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Shenk%20et%20al.%20-%20Older%20women%27s%20attachments%20to%20their%20home%20and%20possessions.pdf

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Department
Health, Aging and Society
Course
HLTHAGE 1BB3
Professor
Jessica Gish
Semester
Fall

Description
Journal of Aging Studies 18 (2004) 157–169 Older women’s attachments to their home and possessions Dena Shenk a,*, Kazumi Kuwahara b, Diane Zablotsky a aDepartment of Sociology and Anthropology, University of North Carolina Charlotte, 9201 University City Boulevard, b Charlotte, NC 28223-0001, USA 2-29-9-102 Nagaski, Toshima, Tokyo, 171-0051, Japan Abstract The current cohorts of older women in the United States were raised with clear gender roles and expectations, defining a woman’s primary focus as her home and family. It seems likely, therefore, that they will have at least, in part, developed a sense of their own identities in relation to their homes and possessions. This study is based on in- depth interviews with four older widows in Charlotte, NC, who still live in the homes where they lived with their deceased husbands. Utilizing a lifecourse perspective, this paper explores the themes in their attachment to their homes and possessions. D 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Keywords: Place attachment; Home; Possessions; Identity; Lifecourse; Widowhood 1. Introduction The current cohorts of older women in the United States were raised with clear gender roles and expectations, defining a woman’s primary focus as her home and family. Many of them have invested enormous amounts of time and emotion in their homes as full-time homemakers as a result of traditional gender roles associated with their cohort (Howell, 1994). It is not surprising, therefore, that their identities are often tied to their families, homes, and possessions. Using a lifecourse perspective, this paper explores the attachment to their home and possessions of four older widows who have remained in the homes in which they lived with their deceased husbands. This is a common pattern with older widows tending to remain in their homes after the death of their husbands. The rate of moving for those 65 years and over is only 4.1% (Commerce Department * Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-704-687-4349; fax: +1-704-687-3091. E-mail address: [email protected] (D. Shenk). 0890-4065/$ - see front matter D 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2004.01.006 158 D. Shenk et al. / Journal of Aging Studies 18 (2004) 157–169 Census Bureau, 1998). If a widowed person is going to move after a spouse’s death, they typically do so during the first year of widowhood. The probability of moving for this group diminishes over time, and even after 20 years, 40% are estimated to be in the home they occupied when they became widowed (Chevan, 1995). Like many women of the older generation, they devoted themselves to their homes and families, with the roles of wife and mother being primary throughout their adult lives. At least, in part, their identities continue to be tied to these roles, although their husbands have died and their children are grown. The focus of this paper is to develop an understanding of their attachment to their homes and possessions. In particular, we will explore their connections to their families as reflected through the meanings of their homes and possessions. 2. Background 2.1. Lifecourse perspective Each person’s journey through life can be viewed as a road map, offering many alternative routes to many alternative destinations. The pathways that develop as we age are a result of accumulated decisions and the consequences of those decisions (Atchley & Barusch, 2004). The timing of events over an individual’s lifetime, in such areas as education, work, and family, affects the overall lifecourse whether they are ‘‘on-time’’ or ‘‘off-time’’ (Barresi, 1997). The concepts of on- and off-time refer to the timing of specific events and transitions within a person’s life, such as the birth of one’s last child, death of a spouse, or returning to college. The timing of such events, in relation to the cohort norms and cultural expectations, also affects their impact on the individual’s lifecourse. The lifecourse perspective offers the most appropriate background for investigating the attach- ment of these widows to their homes and possessions. This model allows us to explore the playing out of age-related roles and role transitions over time, while keeping in mind the social context in which individuals adapt to new circumstances and social statuses (Giele & Elder, 1998; Quadagno, 2002). According to the lifecourse principle, we cannot understand a single phase of a person’s life apart from its antecedents and consequences (Riley, 1998). At the same time, any individual’s life is intertwined or intersected with the lives of others (Riley, 1998). These assumptions led us to believe that the home, and its contents, would represent anchors in various ways to the woman’s past role as wife (and mother) and provide representations and guideposts to her future life as a widow. Making this transition represents the kind of age-related change that the lifecourse approach articulates. Currently, women are more likely to experience old age living alone, and their gender influences how they will respond to this experience. The socialization they received as a cohort has impacted the way they construct relationships and faced opportunities and choices (Moen, 2001). Furthermore, the influence of social stratification (in race, class, and gender), social capital as reflected in social support and assistance available in old age, and personal capital as found in resiliency and the ability to respond to stress all impact how aging persons experience social change (O’Rand, 2001). Looking at the attachment of home and possessions after widowhood brings us to the intersection of these macro- and microforces, and sheds light on the similarities and differences in how women with different social characteristics navigate the change. D. Shenk et al. / Journal of Aging Studies 18 (2004) 157–169 159 2.2. Place attachment Place attachment ‘‘is a set of feelings about a geographic location that emotionally binds a person to that place as a function of its role as a setting for experience’’ (Rubinstein & Parmelee, 1992, p. 139).A fundamental assumption in the literature is that what underlies a sense of place attachment are personal meanings of the home. Dill (1990) uses the term homelife to refer not only to what people do and experience every day at home, but also how they interpret their home environment. Rubinstein and Parmelee (1992) describe individuals as meaning makers, that is, as self-directed entities who actively assign personal meanings to their homes. The meaning of home has experiential aspects and involves the relationship between people and their environments (Dovey, 1985). Time is an important factor in the development of place attachment, which is relevant for these women who have remained in their previous homes. Moreland and Zajonc (1977) found that place attachment intrinsically occurs over time, based on frequency of exposure. Familiarity is an important aspect of place attachment and leads to development of a sense of order. ‘‘Remaining where one has lived for a long time means living in a home that is ‘known,’ in the sense of its providing a family of schemata for comprehension and action’’ (Lawton, 1990, p. 639). Typically, knowing how to do one’s tasks with minimal energy and attention promotes a sense of security (Lawton, 1990). For example, we can find light switches in the dark because our familiar environments enable us to ‘‘feel’’ them (Dovey, 1985). Rowles (1984, p. 146) describes this ‘‘sense of physical insideness, of being almost physiolog- ically melded into the environment, [that] results from an intimacy with its physical configuration stemming from the rhythm and routine of using the space over many years.’’ Ironically, minor changes, such as a door unexpectedly left wide open, can easily turn out to be a hazard in this level of familiar environment (Rowles, 1993). The repetitious use of space allows the development of routines and rituals. Personal rituals are individually constructed, habitual, internalized routines (Pastalan & Barnes, 1999). Pastalan and Barnes (1999) explain and illustrate the nature of personal rituals with the following example: ‘‘The time and location are very specific and very individual. Perhaps the mirror must be well lighted, the products laid out methodically, and the makeup applied in a prescribed manner’’ (p. 84). Rituals not only ‘‘help to give meaning to individuals in terms of who they are, where they are, what they do, and why they do it’’ (p. 83), but the meaningfulness of rituals also anchors people to their environments. No less important to the development of order is the privacy in one’s home that allows us to personalize our activities. Perhaps, more to the point, the control afforded by ‘‘both physical and symbolic boundaries’’ (Dovey, 1985, p. 36) enables us to regulate our behavior at home and our interaction with the world outside (Altman, 1975; Dovey, 1985). Thus, ‘‘privacy lets us drop our smiles, our masks, and our roles temporarily, suspend etiquette, scratch an itch, curse, cry, fall apart [and] pull ourselves together’’ (Kron, 1983, p. 27). In this protected environment, one can be ‘‘at ease’’ (Kron, 1983) and ‘‘come closer to one’s self’’ (Dovey, 1978). Territoriality also provides freedom for us to express ourselves, and this often results in the personalization of our home environment (Kron, 1983). Personalization typically involves arranging, molding, and even manipulating a space (Marcus, 1992). By the definition of Altman (1975), primary territories are exclusively used and controlled by the residents on a daily and almost permanent basis. ‘‘In such territories, the identity of the owner is salient’’ (Altman, 1975, p. 112). ‘‘Decorating or personalizing this space in our own particular style is our way of saying: ‘This is mine... this is an expression of who I am’’ (Marcus, 1992, p. 88). Gradually, over time, the home and one’s identity begin 160 D. Shenk et al. / Journal of Aging Studies 18 (2004) 157–169 to overlap. The home ‘‘may be the outward manifestation of an inner reality, reflecting both (the woman’s) identity and her relationship to the larger community’’ (Swenson, 1998, p. 391). Rubinstein and Parmalee (1992, p. 148) described this interactive relationship between one’s home and one’s personal identity as follows: ‘‘Attachment to place develops most directly from life experiences and associated notions of what has been important in one’s life and who one is in the world.’’ ‘‘Individual identity is revealed by patterns of symbolic meaning that characterizes the individual’s unique interpretation of experience’’ (Kaufman, 1993, p. 18). This personalization of space with one’s identity is a human quest (Dovey, 1985). ‘‘Although one has little control over the things encountered outside the home, household objects are chosen and could be freely discarded it they produced too much conflict within the self’’ (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981, p. 17). This refers not only to objects that are seemingly related to the self, ‘‘but everyday utilitarian objects also serve the same purpose of providing information about the self, and yet their effect can be so pervasive as to be difficult to discern at first glance’’ (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981, p. 92). By their very nature, older adults’ memories and stories can highlight their identity in terms of their home. Often, the home is where people age and ‘‘what has happened in life is increasingly likely to have happened in this place’’ (Rubinstein, Kilbride, & Nagy, 1992, p. 80). In terms of our present focus, it is important that the home is also ‘‘where families grow and develop’’ (Rubinstein et al., 1992, p. 80). The parental home then often becomes ‘‘a focal point for family gatherings’’ for older parents and their adult children (Atchley, 1983, p. 14). One key element of the individual’s identity within the home then is ‘‘the theme of connection’’ (Rowles, 1987, p. 340). In the study of Kamptner (1989, p. 181) of the meanings of older adults’ possessions, he found ‘‘possessions as symbols of others was a theme mentioned over and over again.’’ For example, ‘‘more than any other object in the home, photos serve the purpose of preserving the memory of personal ties’’ (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981, p. 69). In addition, objects received as gifts can remind the owner of the givers, and relationships or bonds with those people (Kamptner, 1989). Similarly, heirlooms, such as dishware, silverware, furniture, and jewelry, tend to symbolize interpersonal–familial association (Kamptner, 1989). Possessions are important to those who relocate. Among nursing-home residents, possessions provide historical continuity, comfort, and a sense of belongingness (Wapner, Demick, & Redondo, 1990). The concrete nature of ‘‘things’’ also holds steady in their meanings, as individuals change throughout the lifecourse. They are visible connections that individuals have to their unique, historical past (Tobin, 1996). While the relationship between the home and one’s identity is individualistic, it occurs within the constraints of collective culture and social norms (Dovey, 1985; Rubinstein, 1989, 1990; Rubinstein & Parmelee, 1992). For example, ‘‘the symbolic value of kinship’’ (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981, p.241) in American society is reflected in ‘‘the theme of connection.’’ ‘‘Americans [also] thrive on a myth of unlimited independence and choice’’ (Rubinstein et al., 1992, p. 146), and ‘‘dependency is to be avoided at all costs’’ (Rubinstein et al., 1992, p. 4). Living in a culture that values independence so high, ‘‘to have a home, to live in one’s own home, to be in the home are very much part of a sense of personal coherence and continuing physical viability’’ (Rubinstein et al., 1992, p. 19). The combination of physical and autobiographical experiences in one’s home over time, then, results in a sense of place attachment by means of interpretation and active meaning, making that becomes blended with one’s identity. D. Shenk et al. / Journal of Aging Studies 18 (2004) 157–169 161 3. Methodology This study is based on in-depth interviews with four older widows in Charlotte, NC, who still live in the homes where they lived with their deceased husbands and utilizes a lifecourse perspective. The interviews were conducted by the second author for her thesis research on place attachment and its significance in the bereavement process of older women. Eligible women were sought through senior organizations, aging service providers, and churches. Participants were selected according to the following criteria: (1) widowed between 2 and 10 years, (2) aged 60 or older, and (3) living in the home in which they resided with their husband. After initial contact by telephone, the second author conducted three interviews with each respondent in the participant’s home during spring 2001. During the first interview, each participant was asked to talk about her husband, marriage, child rearing, the death of her husband, and widowhood. The use of open-ended questions allowed each woman to tell her story in her own way, highlighting what she thought were the most important aspects or incidents of her life. As the interview progressed, the interviewer asked open-ended questions, adopted from Whitebourne (1986), in an attempt to elicit information about how she defined herself. For example, a respondent was asked ‘‘What is important to you about being a mother?’’ In the second interview, the participant was asked to show the interviewer around her home, and spontaneous questions were asked during the tour. Underlying this request was the literature that suggests that how a person decorates the home tends to reflect her place attachment, especially in terms of identity. The third interview focused on the participant’s current life at home. She was asked to describe her home environment and typical day at home, including issues related to daily routines, favorite activities, and personal rituals. Other questions related to privacy, age identity, personal values, and health status. Each interview was transcribed verbatim and analyzed for recurrent themes and patterns, along with prevalent words and phrases. Emerging themes were uncovered for each respondent, as well as patterns within the group of narratives. The next stage was to define the most important variables and to distinguish their relationships utilizing an ideographic approach focusing on sequences of events and behavior. Finally, each woman’s attachment to her home was described in terms of its significance in her life. These women all had the financial resources to meet the normative expectations laid out for them and were primarily homemakers. This study enables us to explore the range of ways in which they attach meaning to their homes and possessions and how their identities are related to their families, homes, and possessions. 4. Participants The women were between the ages of 64 and 80 years at the time of the first interview and had been widows between 3.5 and 7.5 years. They all had remained in the homes in which they lived in before their husbands died. Three of the women were full-time homemakers, while one of them worked outside the home after her children were in school. The length of residence in their current homes prior to the death of their husbands varied from 5.5 to 27 years; the total length of residence in their current homes varied between 13 and 30 years. All four women were white. 162 D. Shenk et al. / Journal of Aging Studies 18 (2004) 157–169 1 Mrs. Betty Rose is 80 years old and was married in 1943 when she was 22 years old. She has three children, and her mother lived with them until she died at the age of 76. She has lived in the same three-bedroom ranch house since they returned to Charlotte in 1967. After retiring in 1983, her husband developed Parkinson’s disease and cancer. She cared for him until he passed away peacefully at home the day after Thanksgiving in 1996 when he was 75 years old. Four and one-half years after her husband’s death, Mrs. Rose enjoys new things that she rarely did when she was caring for her family. She has no serious health problems and still lives independently in her home of almost 25 years. Mrs. Kelly Wilson is 69 years old and was married in 1954, when she was 22, to a man from her hometown. She intended to become a teacher but worked in a bank until she was 5 months pregnant with her first child. ‘‘You didn’t work that long in those days, especially when you were in public places, you know.’’ She had eight children and found great joy in raising her family. She and her husband built a ranch house a few blocks away from their previous two-story home and moved in 1988. Her husband retired in 1989 and died of lung cancer, at home, in 1993, just 1 month before his 62nd birthday. Seven and one half years after her husband’s death, Mrs. Wilson devotes a lot of time and energy to her church outreach ministry and to her 18 grandchildren. Mrs. Tracy King celebrated her 71st birthday during the series of interviews. She was born in 1930 and was married in 1956 when she was 26 years old. She had three different jobs before and shortly after her marriage, then stayed home to raise her son and daughter. The Kings were transferred four times by the insurance company her husband worked for before their move to her current home in Charlotte in 1986. Her husband retired in 1989 and was diagnosed with cancer. He died 8 months later in 1993 at the age of 63. Mrs. King reads a lot, plays golf, and travels often. She cares for her dog and enjoys the company of her daughter and her husband’s extended family. Mrs. Linda Forrest was born in 1936 and is 64 years old. Her 90-year old mother is legally blind and lives in a nursing home. She was married in 1956 when she was 20 years old and stayed home to raise her four children. Once her youngest child was in kindergarten, she started to work part time and then full time. The Forrests’ third move brought them to Charlotte in 1971 when her husband, a chemical engineer, took a new job, from which he retired in 1987. He later developed cancer and heart disease and died in the summer of 1998 when he was 74 years old. Mrs. Forrest gets up at 4:20 a.m. every morning and, on weekdays, begins her day by walking at the mall. She then works downstairs in her home office and has no plan to retire. 5. Findings The research findings are presented in terms of key themes and issues drawn from the analysis of the interviews with these four women. First, the cohort norms and cultural expectations that guided the lifecourse of these older women are presented as a background against which their lives can be viewed. Second, in seeking to understand how they define themselves and find meaning in their lives, we explore the ways in which their identities are tied to their homes and families. Third, we will look at their representations of home and the meaning of place attachment in their lives. Fourth, we explore their 1 Pseudonyms have been created to protect the anonymity of the respondents. D. Shenk et al. / Journal of Aging Studies 18 (2004) 157–169 163 attachment to their homes and possessions, and finally, the use of personal rituals and routines in their present lives. 5.1. Cohort norms and expectations These women were born between 1920 and 1937, and each followed the cultural expectations of marrying, establishing a home, and raising children. Mrs. Wilson explained: ‘‘it was part of our role as being a good wife to set up our household... a comfort area for our husband and for our children.’’ For those who worked outside the home, few jobs were readily available for women of this generation. As Mrs. King explained, ‘‘working as a secretary, in a bank and teaching were the only decent opportunities for women in those days.’’ Those women who worked outside the home were generally expected to stop working when they became pregnant, staying home to raise their family. Mrs. Rose, for example, enjoyed her bookkeeping job, but she quit working when she became pregnant 1 year after she was married. She stayed home to raise her children and ‘‘make a home’’ because working outside the home was not a popular choice for wives and mothers in those days. As Mrs. Forrest explained: ‘‘Mothers did not go to work then. You were thought odd if you did and I had no... desire to go to work ‘cause you had your hands full at home.’’ As Mrs. Rose explained, ‘‘Happiness I think with our generation was taking care of your family, taking care of your husband, and having a family.’’ For example, she made all the arrangements for the family’s move to Charlotte, including selling their home and packing their things, when her husband got a good job offer there. One essential aspect of homemaking was preparing daily meals for the family. Each of the women discussed their continuing cooking efforts, even now that they no longer have family at home. For example, Mrs. Rose beats eggs and flour to make pancakes for breakfast and sometimes tries new recipes just for herself. Mrs. King ‘‘does biscuits’’ and eats homemade soup for lunch. In contrast, Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Forrest indicated that they enjoy cooking on special occasions. Mrs. Wilson’s sons and their wives often come to her home for Sunday dinner. She explained, ‘‘Having lived alone, I can’t say that I do a lot of extremes as far as cooking. But if I have the family, it keeps your cooking skills polished, you know. As they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. So I put on the dinner.’’ Mrs. Forrest similarly explained, ‘‘Since my husband died, I don’t cook for myself unless somebody is coming. I mean I’ll do something, but I won’t do anything elaborate.’’ When she welcomes her family, she bakes bread like her grandmother used to do for her family. She describes bread making as ‘‘very stress relieving [and] relaxing. It’s a labor of love.’’ Each of these older women followed the cultural norms and expectations for their cohort of women, devoting their lives to making a home and raising their children. This was made possible by the financial security provided by their husbands. They have each sought to r
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