When a woman in your grandmother's generation turned 65, she typically looked back on her life. When a woman turns 65 today, she can look ahead to the next quarter of her life. A woman reaching her 65th birthday today can expect to live until she is at least 85.
"We have different expectations for the rest of our lives," says Barbara Fleisher, co-author of "The New Senior Woman: Reinventing the Years Beyond Mid-Life" (Rowman & Littlefield, $34). Fleisher, along with co-author Thelma Reese, interviewed more than 200 women ranging from their early 60s to their late 90s. Their goal was to talk with women who have mastered the senior years and find out how they did it. One common thread: Stay active and engaged, and you will not feel old, nor will you be considered old.
"You're still relevant, and the world still welcomes you, because you have something to offer," Reese says.
Reese, 80, and Fleisher, 83, know firsthand about staying active and engaged. Both are retired professors who started the lively website elderchicks.com as a sort of public square for senior women. The book is an outgrowth of the website.
"One of the things that I learned from all of these women was that no matter what their ethnic background, their educational level, no matter what their economic situation, they all had the same concerns," Fleisher says. For example, many with adult children found the relationships at times wonderful and at times frustrating. One of the women in the book became exasperated with her adult son continually expecting her to fix all his problems. She finally told him, "I'm still your mom -- but I'm not your mommy."
The women in the book took different roads to find satisfaction. Some started new careers, others worked part-time, some did volunteer work, others learned new skills. What they did wasn't as important as how they did it. "What do you do during the day that makes you feel good about yourself at night?" Reese says. "You have to have that kind of feeling."
Most of the women, instead of mourning the loss of youth, reveled in the independence of fewer day-to-day obligations.
"You've got the gift of time, not only in life span but in the fact that you're not doing a 9-to-5 structure, coming home exhausted and then having to take care of family," Fleisher says. "All of sudden, they've got this time, and they realize, 'I've got a lot of freedom now.' "