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Family Relationships

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What does family look like for you?

Whether you're single, married, divorced, or widowed—with children or without children—you have an answer to that question. When you hear the word family, you may see the face of a spouse, faces of children, grandchildren, parents, good friends, siblings, nieces, and nephews. Your family may be large or small; it may be growing with new babies or declining as people age and die. However you define family, it's often the crucial place where life's meaning and your identity are shaped.

At the Center for Health we recognize the value of a strong and healthy social support network. Many studies have indicated the importance of these relationships for coping with sudden loss, illness, and stress. As pastors and religious professionals anticipate retirement, the value of these relationships becomes even more obvious. One of the primary motivations for retirement may be to devote more time to family relationships. While the demands of parish ministry may have interfered with this priority, retirement may seem like a chance to make up for this deficiency.

Audio Discussion

R. Jack Hansen, one of the authors of this article, discusses the role family plays in retirement (WAV file).

Interviews of newly retired professionals for our book Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement* highlighted a variety of changes they experienced in their relationships: husband and wife, parent and adult child, grandparent and grandchild, and siblings. We explore each of these relationships in greater detail in the book. Every married person identified ways retirement had changed their spousal relationship, ranging from very positive to very negative. Those with grandchildren (or in some cases nieces and nephews) described ways in which retirement affected these relationships. A change in sibling relationships was a surprising discovery and one most people interviewed didn't anticipate.

We recommend reflecting on and discussing the following questions with family members as you consider the unique opportunities to continue to build these relationships after retirement.

  1. What areas may be important for you and your significant other to talk through, before or in the early stages of retirement, in order to align your expectations? When married couples experience conflict as they enter retirement, it is most often associated with a difference in expectations of what this phase of life will look like. (These might include how time is spent, how much time is spent together and individually, or how financial priorities may differ in retirement.) What steps might be taken to bring expectations into alignment?
  2. If you have siblings, did you see the relationship with them grow more distant during the intense years of developing a career and/or raising a family? At your current stage of life, have you seen this relationship with siblings change, or do you see the potential for change? Some studies suggest that events of later life (such as retirement, death of parents, illness) have the potential to bring siblings closer together.
  3. Is moving in closer proximity to children or grandchildren something you want to consider? Would this be advisable in your situation? Why or why not?
  4. Is there a family relationship in which you desire reconciliation? Retirement may be a time to seek restoration with family or others with whom you have had significant conflict. The Book of Genesis gives some of the most detailed accounts in the Bible of the workings of a "normal" (though some might call it "dysfunctional") extended family. Certainly one theme in this book, and indeed in the whole Bible, is reconciliation of relationships. If you have wronged someone, consider Jacob's long, drawn-out, cautious approach to meeting his aggrieved brother Esau (chapter 33). Or, if someone in your family has wronged you, consider what would it be like to extend forgiveness to that person as Joseph did with to his brothers, who betrayed him (chapter 45). What other insights from scripture come to mind as you think about reconciliation of close personal relationships in retirement?

*Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement by R. Jack Hansen and Jerry P. Haas (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2010).

©Jerry P. Haas and R. Jack Hansen, 2012

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