Academic journal article Family Relations

Custodial Grandmother-Grandfather Dyads: Pathways among Marital Distress, Grandparent Dysphoria, Parenting Practice, and Grandchild Adjustment

Academic journal article Family Relations

Custodial Grandmother-Grandfather Dyads: Pathways among Marital Distress, Grandparent Dysphoria, Parenting Practice, and Grandchild Adjustment

Article excerpt

An adaptation of the Family Stress Model was examined using structural equation modeling with data from 193 custodial grandmother-grandfather dyads. The model's measurement and structural components were largely invariant by grandparent gender. For grandmothers and grandfathers alike, the effects of their psychological and marital distress on grandchildren's adjustment difficulties were mediated by dysfunctional parenting. The effects of family-related contextual forces on grandchildren's adjustment were also indirect through direct effects on grandparents' psychological and marital distress.

Key Words: custodial grandparents, family processes, marital distress, parenting, psychological well-being.

Custodial grandparents (CGPs) are increasingly serving as long-term surrogate parents to custodial grandchildren (CGs). Also referred to as "skipped-generation" grandparents, CGPs are those providing full-time care to grandchildren in their household with no birth parents present to assist with child care. Data from the 2005 - 2007 American Community Survey indicate that nearly 1 million CGs under age 18 are cared for in CGP-headed households. Additional population-based data reveal that over 50% of CGPs who provide this care are married (Fuller-Thompson & Minkler, 2001). Yet, despite mounting evidence that mental health challenges are common among CGPs (Park & Greenberg, 2007) and CGs (Smith & Palmieri, 2007), scant attention has been paid to how the well-being of both CGPs and CGs is understood in terms of broader family processes.

A major limitation of the existing literature is that virtually no research has examined how the quality of the relationship between married CGPs may be linked to their mental health as well as to that of CGs. In this study, we test an expansion of the Family Stress Model (FSM; Conger et al., 2002) with hypothesized links among family contextual factors, CGP psychological distress, quality of the marital relationship, parenting practices used by CGPs, and the psychological adjustment of CGs. Using structural equation modeling (SEM), we also examine if the model's measurement and structural features are similar by CGP gender.

Models of family stress and resilience maintain that stressors cause, sustain, or amplify mental health difficulties in families (Kwok et al., 2005), and there is compelling evidence that being a CGP brings on new stressors (e.g., family disruption, social isolation, financial strain) that increase psychological distress in an already vulnerable population (Park & Greenberg, 2007). Additionally, CGs in these families are predisposed to psychological challenges stemming from their birth parents' difficulties. Such predispositions may arise from prenatal impacts (e.g., drug addiction, fetal alcohol syndrome, HIV/AIDS) or the emotional trauma of parental abuse and neglect (Hayslip, Shore, Henderson, & Lambert, 1998). Yet, to date, studies have focused primarily on the physical and psychological impact of caregiving on CGPs, with scant attention to the physical and emotional outcomes of CGs (Kelch-Oliver, 2008).

It has been claimed recently that parenting is the central responsibility of CGPs and that psychosocial stressors related to their family situation might compromise their ability to parent competently (Dolbin-MacNab, 2006; Hayslip & Kaminski, 2008). This claim is sensible given abundant findings in the parenting literature that (a) caregiver distress is related to poor parenting, (b) poor parenting is related to child adjustment problems, and (c) parenting mediates the relationship between caregiver distress and child adjustment (Deater-Deckard, 1998; Kane & Garber, 2004; Shelton & Gordon, 2008). It has also been assumed that parenting behavior is a mediator of more distal stressors, such as social and economic disadvantage and parental conflict on children's adjustment (Deater-Deckard; Kane & Garber). …

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