reverse mortgage provides them the means to be worry free about their finances and be able to do the things they enjoy!

  2. Amara Rose February 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Joyce,

    Thanks for your inspiring comment. You are clearly a wonderful role model for your reverse mortgage clients!

  3. The_Critic February 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    Nothing prepared us for this stage in life. When we were young, our grandparents were the first to experience Social Security and, in my case, Railroad Retirement. They were the first generation of Americans to accept unions to any extent at all. Seeing through them the death of their spouses, relatives, friends, and peers and the sheer misery that brings was brutal.

    Aging has no mercy. It is ruthless in what it takes and leaves. Regret is far too frequent.

    A friend who is six years older reminds me that the most frequent social event most of those older than he attend is funerals. My father who is in his mid nineties has but a couple of relatives living from his generation but none of his teachers, professors, or business partners. All but a few of the students he grew up with have passed on. If it was not for his life-time church going activities, he would be very, very lonely.

    Knowing what life will bring, it is hard not to be depressed or pessimistic. It is also extremely important to find something new and interesting with each passing day. Why shun life when there is so much (and at the same time so little) of it?

  4. Amara Rose February 12, 2013 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Hi The_Critic,

    Beautifully said. One way to look at aging is, since we all have an “expiration date,” it makes life that much sweeter. Would we value it as much if we did, indeed, live forever? My almost-100-year-old-friend, whom I’ve mentioned here before, is a fabulous role model in this regard: she has continued to make new friends at every life stage, even as all those she once knew have passed on.

    Thanks for sharing your insights. Blessings!

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