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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - September 2016

When children retire

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

When children retire

There is something unnerving about conversations about retirement with my own children. It is hard to acknowledge that they are old enough even to be thinking about it. And it’s even harder to accept that I am old enough to have children that old!

But here we are, discussing their feelings about aiming for a pension. To some of them it seems something of a chimera because it’s constantly being shifted a little further into the future. Official retirement age used to be 65 but for them, it will be not less than 68.

A little history:

In 1909, the first state pension, five shillings (25p. a week in today’s money), were paid to some 500,000 people aged 70 or more whose incomes were £21 a year or less. For those earning up to £31, the pension graduated down £ by £, so that for those earning £31 or more got no state pension at all. At that time, only one person in four reached 70 and life expectancy then was to 79 at best. This meant that hardly any pensions had to be paid for longer than nine years.

It was not until 1940 that state pension ages were reduced to 65 for men and 60 for women. Yet now the pension age is being raised again. We, the older generations, have been lucky because, with increased life expectancy, many of us are likely to benefit for 20 years or more.

And there's the rub...children in their 40s and 50s, now looking at longer working lives, see how much freedom state and work-place pensions have given us, and they feel aggrieved. Because they're much more likely than us to live into their 90s, they will need to keep an especially close watch on their earnings and pension prospects.

I know of families where this has already raised tension, where both a son and daughter appear to resent their parents’ ability to retire comfortably. To them it looks as if we have quit work to swan around and live indulgently.

But be clear and firm. There are no grounds for such envy. After all, in our younger years we lived through the most austere times for Britain since the 19th century. Many families were ripped apart by two world wars. Millions lived in houses that were unheated. Many of our parents had to take several jobs at once to make ends meet. As children, we had few possessions. And we were expected pull our weight in home or garden.

Yet it’s true - those born in the 1930s, 40s and 50s have been fortunate. The NHS helped us into adulthood. We had new schools. A burgeoning economy offered opportunities in industry and agriculture. Universities were free. We didn't eat that well but we did benefit from what our country could offer.

By contrast, our children, many with their own families now, had their bonuses first, in childhood. They grew up in good new homes, and were perhaps the last whose education and early years were unaffected by the pressures of adult life. They could play, behave, sleep and absorb all their surrounding influences innocently - like children. They were the last generation free to wander out and about unaccompanied. Of course there were occasional anxieties but for the most part, children were allowed a true childhood well into their teens.

But their children live a different kind of life. In most families now, both parents work - few stay at home to raise the children. If they do, they are often, unjustly, regarded as work-shy or spongers.
Education guidance and rules are chopped and changed as often as David Beckham’s hairstyle. Family life for some, with little time for conversation or the background noise of the TV, is often lived according to busy schedules, with TV exposing the kids prematurely to a fantasy world in which frequent violence is commonplace, where noise, action and luxury living is presented as desirable. A false unattainable glamour becomes every child's unrealistic expectation.

For my part, I value having a computer on which to write, to edit my photographs and to communicate with distant family and friends. I have a smartphone containing my address book and diary always with me. But these are secondary to my real life. I visit friends, I talk with people face to face so that I see and hear their reaction to what I say, and so do they. In a word, we converse.

But for my grandchildren, it’s different. They find that difficult. It means they need to desert their gizmos - the smartphone, the tablet, the laptop - and actually look at you. Their discomfort is palpable. There’s only a tiny window of opportunity to talk with any child old enough to have one of these devices. There’s a cursory hug and greeting, perhaps a quick update on their latest interest, but then it’s back to a screen, leaving the grandparent to adjust a shawl, boil cabbage, smoke a pipe or doze in their chair, or whatever they imagine “old” folks (the over 55s!) do. If only they knew!

I love my grandchildren, of course - they’re sparky and different and fun and interesting - when they tune in. Fortunately, they do have interests that take them away from the screen. But they would be hard put to tell anyone much about their grandmother.

I worry about how their journey through adult life will be. University will clobber them with debt which many won’t repay because what jobs they find after 3-4 years of study will be ill-paid. The NHS remains a wonderful facility but it’s hobbled now by cuts. With fewer teachers, doctors and nurses nowadays, with hardly any jobs that will last a working lifetime, and with massively expensive housing, starting a family will be postponed for even longer than it is already, leading to more heartache or unpleasant, expensive and stressful interventions.

So, I say to my children, you still face 20 years or more of working life, doing what you are doing plus trying to ease your own children safely into the world of work. Do not envy or resent your parents. It was through hard work that we went from hardship and deprivation to ease, whereas you have come from ease to hard work after your childhood freedom and exciting years in your late teens and your 20s. I pray that your children will come through their obstacle course as well as you and we have done. And I pray too that you will find time to enjoy looking back at your journey, feeling there is always more to come. Because there always is.

A graffito on leaving Bristol puts things in perspective. It declares "We are ALL lucky!"

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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