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Title: The meaning and significance of grandparenthood
Author: Cunningham-Burley, Sarah Jane
ISNI:       0000 0001 3400 3005
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 1983
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The study on which this thesis reports was a prospective investigation, documenting the process of becoming a grandparent. A sample of eighteen couples were interviewed once before, and twice after the birth of their first grandchildren. The study aimed to delineate the procedures utilised by the grandparents in their anticipation and construction of an appropriate grandparental role, the background assumptions and commonsense knowledge underlying such processes, and the subjective meanings which the respondents attached to grandparenthood. Through a general critique of the functionalist framework in family sociology I contend that grandparenthood is unlikely to be considered because of the theoretical limitations of the approach. A review of the relevant literature demonstrates the need to consider the actors' perspectives in an assessment of the meaning and significance of grandparenthood, and of extending notions of relevant behaviour beyond that of interfamilial interaction. The meaning and significance of grandparenthood, and the grandparents' role are assessed by analysing the way in which the news of the forthcoming birth, and of the actual birth of the grandchildren was delivered, and disseminated, and in how grandparenting activities were anticipated and subsequently accomplished. This analysis is related to a discussion of changes and similarities across and between generations, of how family roles are perceived and negotiated, and of the differences between grandmothers and grandfathers. Grandparenthood was identified as having social, interactional, personal, and symbolic dimensions. It was something difficult to describe, yet had both novel and typical dimensions. Anticipations were vague, and any personal desire to grandparent was accounted as having to be considered secondary to the wishes of the respondents' adult children. A grandparental role was negotiated, and created within existing family structures. A recognition of the significance of grandparenthood was reflected in the respondents' accounts of how the news was broken, such that the desires of the grandparents, and their inclusion in the family were constituted in the announcement of the news. Spreading the news was a way of reaffirming a new status: part of the significance of grandparenthood seemed to be in being able to speak about it. It had a distinctly social dimension. At a personal level, all the respondents expressed pleasure at the prospect of becoming grandparents, accounting this as a natural response. How the grandparents themselves began to define grandparenthood was investigated by examining their formulations of appropriate grandparenting behaviour. Although much was left ill-defined, only to be revealed during the actual development of the grandparents' role, grandparental involvement with the younger generations was accounted as being bounded by certain rules. These served to restrict grandparental activities, and set limits on their intended behaviour. These rules were expressed as 'not-interfering', 'sharing', and 'not-spoiling'. However, the failure of these rules to perform as clear cut prescriptions for behaviour in fact enabled the grandparents to develop a role for themselves. Notions of appropriate grandparenting behaviour were found to be based on personal experience, or on commonsense. Drawing on their knowledge of family life, the respondents were able to give themselves a positive but nonetheless non-interfering role. Grandparents were described as being able to help out, to be there when needed, and to give presents to the child. The personal characteristics and expectations of the grandparents, as people able and willing to spend time with their families, and provide material support seemed to create an inherent contradiction in the projected role. Yet it was these different relevances which facilitated the production of a potentially satisfactory set of practices for 'doing grandparenting.'. In its realisation, grandparenthood became more tangible, and certain features could be detailed. Accounts of the meaning of grandparenthood relied more on notions of familial continuity, and personal fulfilment than on the execution of any practical activities. Each family negotiated their own level of interaction, although one weekly visit was a minimum. Time spent with a grandchild was portrayed as being essentially different from that spent with one's own children. Yet, grandparental activities extended beyond inter-familial interaction. Some aspects of the role were independent from any such involvement, for example talking about grandparenting to friends, or having renewed interest in young children. Grandparenting was found to be constituted in, and constructed from the respondents' knowledge of family life. Both the differences between grandparents past and present, and between parenting and grandparenting reveal the unique characteristics of today's grandparents. More time, money, and patience were accounted as being the resources available to grandparents, and these formed a positive basis for their role. The grandparents' role both contributed to, yet also relied on change and continuity across and between the generations.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Family sociology