As parents we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the various transitions our sons have made along the way: first day at childminder, first day at nursery, first day at school, end of primary school and beginning of secondary school, leaving school, university, starting work, new jobs, relationships and marriage. You get the picture. Each of these transitions affected us, both as parents and also as a couple and as individuals.
We’ve been through a number of transitions ourselves – from being two individuals to becoming a couple, becoming parents, becoming carers for our own parents, being bereaved, becoming parents with children living away.
Our latest transition has been, and continues to be, the move from long-term employment to retirement. We are the fortunate ones who have been employed since we were in our teens, have always paid NI, and have final salary occupational pensions from our public sector jobs to look forward to.
Unless there is a dramatic change of public and political will in this country, we are probably the last generation to have that: we see a much bleaker future for our children, following the much bleaker present they encounter. We’re a brief, two-generation blip between our working class grandparents who had things tough and our children. So much for the great Welfare State that served us and our parents so well. It grieves me to see it being steadily destroyed, wantonly and deliberately.
All my working life, which started when I was 14 years old (just weekends and school holidays at that point) I expected to receive my pensions at 60. (No, of course I didn’t think about that for many many years after I started work, but I did think and know about it from when I had children). Then, I think when I was about 56, I suddenly discovered (by chance – don’t think I have ever yet had a letter from the Government about this) that things had changed and I would have to wait till first 65 and then 66 before receiving my pensions. In the name of equalisation of male and female pension rights. All well and good, and I can’t and don’t argue with that, but I will just observe that it would be nice if the Government was equally keen to equalise male and female pay and employment conditions, and rather a lot of other things beside.
Still, it is what it is. And despite that, we know full well that this transition we are in the midst of is a much more comfortable one for us than it is for many others.
It began 3 years ago when Malcolm took voluntary redundancy from his Civil Service job. The plan was that he was going to retire, and would probably choose not to work again. I would continue in my part-time local authority job for a number of years, and the income from that and a small bit of his pension would give us enough to live on until he received his full occupational pension at 60, provided we were very careful.
That lasted all of two weeks. Then people began to approach him offering bits of work, he accepted, we started our own business (for him initially and for me to join if my job became untenable or my post was lost in yet another round of public sector cuts).
Within a few months, he was back working full-time (and more!). I began to reflect that I didn’t have to carry on working in a job that was becoming more and more difficult to do at a high enough standard for me to be able to live with. I went on a pre-retirement course provided by my employer. I did a lot of thinking, and together we weighed up all sorts of options. I applied for voluntary redundancy. I was turned down.
Along the way our caring responsibilities grew and grew, the work loads grew and grew, and I began to reflect on what I really wanted to do with the next phase of my life.
I didn’t know the answer to that, but I had lots of ideas and questions. I did what I always do when I need to ponder a difficult question – I wrote lists. Lots of lists.
I wrote lists of:
- what I enjoy doing
- what I’m interested in
- what skills I have
- what I’d like to learn
- things I hadn’t yet done but would like to do
- places I hadn’t yet been to but would like to go to
- the people I want to spend time with
I was offered the chance at work to go on a course to learn about coaching other people. It was a fascinating course, and a very practical one. I realised that I have been informally ‘coaching’ people for many years, and that I enjoy doing it. Part of learning to coach was the opportunity to be coached. I found the whole experience very powerful and very stimulating. The course nudged me closer towards making some Big Decisions.
I handed in my notice, having by chance just been offered the opportunity to do some freelance work. The freelance work grew (but never beyond what I wanted it to be), and to my surprise I really really enjoyed doing it.
Now we are three years on from when he became self-employed and nearly two years from when I joined him. He will be 60 at the end of June, and his occupational pension will become payable. It feels like the right time for both of us to move on to the next phase, and retire (from paid work, not life!).
We’re finding it very exciting, and we have plans and hopes (and maybe fears) for this next part of our lives. But we know enough people whose hopes and plans have been cruelly cut short to make us determined not to fritter away this amazing opportunity.
So we are already putting our toes in the water, testing things out, and making arrangments.
We’re going to have a ‘gap year’. This won’t be like any gap year anyone else we know has had. It will be one all of our own invention. But that’s another story.