ABSTRACT: This paper offers a short review of recent literature on grandparenting. Particularly, it looks at the importance of the family for the quality of life of older members, t h e i m p o r t a n c e of g r a n d p a r e n t i n g roles, w h a t affects g r a n d p a r e n t - g r a n d c h i l d relationships, how children's attitu des and perceptions of older persons might impact on grandparenting, and some ideas :oncerning intervention programs. It is the author's contention that how the grandparenting role is played can have a significant impact on the lifestyle of older persons. Depending upon the saliency of the role and personal characteristics of the grandparent and the grandchild, the quality of life of older persons can be enhanced or diminished.
With the proportion of the population that is elderly, and with longer life spans allowing for more people to participate in grandparent and grandchild roles for longer periods of time, the role of grandparent is an important research topic, as well as a potential target of intervention strategies. If declining mortality rates continue, particularly at age 65 years and above, the number of people in the older age group may increase even more than current projections. With such increases there is concern for lifestyles of the elderly including problems faced as well as the contributions they make. Of the many components within a person's environment, the family is the single most significant factor for human development. People spend a significant proportion of their lives as part of a nuclear family and much of their lives as part of an extended family (Goldhaber, 1986). Society must contend with a number of myths regarding old age. That older people are moving in mass to retirement communities is largely a myth. Over 90% of the elderly are living independently in the community. Most older people live in their own household, near at least one of their children (Schiamberg, 1985). While there are significant numbers of older
persons who have poor health, suffer from malnutrition, and who are socially isolated and poor, there are many old people who lead active and vigorous lives and who enjoy good health. Old age is not necessarily debilitating. The sum of a person's experiences and social resources that are available do much to determine how that person ages and how he or she feels about the aging process. Many elderly individuals have vitality and are able to contribute to others' lives as they have years of experiences to bring to the activities in which they participate. Grandparents are recognized for important contributions to the family and to society (Ziegler & Finn-Stevenson, 1987). The elderly, like individuals in other stages of the life cycle, are able to organize activities in a meaningful way when they perceive themselves as competent, self-regulating human beings and receive that same treatment from others. Since personality factors are unique and differ among individuals, there are a variety of ways to adapt to old age. One such way is how people play the grandparents' role.
Importance of Family In the United States elderly people typically maintain close contact with younger family members; most old people are not isolated. Brubaker (1983) notes that older people lead lives that are enriched by the presence of people who care about them and to whom they feel close. Schiamberg (1985), using survey data reported by Shanas and Sussman, concludes that the family is the major resource of its older members for emotional and social support, crisis intervention, and bureaucratic linkages. Papalia and Olds (1986) report research indicating that most people feel that their relationships with friends and family make a vital difference in their lives. This is true in old age, as well as in earlier stages of the life cycle. Not only are they not isolated, most old people have important ties to family. These may be with spouse, siblings, grandchildren, greatgrandchildren and possibly their own very old parents. Brubaker (1983) has noted that the family is still the primary source of emotional support for the old person. Most cross-generational relationships are with family members. In older age these relationships tend to be with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. These relationships can be beneficial for both the older and younger generations. For example, older persons (i.e. grandparents) provide a sense of continuity for their grandchildren and a link with the child or the parent's past, while in general the more older adults are able
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to find satisfaction within a family or social group, the more enjoyable and rewarding they are likely to fmd the later years. This satisfaction, according to Dworetzky (1984), is also present when a person has obtained a sense of continuity with the past. Importance o f t h e Grandparenting Role
According to Schiamberg (1985) about 70% of the older people in the United States are grandparents, while 40% are great-grandparents. Many persons become grandparents 15 to 20 years younger than the 65 year category of old age. Schiamberg (1985) also reports that in the United States the role of grandparents is defined in many ways. The role varies depending on the needs, interests and other individual characteristics of the parties involved. Since there is no specific role assigned to grandparents, there is no such thing as a "typical" grandparent. Individual differences in grandparent-grandchild relationships vary as a function of sex, health, distance from each other, other roles and activities, personality, age of grandparent(s), age of grandchild(ren) and numerous other factors. Grandparents' levels of education, social class, need for affiliation and number of extrafamilial relationships are factors thought to determine particular grandparenting styles. Hughes and Noppe (1985) relate that involvement in community activities and family tradition are other considerations. Researchers are just beginning to ask how grandparents influence their grandchildren. Bengston and Robertson (1985) have noted that research on grandparenthood seems to have two major themes. These include the diversity of the grandparent role and the symbolism of grandparenthood reflected in presence, as well as behavior. Grandparents, according to Kalish (1982), tend to view themselves as having centrality, being a valued elder, and achieving immortality through the family. Grandparents also tend to view themselves as "reinvolved" with their own past and as a "spoiler." Schiamberg (1985) cites several reasons why grandparenting is important in the lives of older people. These include:
1. grandparents may receive special meaning from the grandparentgrandchild relationship as other areas of role-performance become closed to them; 2. g r a n d p a r e n t s can have meaningful r~lationships with their grandchildren with minimal obligation and responsibility;, and
Lifestyles: A Journal of Changing P a t t e r n s
3. the grandparent role provides older adults with a sense of hum an continuity and biological renewal. Schiamberg (1985) also notes that while the grandparent role is meaningful and satisfying for some older people, it may not be a significant role for others. Grandparents over the age of 65 are more apt to be formal and distant. This may reflect cohort differences, indicating t hat persons who were born earlier may see their roles differently than persons born more recently. Troll (1983) has found that younger grandparents tend to have m o r e diverse styles of g r a n d p a r e n t i n g . People usually b e c o m e grandparents for the first time in middle age; an average age of 52 for men and 50 for women. The role of grandparent, especially for the "youngold," may often be secondary to other roles in life.
Grandparent/GrandchildRelationships A study by Robertson (1976) noted that remote grandparents, seemingly indifferent to their grandchildren, were rather u n h a p p y people. They were not involved in many friendships with other people or community activities. In grandparenting, as in parenting, Troll (1983) has noted that sex differences exist. Grandmothers tend to have w arm er and closer relationships and serve more often as surrogate parents than grandfathers. Their close involvement in the mother role in relationships with their own children is a determining factor. Children who see and interact with their grandparents tend to derive a sense of family history and also a sense of security in the knowledge t h a t their g r a n d p a r e n t s u n d e r s t a n d and love them. The special relationship often found between an old person and a child is recognized by grandchildren who, as teens and young adults, feel a sense of responsibility toward their grandparents. These children have related that theywould have missed something if they had not had a relationship with grandparents when they were growing up (Schiamberg, 1985). Grandparents often have contacts with their grandchildren that involve a minimum of obligations and responsibility. According to Kalish (1982) grandparents often are able to be freer and less guarded in these relationships than parents and their children. Troll (1983) found that grandparents tend to stay on the "fringes" of the lives of their children and grandchildren, although 75% of the g r a n d p a r e n t s see their grandchildren at least once a week. She maintains that grandparents often perform the role of family "watchdogs." During times of noncrisis, grandparents are not as closely involved. When needed, such as during separation and divorce procedures, fmancial troubles, or in times of
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illness, grandparents tend to become more actively involved with their grandchildren. In a discussion of grandparent-grandchild relationships it is important to note that the relationships change over time. Kalish (1982) has noted that when the grandparent is 51 and the grandchild is seven the relationship is different than when the grandparent is 61 and the grandchild is 17. The relationship between a 43 year old grandparent and a three year old grandchild is different than between a 53 year old grandparent and a 13 year old grandchild. It is noted by Schiamberg (1985) and others that relationships between older and younger family members can take many forms. The people who live close together may visit often. They may also relate during shopping, recreation, and religious activities. If younger and older family members do not live in close proximity they may telephone one another, engage in letter writing and celebrate family events such as birthday parties, reunions, and weddings. In their diversity and symbolism contemporary grandparents represent important connections between the past and the future. Today's children and youth have more grandparents and great-grandparents available to them than any cohort in the past. Bengston and Robertson (1985) relate that hopefully children and youth will appreciate this advantage and utilize the resources of g r a n d p a r e n t s in developing their own diversity and symbolism throughout life. It is thought that grandparents eventually establish a comfortable relationship with grandchildren. Problems within these relationships may arise when divorce takes place within a family. The effects of divorce on grandparent-grandchild relationships, especially when the grandparents are the parents of the noncustodial parent, are becoming an important legal and research topic. Children's Attitudes Attitudes are learned very early in life. Those attitudes continually influence behavior throughout a person's lifetime. A search of the literature has indicated that negative attitudes toward old people are common throughout the general population. If attitudes children hold of old people are negative, they could have consequences for behavior toward older persons, especially grandparents, and affect the development of an understanding of their own aging. It is important for children to develop realistic attitudes toward older persons if they are to develop positive interpersonal relations with people of all ages. Children need to learn to recognize the aging process and be given opportunities to understand people who are older. One place
Lifestyles: A Journal of Changing Patterns
this could be fostered is in the schools, but the topics of aging and "growing older" are often neglected in the early childhood curriculum. A study by Link and Trusty (1980) revealed that five, six and seven year old children held negative attitudes toward older persons. Three groups of children attending the same elementary school were asked to describe what could be done with a baby and what could be done with an old person. A panel of educators involved in a study of aging ranked each response as positive, neutral, or negative. Responses of the students indicated that the children held more negative attitudes toward older persons than infants. Hickey, Hickey and Kalish (1968) asked 200 third graders to write about "an old person." The most common response was that older persons are "kind." The second most common response was that older persons are "mean." Seefeldt, Jantz, Galper and Serock (1977) found that children between the ages of 3 and 11 described older persons as "sick," 'tired," and "unattractive." The children reacted negatively to their perceptions of the physical limitations and physical appearance of older persons. Yet, it is interesting to note that the same children described older people as '%vonderful," "ldnd" or "rich." A study by Weinberger (1979) of children from ages five through eight indicated that older persons were seen as having fewer friends, being less healthy and less attractive, and being asked for help less often than parents or other adults. These same children indicated that the most desirable people to seek help from, if they were hurt, and as people to whom they would want to give help, would be elderly people. Schiamberg (1985) reported that children's responses to grandparents vary in terms of the child's age. Younger children seem to react positively to gifts, small favors, and open expressions of affection. Older children seem to respond more favorably to shared activities or having fun with grandparents. A study by Dellmann-Jenkins, Lambert, Fruit and Dinero (1986) reported that children can develop realistic and positive attitudes about the aging process and the elderly. Children were exposed to both classroom interactions with older people assuming a variety of roles and media presenting accurate information concerning aging. As a result of these experiences positive changes were observed in the perceptions of three and four year old children in the way elderly persons look and behave. Intervention Programs
Although the proportion of elderly persons has increased significantly, and both aging and family relationships are important issues, many
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programs planned for young children have not considered aging as a curriculum concern. The topic of aging and growing older has been thought to be somewhat unrelated to classroom curriculum topics. However, many educators have become aware of the need to incorporate the concept of aging into the curriculum. A recommendation made as a result of the White House Conference on Aging was that knowledge concerning the aging process should be included as part of the educational curriculum from preschool through higher education (Link, 1978). While schools cannot assume sole responsibility for the tasks of teaching children about aging, they can provide ideas and the basis for developing learning activities to aid in understanding. Children and their teachers can learn to think, talk, read, and write about the process and the effect of aging. The study of aging and the aging process can easily begin in the preschool years before negative stereotypes solidify. Children and their teachers need to communicate about aging. One way to do this is by focusing on grandparents. Not only will this help children develop attitudes, knowledge, and appreciation, but it has the potential for improving the quality of life of the grandparents. Zigler and Finn-Stevenson (1987) have noted t h a t the special relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild and the positive reciprocal influences that are inherent in the relationship between children and older persons have been utilized by government and private agencies. Those influences include making provisions for foster grandparent programs. These programs bring together older people who are lonely or needing part-time work and children and teens who need assistance. Programs which capitalize on older persons as valuable resources have been important, not only in terms of the benefits for the children and teens who are helped, but also in terms of the realized benefits by the elderly. Many of these elderly might otherwise be lonely and without a sense of purpose or direction in life. According to Jantz and others (1977) it is difficult for preschoolers and elementary school-aged students to negatively stereotype the elderly when they have frequent contact with active and healthy older adults. The phenomena of aging can then be faced more realistically through understanding. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren varies with the child's perception of the grandparent(s), the child's perception of elderly people in general, and how grandparents behave toward the child. Age of the grandparents as well as grandchildren's ages are other considerations. Intervention programs, including incorporation of aging and grandparent materials and lessons into school curricula can have the potential for improving the quality of life of older Americans.
Lifestyles: A Journal of Changing Patterns
Conclusions Relationships between grandchildren and grandparents are an important aspect of the lifestyles of the elderly. The role of grandparent is diverse and varies according to the many characteristics of the people involved, including: age, gender, salience of other roles, and geographic distances. Other factors affecting this role include divorce of the grandchild's parents and the child's attitudes toward, and perceptions of, the elderly. Intervention programs, especially school programs, have the potential to impact in a positive way the attitudes and perceptions of children. This can in turn impact positively on the grandparentgrandchild role, which might enhance the lifestyles of older people.
References Bengtson, V. L., & Robertson, J. E (Eds.). (1985). Grandparenthood. Beverly Hills: Sage. Brubaker, T. H. (1983). Introduction in T. H. Brubaker (Ed.). Family relationships in later life. Beverly Hills: Sage. Dellmann-Jenkins, M., Lambert, D., Fruit, D., & Dinero, T. (1986). Old and young together: Effect of an educational program on preschoolers' attitudes toward older people. Childhood Education, 62, 206-212. Dworetzky, J. P. (1984). Introduction to child development (2nd ed.). St. Paul: West Publishing Company. Goldhaber, D. (1986). Life-span human development. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Hickey, T., Hickey, L., & Kalish, R. A. (1968). Children's perceptions of the elderly. Journal of Geriatric Psychology, 12, 227-235. Jantz, R., Seefeldt, C., Galper, A., & Serock, K. (1977). Children's attitudes toward the elderly. Social Education, 41, 518-523. Kalish, R. A. (1982). Late adulthood: Perspectives on human development (2nd ed.). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company. Link, M. S. (1978). Reading activities on aging for children. Indiana Reading Quarterly, 11, 25-27. Link, M. S., & Trusty, K. (1980). Bridging the generation gap: A study of aging. MidWestern Educational Researcher, 1, 10-11. Papalia, D. E., & Olds, S. W. (1986). Human development (3rd ed.). New York: McGrawHill Book Company. Schiamberg, L. B. (1985). Human development. (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillian Publishing Company. Seefeldt, C., Jantz, R. K., Galper, A., & Serock, K. (1977). Children's attitudes toward the elderly: Educational implications. Educational Gerontology, 2, 301-310. Shanas, E. (1980). Older people and their families: The new pioneers. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 42, 9-15. Weinberger, A. (1979). Stereotyping of the elderly: Elementary school children's responses. Research in Aging, 1, 113-136. Zigler, E. F., & Finn-Stevenson, M. (1987). Children: Development and social issues. Lexington, MA: DC Heath and Company.