Tell Me About It: A reader is not relishing retirement because of his troubled relationship with his wife and children
I am just back from a family holiday, and am despairing. I am due to retire in a year, and had supposed that this holiday would be the last one of the big spending. I booked a lovely resort and thought of everything that everyone would want: sun for my wife, a pool and lively nightlife for our 26-year-old daughter, and good internet for our son who is 29.
However, everyone was in bad form, and all found fault with everything and blamed me for my lack of care and consideration. This holiday has cost me a huge chunk of money and, on a day-to-day basis, I pay for most things. It is not that I want gratitude, but it would be nice to have some little bit of acknowledgement.
My adult children are both living at home, and are both in lower-paid jobs that mean they are unlikely to ever get on the mortgage ladder. My wife does not work. Our relationship has not been romantic for many years, but I had hopes that we might reconnect in retirement – but since the holiday, that hope is dying. My daughter lacks ambition and has not used her degree in her job, and shows no sign of making any effort to change this – she is prone to depression, so I am always careful of pushing her too much. My son is a typical withdrawn male who works from home as an IT person and does not seem to have a large social life.
I feel despairing about finishing work and spending more time in this negative environment, and I feel that my family do not particularly like me and will not enjoy having me at home. This is such a depressing thought.
You describe how no one in your family is particularly enjoying themselves but your imminent retirement might provide the opportunity to tackle the status quo and shake things up a bit. You aspire to a better relationship with, and more independent living for, your children and this is a good thing. However, you could easily sink into semi-depression or lassitude yourself as the influence of those around you is significant.
As parents, you and your wife are the leaders in the family and so this relationship is the first that should be tackled. Could you be brave enough to suggest couple therapy and engage with this as a long-term project – you have a year before you retire and as patterns are hard to change this time could be utilised well to investigate, probe and explore your primary relationship.
Fear has a way of spreading, so it may be that your whole family is experiencing trepidation at what is coming down the tracks.
As someone who feels the burden of carrying the family’s financial and emotional wellbeing, you may need to speak about the impact this has had on you, and also listen closely to how your wife feels about this. The act of engaging a third party to conduct these sessions creates a new dimension where you do not carry the major responsibility, and where difficult things can be aired and considered in a safe space.
Of course, you will need your wife’s buy-in for this, so be as honest as you can about how fearful and stuck you feel, and ask for her help with your joint future. Initially, the focus should be on the two of you, and when you are on solid ground you can turn your attention to your two adult children.
It might be wise in the first instance to get some advice around your pension and any lump sum that is due to you – which may allow you to think of allocating some of this to each child for either further education, or to move out of home. This may create optimism or some opportunities for them that they have not been open to them so far. Fear has a way of spreading, so it may be that your whole family is experiencing trepidation at what is coming down the tracks, and that the holiday was a conduit for this fear.
Be as honest as you can about how fearful and stuck you feel, and ask your wife for her help with your joint future
We need to tackle fear in small steps, as otherwise we can end up in crisis and this blocks any intelligence or problem-solving capacity we have. Your children are well capable of having a discussion regarding your retirement and their future lives.
Do not hide attendance with a counsellor from your children. Show them that help-seeking behaviour is a courageous and smart thing to do. Encourage their innate capacity for functioning and draw this out of them by trusting that real conversation will not derail them and you do not and should not fix everything in their lives for them. Whether you realise it or not, you have a significant influence on those around you – be determined that your life is going to improve, actively seek contentment and practice tackling fear on a daily basis.
You will not be alone in this as your wife and a professional support person will be with you. However, the first step is yours to take, and you would do well to initiate the change process now, so that you have a year to tackle the ups and downs of the journey.