The contradictions of caregiving, loss, and grief during emerging adulthood: an autoethnography and qualitative content analysis
Emerging adulthood--a developmental point in the life span (usually between the ages of 18-25) during which children no longer see themselves as adolescents but would not yet consider themselves adults--is marked by identity exploration and discovering new life directions. When emerging adults find themselves serving as caregivers for their parent during a time when they would normally be establishing autonomy and exploring new directions, they may feel conflicted by their desire to both care for their parent and maintain a sense of independence. Thus, using a multiple-method research design that includes both an autoethnography and a qualitative content analysis of young adult caregivers' online posts, this study intends to uncover the dialectical tensions (the interplay of communicative tensions within a relationship) an emerging adult daughter experiences in her relationship with her mother as she serves as her caregiver, experiences her death, and grieves her passing by analyzing the author's personal narrative. To provide a deeper understanding of the dialectical nature of the emerging adult caregiver experience, the study was extended with an examination of other young caregivers' experiences, drawn from online forums, to explore how they encounter tensions within their own relationships with their parents. An analysis of the personal narrative revealed one primary dialectical tension, separation-connection, and three interrelated tensions--predictability-change, openness-closedness, and holding on-letting go--that seemed to influence this primary tension. Results of the qualitative content analysis revealed that other caregivers experienced one primary dialectical tension, sacrifice-reward, and two additional, interrelated tensions: independence-dependence and presence-absence. A comparison of the findings from each methodological approach revealed both similarities and differences in experiences of emerging adult caregivers.