Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Concept of Familism in the Lived Experiences of Mexican-Origin Caregivers

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Concept of Familism in the Lived Experiences of Mexican-Origin Caregivers

Article excerpt


Familism is an enduring principle and structure of the family in Latino cultures. Although there is not a universal definition of familism in the literature, research has described familism as a multidimensional construct composed of core values such as strong family identification, attachment, mutual support, family obligation, and familial interconnectedness (Almeida, Molnar, Kawachi, & Subramanian, 2009; Lugo Steidel & Contreras, 2003; Sabogal, Marin, Otero-Sabogal, Marin, & Perez-Stable, 1987). Familism is embedded in an extended-family network that includes family members such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws (Keefe, 1984; Sabogal et al., 1987). Researchers have considered familism as a key factor to explain interrelations in this extended network (John, Resendiz, & De Vargas, 1997; Losada et al., 2010; Scharlach et al., 2006; Shurgot & Knight, 2005) and to explain family roles and obligations for such responsibilities as child rearing, godparenting, surrogate grandparenting, and-to a lesser extent-elder caregiving (Delgado, 2007; Gonzalez, Germán, & Fabrett, 2012; John et al., 1997; Losada et al., 2010; Scharlach et al., 2006; Shurgot & Knight, 2005).

The corpus of the family literature has focused on familism as it relates to child, adolescent, and youth development and/or to the parent-child relationship (Halgunseth, Ispa, & Rudy, 2006; Marsiglia, Parsai, & Kulis, 2009; Morcillo et al., 2011; Santisteban, Coatsworth, Briones, Kurtines, & Szapocznik, 2012). This concerted attention in the family research arena has obfuscated the critical function of familism in elder care arrangements and caregiver-elder relations. Moreover, the existing research on the perceived value of familism in elder caregiving has had mixed results. Some findings show that the belief in familism conveys a perceived availability of support and caregiver satisfaction in their work. For instance, Losada et al. (2006) found that higher scores on familism scales were inversely correlated with lower scores on caregiving burden, but Crist et al. (2009) found no statistically significant correlation between the two. One qualitative study of Mexican American caregivers found that familism was an important factor in their caregiving decision making and social support systems (John et al., 1997). Two other studies of Latino caregivers found that familism was a motivation for providing care and was associated with perceived positive caregiving experiences (Scharlach et al., 2006) and the acceptance and fulfillment of the caregiving role without complaint (Magana, Schwartz, Rubert, & Szapocznik, 2006). Other studies, however, found familism to be associated with caregiver distress (Youn, Knight, Jeong, & Benton, 1999) and lower levels of perceived positive support (Shurgot & Knight, 2005). Additionally, other research reported familism as sociocultural beliefs of caregiving that predisposed caregivers to higher levels of depression and perceived stress (Rozario & DeRienzis, 2008).

These mixed results suggest the need to reexamine familism, specifically its underlying premises, as a guiding theoretical construct in Latino family caregiving research. To move this effort forward, we conducted a qualitative analysis to explore the lived experiences of caregiving women in the context of their family circumstances. This study was part of a larger study whose overall objective was to explore how women of Mexican origin conceptualized caregiving as a construct in terms of cultural beliefs, social norms, role functioning, and familial obligations. The aims of this article are to describe women's views of the caregiver role and the involvement of other family members in the caregiving process from a familism lens, which presumes a close-knit family orientation.

Social Organization, Family Roles, and Social Role Expectations

Gender role differentiation and social role functioning are important to the social organization of Latino cultures and are embedded within the notion of familism (Staton, 1972). …

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