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Late-life repartnering among functionally independent adults, resulting in complex stepfamilies, has emerged with increased life expectancy, and is likely to develop further. It is perceived as a chance for renewal and autonomy, enabling a release from dependency on offspring, whereas caregiving is associated with dependency and becoming a burden on family members. Thus, the experiences of late-life repartnering and caregiving are opposites. Using a life course perspective, we explore partner caregiving expectations in late-life repartnering from the viewpoints of three generations in complex stepfamilies in Israel, a society characterized by collectivist alongside individualist familial norms.
Using criterion sampling, we recruited 19 stepfamily units (38 families) of functionally independent persons who repartnered at the official retirement age or older and had offspring from a lifelong marriage that ended in widowhood or divorce. One-hundred-seven semi-structured qualitative interviews with older partners, their adult children, and grandchildren were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Analysis was based on grounded theory principles and dyadic analysis adapted to families.
Two themes emerged: caregiving commitment and decision making. Issues included: influences of partner-caregiving history; chronic versus temporary caregiving situations; caregiving strengthening partner relationships and influencing stepfamily relationships, and moral dilemmas, such as what happens when fun – a motive for repartnering – is no longer possible. Could abandonment become an option?
From a life course perspective, caregiving, as “on-time,” and late-life repartnering, as “off-time,” highlight the lack of norms and the need to establish normative behavior for caregiving in late-life repartnering in diverse cultural contexts along with its reservations.
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