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The Empty Nest Stage: An Exploration of Women’s Experiences During A Major Life Stage Transition Carolyn Folkman Curasi, Georgia State University May 8.

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Presentation on theme: "The Empty Nest Stage: An Exploration of Women’s Experiences During A Major Life Stage Transition Carolyn Folkman Curasi, Georgia State University May 8."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Empty Nest Stage: An Exploration of Women’s Experiences During A Major Life Stage Transition Carolyn Folkman Curasi, Georgia State University May Motherhood, Markets, and Consumption ESRC Seminar Series

2 Agenda Theoretical Foundation Method Findings Discussion Future Directions

3 Theoretical Foundation Identity and Self (Belk 1988; Kleine, Kleine, and Kernan 2002; Schouten 1991; Sirgy 1982;) Life Transitions & Role Status Change (Andreasen 1984; McAlexander, Schouten & Roberts 1993; Schouten 1991; Turner 1969; Van Gennep 1960) Loss, Grief and Mourning (Kubler-Ross 1969; Rosenblatt, Walsh, and Jackson 1976; Worden 1991) Motherhood (DeVault 1990; McMahon 1995; Oakley 1974) Consumer Rituals (Rook 1983)

4 Method Interpretive Investigation Mixed Methods Data Sets Semi-structured In-person Depth Interviews Conducted in three geographical settings (USA, England, and Ireland) Netnography (Kozinets 1998; Kozinets and Handleman 1998; Kozinets 1997) Observed Two Empty Nest Bulletin Boards Conducted On-line Interviews

5 Findings Summary Distress often accompanies this role transition & can sometimes be severe; Distress can be understood in terms of loss and the consequences of suffering a loss; Many informants went through stages similar to the feelings of loss, grief and mourning that accompany the death of a loved one; Informants engage in a process of self evaluation; Role of Mother Transitional objects serve as provide comfort, especially those heavily encoded with meaning, or those items heavily ‘contaminated’ by their launched loved one Transitional objects serve as a testament to being a good mother Role of Wife, and Other Roles, such as Career are also evaluated Redefinition of self results from this role status change Objects are selected for their symbolic characteristics in the reconstruction of self helping to reconstruct a desired self (Andreasen 1984; Belk 1988, 1990; Bell 1992; McAlexander, Schouten and Roberts 1993; Price, Arnould and Curasi 2000; Schouten 1991; Silver 1996); Living spaces encoded with objects that can generate sadness are redesigned to elicit more positive feelings Selected gifts communicate continued and reconstructed identity and status Gift-giving is employed to incorporate reconstructed self into the lives and homes of their launched children; used implacement strategies to maintain a presence in their child’s home Gift-giving serves as a tool to continue the enactment of mothering; Enactment of mothering role changed from a focus on production to a new focus on consumption (Miller 1998; Oakley 1976; Firat & Venkatesh 1995) Products and services play a pivotal role in this reconfigured focus and in the reconstruction of self

6 Distress Resulting from Children Leaving Home Our investigation found that informants’ adjustments are complex, idiosyncratic and affected by many factors including: their relationships with others, especially their children; roles occupied outside the home, including employment, and involvements in church or other organizations and the length of time spent adjusting to this transition. In a few cases our informants spoke of only minor difficulty negotiating this transition. However, many more of the women interviewees and all bulletin board participants articulated difficulty dealing with this transition. Hello to all, Melissa here, one daughter, Becky, age 19. Becky married on July 7 and moved to England to live. Needless to say—I crashed and burned. It has been 4 months and I am happy to say, I am having some good days, more good days than bad. Between seeing a great doctor and some assistance from Prozac, Wellbutrin, and Ambien, I am making my way back. I am hoping to be drug free soon. (Empty Nest Bulletin Board)

7 Distress Resulting from Children Leaving Home Many women had found that the distress surrounding the experience of entering the empty stage was not often openly discussed. Until they found the bulletin board, therefore, many had felt that it was abnormal for them to have such problems adjusting to this change in their lives, as illustrated by the individual above. Thanks for your response. …I guess that’s life. Thanks for listening and yes, its great having this board to just pour out our feelings to people who can understand. (Empty Nest Syndrome Bulletin Board) Thanks for your support. It’s great to know that there are others out there who feel the same way I do. I am doing some better. …This has meant so much to me, and I hope it will help you too. Please feel free to me if you would like. Thanks again (Empty Nest Bulletin Board)

8 Distress Resulting from Children Leaving Home This distress can be understood in terms of loss and the consequences of suffering a loss. Many informants went through stages similar to the feelings of loss, grief, and mourning that accompany the death of a loved one. This year hasn’t been bad. It’s the second year. The first year was… The first year started about Christmas time of her senior year and her graduation from high school and it was just devastating for me. …I mean, I stopped eating, I stopped sleeping. By the time she graduated from high school my parents were looking at my husband and going (laughs), “Feed her, make her sleep,” (laughs) because I looked horrible in the graduation pictures. Then we took her to school and I thought I was going to die. I cried all the way home. (In-person interview)

9 Distress Resulting from Children Leaving Home It’s so hard, yes, things have changed. (laughs) And, I’m trying to back off and not ask a million questions on the computer (via ) but, you know, as I’ve told her many times, give me time. It’s a weaning process and you sort of have to try to sit back and take what they tell you. You know, I’ve been there asking a billion questions. She’ll finally go, “Quit Mom.” It’s real hard. (In-person Interview)

10 Reminded of their Launched Children by Many Different Stimuli People said to me don’t go into her bedroom, you know, do not go in her room for a while and so actually I didn’t go into her room for about 5 or 6 days. But then I was able to go in her room and it didn’t upset me, so that was alright. (In-person Interview)

11 Reminded of their Launched Children by Many Different Stimuli Basically, as strange as it may seem, when you walk into their rooms, their rooms smell like them, even this one. When you just pick up something, even the odor smells like whichever boy it is. That’s a strange thing when you walk into there, you think (sniffs) that’s them alright. (In-person Interview)

12 Liminal Life Stage Transition You don’t have as much cleaning or wash to do (laughing). I probably go out more during the day. …Now I don’t have to be here at any certain time. So, um, no practices to go to; no soccer practices, no karate lessons, no basketball, no games. So definitely the day-to-day routine; it took a year to get adjusted to that. It was, …just like you have to build a whole new base of friendship because all of your friendships were based on what your kids did, and ah, that was hard. (In-person Interview)

13 Liminal Life Stage Transition My nest has been empty for about one and a half years. Our daughter is married and lives 90 miles away. Our sons are in the army and will be for nearly another 3 years. So far empty-nesting is kind’a like limbo. Putting up the Christmas tree was a bittersweet task. So many pieces of my life that now are a part of the past. I am not the me I understood myself to be. I love being a Gramma but I miss being the mom I was. (Empty Nest Bulletin Board)

14 Liminal Life Stage Transition Our youngest son is about to finish his sophomore year in college. When he first left all I noticed was how much I loved giving up the mommy duties (food, clothing, worry), so I thought I had escaped the dreaded syndrome. Now, I’m not sure. If I’m no longer a nurturer—my most satisfying role thus far in life, what am I? Has anyone been through this? Any suggestions? (Empty Nest Bulletin Board)

15 Liminal Life Stage Transition Coping with the shopping and the cooking, …yes I miss that really, because I do quite like cooking, but my husband will quite happily have …a slice of toast and cheese, …whereas I always cooked a nice meal for the kids with pudding and the rest of it. [Cooking] was a pleasure because my daughter loves eating. (In-person Interview)

16 Liminality of this Transition Leads to Evaluation of Roles Evaluation of Role as Mother: It was time for the children to leave and I was ready. I knew they needed it as well as I needed it. It is just a fact of life. It was going to happen. …It was just a good way of knowing that I was somehow close to being a good parent if they could stand on their own. If they could become productive individuals in society, then I have done what I was suppose to do as a parent. The other thing was just loving them to the point that they could become this individual that could function in society. (In- person Interview)

17 Liminality of this Transition Leads to Evaluation of Roles Evaluation of Role as Mother: I still have a 17 yr. old daughter at home, so the nest is not completely empty. I do think about how it is going to be when my baby goes off to college and it just tears me apart. I know I’ll get over all of this eventually, but is it really hard to just shift gears. One day you’re a mommy who your children depend on for everything and the next day they are all grown up and are doing things on their own. It’s great to see them doing so well and making their own decisions. I am so very proud of my girls and love them soooo much.” (Empty Nest Bulletin Board)

18 Liminality of this Transition Leads to Evaluation of Roles Evaluation of Role as Mother His flight bag is laying up against the door, …and I look at it and think, boy, I’m glad he did that and it was so hard. Because we had to really push him to finish it. (In-person interview)

19 Liminality of this Transition Leads to Evaluation of Roles Evaluation of Their Life: It’s one chapter closing and another opening. I think it brings it home to you that you’re getting on a bit. What have you done with all those years, other than raise the children? (In-person Interview)

20 Liminality of this Transition Leads to Evaluation of Roles Evaluation of Role as Wife: My problem is that because I’ve been so wrapped up in the children that I feel I don’t have much of a relationship with my husband (and he’s probably not aware that I consider it a “problem.”) …I feel I need to make a real effort to get to know him all over again and certainly we’ve both changed quite a lot in the last thirty years-me probably more than him. …Does anyone understand what I’m saying and have a good starting point? (Empty Nest Bulletin Board) We have got interests in common which we can pursue even without our children. …All sorts of things, not just music. We just have many interests in common. …Sometimes during the period of bringing up the children, they (the interests) went in the background, but we are bringing them out now.” (In-person Interview)

21 Liminality of this Transition Leads to Evaluation of Roles Evaluation of Role as Career Woman Husband works full time. He is reaching his pinnacle at work. I’m a has-been. I’m going through a rough time with this second one. Something hurts inside, thought I was depressed but I think it’s a role change. I’m not sure what my role is. Never had much time to think about myself. (Empty Nest Bulletin Board)

22 Possessions Serve as Transitional Objects Without some type of societal support system firmly in place, consumers attempt to cope with this difficult transition and their ambiguous self concepts in a myriad of ways. Possessions encoded with meaning figure prominently in the reconstruction of self: His flight bag is laying up against the door, …and I look at it and think, boy, I’m glad he did that and it was so hard. Because we had to really push him to finish it. (In-person interview)

23 Possessions Serve as Transitional Objects Possessions encoded with meaning figure prominently in the reconstruction of self: So, I might sleep in them (sons’ t-shirts) or work in the yard in them, and little favorites of theirs, old school team t-shirts from where they won something, a championship or something. So that’s been fun. …Every time I put it back on again I can remember them racing in that t-shirt in a special road race, I can remember them wearing it, getting it dirty, washing it for them, and most of these are smaller shirts now. They probably couldn’t even wear them, but I’ve kept them around and I had to go down and find them in their drawers and there’s something warm and comforting about sleeping in them. (In- person Interview)

24 Possessions Serve as Transitional Objects Possessions encoded with meaning figure prominently in the reconstruction of self: …I’ve kept myself busy. But I consciously made the effort to get this table done. That’s when I hark back to him when he went away—cuz it was really sunny and I was playing some of his tapes. (In-person Interview)

25 Reconstruction of Self Transformation of Relationship; from Mother to Mother/Friend: I look at her as more of an adult now, definitely… I feel on a par with her more as a friend (In-person Interview) Today I talked to a friend of my daughter’s whom I ran into while I was shopping and she is making plans to move out but her Mom doesn’t know yet. She is moving because she said at this time in her life she needs a Mom who can be her friend, but her Mom can’t seem to make the transition from Mother to friend. She always has to get critical about any situation her daughter shares with her. I try not to do that and my daughter shares many things with me. (Empty Nest Bulletin Board)

26 Reconstruction of Self Increased time spent on career to fill void left by launched children I think I work more. I just spend more hours on work. I work at home a lot more. Not that I am on campus more. But I work on weekends, which I never did before. I often have supper and then work 2 or 3 hours again in the evening. So, it changes the number of hours and the location, I think for my work. I am getting more research done than I did before. (In-person Interview) But went Cindy went, I started the voluntary work at the Hospice shop which I’d be very loath to give up now. I really enjoy that. (In-person Interview)

27 From a Production Based Enactment of Mothering to a Consumption Based Enactment of Mothering Did you all send your “kids” Halloween boxes? Daddy sent Jenny tons of M&M’s, or m-em’s as she always called them. We sent her four boxes in the past three weeks. …I sent her a food box, then she got very sick and I sent her a medicine box! Then daddy sent her a dehumidifier. Then the candy. And I know daddy has sent her $$’s in there, also! (Empty Nest Bulletin Board)

28 From a Production Based Enactment of Mothering to a Consumption Based Enactment of Mothering We also bought her a mobile phone. …But we got her a mobile phone because there were so few phones in the hall and it was one that had one free phone number which was to home, so that we could have conversations so without her paying. (In-person Interview)

29 Gift Giving Selected gifts attempt to communicate continued as well as reconstructed identity and status Sometimes I still buy things for him, like to send him care packages or something. (In-person Interview)

30 Gift Giving Gift-giving employed to incorporate reconstructed self into the lives and homes of their launched children I bought a new rug for her apartment, because we only bought one set and I figurer she needed more. …And I send her care packages. I sent her a card, like once a week and in between I think I’ve sent her two or three care packages, no two. But I have some other things I like to buy for her when I see them, like last time I sent her a care package I sent her a CD and a magnet for her fridge and some jiffy pops. …They’re like a kool-aidy stuff, just fun stuff. …She loves getting mail! She says is great fun and she hears from everybody, but, my mom will send her a card occasionally, sometimes with cash involved—she likes those. …And it’s fun for me, too. (In- person Interview)

31 Gift Giving Gift giving employed as a tool to continue the enactment of mothering role They still need clothing, food, and shelter. And again, with the younger one, still being in college, still has those same needs. The other one (pauses), he’s on his own. But we still help him out when we can, too. (In-person Interview)

32 Loss and Transitions: The Loss and Grief literature parallel in some ways to the Life Stage Transitions literature Life Stage Transitions 1. Separation 2. Transition 3. Incorporation Loss, Grief and Mourning 1. Accepting the reality of the loss 2. Working through the pain of grief and dealing with the resulting feelings 3. Adjusting to the environment in which the departed is missing 4. Emotionally relocating the departed and moving on

33 Findings Summary Distress often accompanies this role transition & can sometimes be severe; Distress can be understood in terms of loss and the consequences of suffering a loss; Many informants went through stages similar to the feelings of loss, grief and mourning that accompany the death of a loved one; Informants engage in a process of self evaluation; Role of Mother Transitional objects provide comfort, especially those heavily encoded with meaning, or those items heavily ‘contaminated’ by their launched loved one Transitional objects serve as a testament to being a good mother Role of Wife, and Other Roles, such as Career are also evaluated Redefinition of self results from this role status change Objects are selected for their symbolic characteristics in the reconstruction of self helping to reconstruct a desired self (Andreasen 1984; Belk 1988, 1990; Bell 1992; McAlexander, Schouten and Roberts 1993; Price, Arnould and Curasi 2000; Schouten 1991; Silver 1996); Living spaces encoded with objects that can generate sadness are redesigned to elicit more positive feelings Selected gifts communicate continued and reconstructed identity and status Gift-giving is employed to incorporate reconstructed self into the lives and homes of their launched children; used implacement strategies to maintain a presence in their child’s home Gift-giving serves as a tool to continue the enactment of mothering; Enactment of mothering role changed from a focus on production to a new focus on consumption (Miller 1998; Oakley 1976; Firat & Venkatesh 1995) Products and services play a pivotal role in this reconfigured focus and in the reconstruction of self

34 Future Directions Future research could explore other family members’ experiences with the empty nest stage, such as fathers’ experiences Dyadic research exploring parent-child experiences would also provide valuable additional insights


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