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Grandparents Day: A reading list

On Sunday 13 September, the United States will celebrate National Grandparents’ Day. This annual holiday, held on the first Sunday after Labor Day, celebrates our grandmothers and grandfathers. Marian McQuade, grandmother to 43 and great-grandmother of 15, is widely credited with founding the holiday. She believed the nation should celebrate the many contributions older adults have made to U.S. history; her dream was put into action in 1978 when then-President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation to “honor grandparents…and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer”.

With older adults living longer than ever before, the number of children who have living grandparents (and great-grandparents) has risen dramatically throughout the 20th and 21st century. More than 65 million Americans now identify as grandparents. The role of grandparent has changed dramatically in recent decades, with more grandparents living with or serving as primary caretaker to their grandchildren. Roughly 10% of grandparents live with their grandchildren, often because their own children are unable to care for their offspring.

Grandparenthood today is filled with joy, but also with stress and challenge. In celebration of Grandparents’ Day 2015, we have created a reading list of new articles from Gerontological Society of America journals that reveal the challenges facing grandparents, the ways that our relationships with our grandparents shape our own lives and well-being, and how grand-parenting is intertwined with other social roles, like volunteering and work.

‘Race/Ethnic Differentials in the Health Consequences of Caring for Grandchildren for Grandparents’ by Feinian Chen, Christine A. Mair, Luoman Bao, and Yang Claire Yang, in Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.
This study finds that grandparents who babysit their grandchildren a moderate amount have better health than those who don’t babysit, especially Hispanic grandparents. Living with grandchildren harms one’s health, especially among White and Black grandparents, although these health declines are lessened for those with high levels of education, income, wealth, and social support. Black grandparents who live with grandchildren without the child’s parent present experience greater health declines, due to the stress of full-time care giving.

‘Social Support and Grandparent Caregiver Health: One-Year Longitudinal Findings for Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren’ by Bert Hayslip Jr., Heidemarie Blumenthal, and Ashley Garner, in Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.
This study shows that grandparents, especially grandmothers, caring for their grandchildren are at a heightened risk of depressive symptoms and poorer quality health, although social support protects against these symptoms. Social support helps to mitigate against the stressors related to caring for grandchildren, such as feeling trapped by one’s responsibilities or having to discipline one’s grandchildren. Programs to help increase social support and to enhance parenting skills may protect stressed grandparents from compromised physical and mental health.

Image Credit: for reading grandmother grandchild by dassel. Public Domain via Pixabay.

‘Solidarity in the Grandparent–Adult Grandchild Relationship and Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms’ by Sara M. Moorman and Jeffrey E. Stokes in The Gerontologist.
Researchers explored how three aspects of grandparent-grandchild relationships affect the mental health of both generations; emotional closeness, frequency of contact, and the exchange of practical help and advice. For both grandparents and adult grandchildren, greater closeness reduced depressive symptoms. For grandparents only, receiving practical support yet not providing such support to grandchildren, was linked with more depressive symptoms in the older generation. Grandparents and grandchildren can be an important source of emotional support for one another, although interactions in which the older generation feels dependent or burdensome may harm their psychological health.

‘Grandparenthood and Subjective Well-Being: Moderating Effects of Educational Level’ by Katharina Mahne and Oliver Huxhold, in Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.
This article shows that higher quality relationships with adolescent and adult grandchildren are linked with higher levels of life satisfaction, positive affect and negative affect, and lower levels of loneliness among older adults. However, the benefits of grandparenthood are considerably smaller for grandparents with lower levels of education. The authors note that better educated and financially well-off grandparents might enjoy light-hearted leisure time with their grandchildren, whereas economic strain among poorly educated older adults may be linked with more sorrowful or  dependent relationships.

‘Grandparenting Roles and Volunteer Activity’ by Jennifer Roebuck Bulanda and Margaret Platt Jendrek, in Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.
Volunteering is an important way for older adults to remain socially and cognitively engaged; this paper explores whether caring for grandchildren fosters or impedes volunteering among older adults. The authors find that grandparents raising coresidential grandchildren are less likely to volunteer, compared to grandparents providing no regular grandchild care. However, grandparents who provide nonresidential grandchild care are the most likely of all to volunteer. The stress and time demands of raising and living with a grandchild pose an obstacle to other forms of social engagement, while the less stressful non-coresidential care facilitates volunteering.

‘What Drives National Differences in Intensive Grandparental Childcare in Europe?’ by Giorgio Di Gessa, Karen Glaser, Debora Price, Eloi Ribe, and Anthea Tinker, in Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.
Researchers explored associations between intensive grandparental child care and work behavior across 11 European nations.  Higher levels of intensive grandparental childcare were found in countries with low labor force participation among younger and older women, and low formal childcare provision, where working mothers rely on grandparental support on an almost daily basis. The authors conclude that encouraging older women to remain in the workforce is likely to affect grandchild care which in turn may affect mothers’ employment, particularly in Southern European countries where there is little formal childcare.

Image Credit: Cooking chef teaching granny by PublicDomainPictures. Public Domain via Pixabay.

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