College Students Perceptions of Social Support from Grandmothers and Stepgrandmothers

Article excerpt

The role of grandmothers and stepgrandmothers as social support providers was examined. Using the Inventory of Socially Supportive Behaviors a sample of 106 college students evaluated 72 grandmothers and 34 stepgrandmothers. Analysis of variance revealed significant differences between grandmothers and stepgrandmothers for four functions of social support. Maternal grandmothers provided the most support. Increased understanding of the dynamics of (step) grandparent--(step) grandchildren relationships is essential to maximizing the benefits of intergenerational family relationships.

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During the past century families in Western societies have undergone several major changes. Increased life expectancy and concomitant decreases in fertility have changed the structure of families and has affected familial roles. Verticalization of the family has created a phenomena sometimes referred to as the "beanpole" family, a multigenerational family structure with many living generations, but few members in each generation. Reduced numbers of kin within generations may contribute to increased dependence on kin between generations. Intergenerational relationships may take on more significance as family members in need of support look outside their own generation to meet the need when there are insufficient resources within their own generation. There is evidence that older grandchildren serve as supports for their aging grandparents and that grandparents provide socialization and support for their adult grandchildren. It has been estimated that more than half (50.6%) of all adults over age 65 have adult grandchildren who are at least 18 years old. In 1900 fewer than 50 percent of adolescents had two or more grandparents alive but it has been estimated that by the year 2000 over one third of grandchildren will have all of their grandparents survive until they reach age 10, and three quarters will have at least one surviving grandparent at age 30.

Most college students report a positive perception of their relationships with their grandparents. College students report that they receive both emotional and financial support from their grandparents. Many college students feel close to their grandparents, even if they don't see them very much. College students who see their grandparents frequently are more likely to feel that their grandparents influence their lives and are supportive of them.

There is evidence that grandparents influence their grandchildren's values and beliefs, including religious beliefs, sexual beliefs, political beliefs, family ideals, work ethic, and moral beliefs. Grandchildren are more likely to talk over items of importance with their grandparents than they are to engage in activities such as participating in family gatherings, religious activities, or having dinner together. It is assumed that much of the time spent in phone and personal visits is spent discussing issues of concern to the grandchild. Similarly, Kennedy (1992b) found that talking about personal concerns together was characteristic of the grandparent-college student relationship. College students may not want advice from their grandparents, but they seem to feel comfortable using them as sounding boards to air their problems and concerns.

Helping behaviors by grandparents are widely documented in grandparent research, but the focus has been on understanding other aspects of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. In their exploration of the role of grandparents, Kornhaber and Woodward (1981) described grandparents as mentors who teach children ways of working with the basic materials of life: food, clothing, shelter and transportation, and role models who demonstrate how to deal with the world outside the home. They conclude that grandparents are the foundation of the family, providing emotional support and rebuilding the family pyramid. This is accomplished by interacting with children in ritualistic ways, such as celebrating birthdays and holidays and taking children on outings. …