From Office to Hearth...This Woman's Retirement
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Marisa Guerin - January 19, 2018
"I retired in June 2017 from my professional life as a management consultant and former corporate VP."
Would that sentence represent different personal meanings for a woman than it might for a man? I think so.
It has something to do with which aspect of one's identity seems primary, confers validity, in our gendered world. In my USA society a man pays a big price - in his own psyche and in public - if he doesn't seem to have a work role. A woman's public identity has more variation in its acceptable forms; her validity is less dependent on a job title.
Although both men and women live their lives in a network of relationships - spouse, family, friends, colleagues, neighbors - women are usually the ones who tend these networks and they often provide the nurturing at the heart of family life. This tending and nurturing dimension of a woman's life doesn't stop at professional retirement, it comes to the fore. For many men, what comes to the fore at retirement is the concept of leisure. Big difference there!
This is also a generational and class phenomenon, since not everyone can afford retirement. I came of age in the 60's and 70's. When I imagined my future life as an elder, my images were naturally those of the older women in my life -- my quiet German grandmother Marie, a phenomenal cook who could play the piano by ear; my creative Philippina/Spanish grandmother Mercedes, the immensely talented artist; my aunt Ruth, the retired physical therapist and devoted wife to uncle Bob, who animated every family gathering with her stories and laughter; my aunt Maria Luisa, the religious sister living and ministering with the poor in South America. These were busy women
In my personal history, my father could wear a ball cap that said "I'm retired", but my mother would never think to do so. What would she retire from? Her life was committed to her husband, children, grandchildren, church, neighbors, and family in Spain. All of the older women in my life, professionally retired or not, had lives rich with family and friends and all the associated domestic tasks that keep things in order and life-giving. They moved rather seamlessly from their middle adult years to their senior years. If anything, they became happier people (despite the bad knees, etc). These are my role models for what it means to me to be "retired".
And so goes my life: cooking meals for me and Mike, keeping the kitchen and house and bills in order, taking care of errands, hosting family, connecting with friends, volunteering at church. I write my senators and congressman often, and I march when that seems appropriate. I have more time for reading and exercise. If I can manage to wean myself from too much reading about national political chaos, I might make the space for some creativity, too. That would be nice. When Mike is retired too, maybe some interesting trips.
At the same time, I know myself to be a woman with developed skills and a breadth of experience that came from my years as a working professional. That's important to me. Plus I'm a bit awed and a lot inspired by my clients in recent years, who have been mostly religious women and men who stay vital and active into their seventies and eighties. Their example keeps me involved as a pro bono contributor to Cranaleith programs and as a colleague to my ISPSO friends.
While I personally am sure that retiring from full-time work is the right step for me now, I will keep myself open to the ways that I can contribute to my world as the person I am. It's a relief not to box myself into any one work role. For years and years in my life as a corporate executive and business woman, I lived with a constant tug of war between my achieving self and my relational self. I don't think that's true of all women, but it was for me. The split is gone now, and I feel like one person who sometimes does professional things, and sometimes domestic, and sometimes social, and sometimes contemplative.. as the inner music moves me.
There is such freedom in this phase of life -- I am so interested to see how it will unfold. I'll keep you posted - and who knows, maybe I'll share my favorite recipes.