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.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to say how good or bad this is for the kids. Many children come to live with their grandparents only after severe neglect, abuse, legal problems, and even problems as early as prenatal care. So, we cannot say with certainty how positive or detrimental it is for grandchildren to live with the grandparents because they come with so many issues.
I can say from my own experience in working with juveniles that grandparents often have difficulty relating to their children and controlling them. Aging makes people tired and more easily tired, and keeping up with children is a young person's game. It is my opinion that grandparents could use additional support in helping ensure the best possible outcome for their grandkids.
It is also worth noting that many grandparents are taking on primary roles in the new world we live in. Many parents are forced to move back into their parents' home due to finances, divorce, separation, widowing, or just because they want to return home. This puts the grandparents back into the role of head of the family and in a partial surrogacy role.
Here, the prognosis is likely a little better, with the grandparent and parent taking on the responsibility for raising the child. This is likely better than if the parent or grandparent was trying to do it on their own. Don't get me wrong, many wonderful people come from homes with single parents. But think about it, wouldn't having someone there to help make it a smidgeon easier?
A grandparent is your mother or father's parent. There are five main types, or styles, identified by Neugarten in 1965. They are:
- Formal grandparent - follow appropriate and typical cultural expectations of grandparenting.
- Fun seeker - a grandparent who emphasizes entertainment.
- Reservoir of wisdom - the head of the family who provides advice and guidance.
- Distant figure - grandparent who plays a limited role in the lives of grandchildren.
- Surrogate parent or primary grandparent - a grandparent who takes over for the parent. There is also supplementary grandparents, who help raise a grandchild when the parent moves back in.
After this lesson, you'll be able to:
- Define grandparent
- Describe the five different styles of grandparenting identified by Neugarten in 1965