Academic journal article Family Relations

Intergenerational Relationship Quality, Gender, and Grandparent Involvement

Academic journal article Family Relations

Intergenerational Relationship Quality, Gender, and Grandparent Involvement

Article excerpt

This prospective, intergenerational study (N = 181) considered how parent (G1, Generation 1) and child (G2, Generation 2) relationship quality during adolescence and adulthood is associated with G1's level of involvement with their 3- to 4-year-old grandchildren (G3, Generation 3). Path model analyses indicated different patterns of results for the involvement of grandmothers and grandfathers with the children of their G2 sons and daughters. Current parent-reported G1-G2 relationship quality was positively associated with G2 report of G1 involvement with G3, especially for G2 daughters. The relations among confounding variables, including geographic distance, socioeconomic status, and grandparent marital status and grandparent involvement with grandchildren, were considered. Results highlight the roles of intergenerational relationship quality and gender configuration of the G1-G2 dyad in shaping grandparent involvement with grandchildren.

Key Words: grandparents, intergenerational relationships, parent-child relationships.

Approximately 56 million adults are grandparents in the United States (United States Census Bureau, 2006), making grandparenthood a normative stage of development. Most children bom during the 1990s and later will know both sets of grandparents (Szinovacz, 1998). The level of grandparent involvement in the lives of their grandchildren, however, varies considerably. Highly involved grandparents may provide cmcial support to the parent and grandchild generations, especially during early childhood when parent and grandchild needs may be greatest as parents learn to successfully navigate the challenges associated with parenthood. Moreover, grandparent involvement with grandchildren is positively associated with satisfaction and well-being for grandparents (Bates, 2009; Reitzes & Mutran, 2004; Smith & Drew, 2002). Therefore, identifying processes influencing grandparent involvement is relevant to multiple generations.

Research regarding the family based processes influencing grandparent involvement in the lives of their young grandchildren is limited (King, Russell, & Elder, 1998; Smith & Drew, 2002). To date, studies of grandparent involvement have focused on static variables that reflect characteristics of individual family members or "social addresses" (e.g., geographic distance). Closer geographic proximity, for instance, has been found to be positively associated with grandparent-grandchild contact (Michalski & Shackelford, 2005; Uhlenberg & Hammill, 1998). In addition, maternal grandparents, especially grandmothers, seem to be more involved in the lives of their grandchildren than paternal grandparents (Chan & Elder, 2000; Michalski & Schakleford).

Focusing on these static factors, however, reveals little about the family processes that underlie grandparent involvement. Understanding how family relationships may shape contact between grandparents and grandchildren provides important information for practitioners and researchers. That is, the quality of specific family relationships, which in turn influences patterns of grandparent involvement with grandchildren, may vary according to the specific relationship dyad.

In addition, the gender configuration of each dyad may be related to both relationship quality and patterns of grandparent involvement. For example, higher quality relationships between grandmothers (GI) and their daughters (G2) in comparison to other G1-G2 relationship dyads may account for observed patterns of greater maternal grandmother involvement with grandchildren (G3). If in fact these relationship dynamics account for differential grandparent involvement, then intervening to improve these relationships may reap benefits for all generations.

Quite possibly, characteristics of the G2 parents' relationships with their own G1 parents during their adolescence and adulthood affect G2 parents' willingness to solicit and accept help from their G1 parents (King, 2003; Mueller & Elder, 2003). …

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