Grandparenting: Interacting with Grandchildren, Grandparenting Styles & Key Issues Video

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  • 0:03 Grandparents
  • 2:42 Primary/Surrogate
  • 3:51 Supplementary
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson looks at the common ways that grandparents interact with their grandchildren, as well as a brief look into the issue of surrogate parenting by grandparents.

Grandparents

Hurray for grandparents! Sure they kind of have a funny smell to them, they can be overly religious, and they don't understand what's going on in your life. But hurray for them because they have candy and had to raise your parents!

A grandparent, as I'm sure you're all aware, is your mother or father's parent. Often, there is more involvement with parents and grandchildren when the grandchildren are younger. The contact grandparents have will wane as grandchildren get older and establish themselves as adults. Two factors likely play a role in this: one being grandchildren establish themselves as independent units of the family, and two, the grandparents are aging.

Grandparenting goes beyond just being a parent's parent. A study by Neugarten in 1965 found that there were actually five different types, or styles, of grandparents. It is worth noting that this is primarily a Western or individualistic view of the role of grandparents, and as far as I'm aware, there is no research on Eastern or collectivistic grandparent roles.

  • A formal grandparent is one who follows appropriate and typical cultural expectations of grandparenting. This is the grandparent who does the typical stuff, like watching the grandchildren occasionally, but maintains a distant interest in the grandchildren. They are there in the grandchildren's lives, but not overly involved.
  • The fun seeker is a grandparent who emphasizes entertainment. This is the fun grandparent who wants to go do fun things. This is the one typically portrayed on TV, who pops in and causes a whirlwind of adventures. This individual can have a lot or a little contact with the grandchild, there is no set amount.
  • The reservoir of wisdom is the head of the family who provides advice and guidance. Neugarten found that this was typically a grandfather and was the one everyone went to for help with their issues. They are also heavily involved in the finances and general direction the family is going.
  • The distant figure is the grandparent who plays a limited role in the lives of grandchildren. This is the grandparent who only shows up on holidays or special occasions. They are family by blood, but you don't really know who they are. I had this one, where my grandparents lived one state over, and I only saw them maybe once every two years. Sad stuff when you stop to think about it, but it's probably very common nowadays given the highly mobile society we live in.
  • The last is a surrogate parent, who is a grandparent who takes over for the parent. Let's discuss this more in the next section.

Primary/Surrogate

Some things just don't work out like they're supposed to. Sometimes a grandparent needs to take on the role of a parent when the parent is unwilling or unable to do their duty. Here, we have the surrogate, or primary grandparent, or a grandparent who takes over the primary responsibility of the child. Surrogate and primary are interchangeable terms, although surrogate is a little more common.

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