Academic journal article Social Work Research

Becoming a Grandmother: Maternal Grandmothers' Mental Health, Perceived Costs, and Personal Growth

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Becoming a Grandmother: Maternal Grandmothers' Mental Health, Perceived Costs, and Personal Growth

Article excerpt

Although becoming a grandmother represents an important transition in a woman's life, it has received scant research attention. This study used the model of growth developed by Schaefer and Moos in an attempt to identify personal and environmental resources that may contribute to a first-time maternal grandmother's mental health and her perceptions of costs and sense of personal growth. One hundred and two Israeli women completed a series of questionnaires twice: (1) during their daughter's first pregnancy and (2) following the birth of their first grandchild. The independent variables included the personal resources of education, physical health, self-esteem, attachment style, and self-mastery and the environmental resources of grandmother's perception of level of intimacy with her daughter and active involvement with the grandchild. Findings reveal that education, attachment style, self-esteem, and self-mastery are associated with mental health, perception of costs, and experience of personal growth. The pattern of the correlations that emerged indicates that the transition to maternal grand-motherhood, a normative life event, may evoke both positive and negative cognitions and emotions.

KEY WORDS: maternal grandmothers; mental health; personal growth


Becoming a grandmother is a life transition that arouses complex emotions. On the one hand, it is a source of happiness, self-fulfillment, and satisfaction (Peterson, 1999; Somary & Stricker, 1998); on the other, it is associated symbolically with the notions of old age and approaching death, regardless of a woman's chronological age and vitality, and may therefore be considered a stressful event (Gauthier, 2002).

The need to adapt to both normative and stressful life events may be accompanied not only by perceptions of costs and distress, but also by enhanced well-being and mental health (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Studies indicate that those who enjoy being grandparents feel younger and hope to live longer than those who do not take pleasure in their new status (Kaufman & Elder, 2003) and that grandparent-identity meanings are related positively to self-esteem and negatively to depressive symptoms (Reitzes & Mutran, 2004). Reitzes and Mutran (2004) suggested that more positive grandparent-identity meanings may encourage a heightened sense of well-being by providing a sense of authenticity, meaning, and purpose.

Whereas the concept of costs seems obvious in the context of separation, loss of a job, or divorce, it is less self-evident when the event is basically a positive one, such as the transition to grand-motherhood. However, the tendency to disregard negative aspects of this life transition ignores the potential distress it can arouse. Furthermore, evidence from recent years indicates that distress and well-being, as well as costs and stress-related growth, may coexist (Gable & Haidt, 2005).Thus, new grandmothers may also experience a sense of personal growth alongside distress and the perception of costs.

Schaefer and Moos (1992) developed a conceptual model for understanding the positive outcomes of life crises and transitions. They noted that personal growth entails reassessment of familial and social support systems; reinforcement of personality traits like self-awareness, empathy, and maturity; and enhancement of coping skills, including efficient problem-solving and help-seeking behaviors. Schaefer and Moos's model has been already applied to events such as serious illness (Siegel, Schrimshaw, & Pretter, 2005) and, more recently, to normative life transitions as well. Specifically, two studies have shown that the transition to being a parent of a preterm baby may generate personal growth (Spielman & Taubman--Ben-Ari, 2009; Taubman--Ben-Ari, Findler, & Kuint, in press).

In their classic research of the 1960s, Neugarten and Weinstein (1964) indicated that grandparenthood contains the potential for the experience of biological renewal, continuity, self-fulfillment, a chance to succeed in a new emotional role, and indirect expansion of the self through the grandchild's achievements. …

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