Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Legacy of a Grandparent's Divorce: Consequences for Ties between Grandparents and Grandchildren

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Legacy of a Grandparent's Divorce: Consequences for Ties between Grandparents and Grandchildren

Article excerpt

This study assesses the implications of divorce in the grandparent generation for grandparent-- grandchild relationships. The sample of 538 grandparents comes from the Iowa Youth and Families Project. Results indicate that many aspects of grandparenting are negatively associated with ever experiencing a divorce. Some of the negative effects of divorce are explained by ever-divorced grandparents' greater geographic distance from, and weaker bonds to, their adult children. Negative effects of divorce are stronger for grandfathers and paternal grandparents. Furthermore, a good grandparent-parent relationship can compensate for the negative effects of a grandparent's divorce on relations with grandchildren. Implications of these findings are discussed in the context of the increasing percentage of individuals moving into the later years who have experienced a divorce.

Key Words: divorce, grandchildren, grandparents, intergenerational relations, life course.

A grandparent's divorce is likely to have repercussions throughout the family system, affecting children, grandchildren, and other relatives, and prompting changes in family roles. Understanding the significance of divorce for grandparent-grandchild relations is imperative given the vital role grandparents play in the lives of children. Grandparents serve as storytellers, confidants, and mentors, provide child care and family support in times of crisis, and in more extreme cases, become primary caregivers for grandchildren (King, Elder, & Conger, 2000; Tomlin, 1998). In addition to the positive benefits children receive, grandparents themselves benefit from engagement in their role, deriving meaning, enjoyment, and companionship from relationships with grandchildren (Tomlin).

This study addresses three questions: (a) Does the experience of divorce negatively influence the saliency of the grandparent role or involvements with grandchildren? (b) If so, what factors explain the negative influence of divorce on grandparenting? (c) What circumstances moderate the influence of divorce on the grandparent-grandchild relationship?

The number of grandparents who have experienced a divorce is substantial and increasing rapidly (Uhlenberg & Kirby, 1998). This situation reflects both the increasing divorce rates in all age groups and the movement of newer cohorts, who experienced much higher levels of divorce, into the ranks of older adults. About one third of all ever-married individuals in the cohort that reached age 65 in 2000 will experience a divorce at some point in their lifetimes; this is projected to increase to 50% for the cohorts reaching age 65 after 2010 (Norton & Moorman, 1987; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000).

Little prior research has directly examined the link between grandparental divorce and grandparenting behaviors or attitudes. A few grandparent studies have controlled for the current marital status of a grandparent when examining behaviors such as grandparent-grandchild contact and relationship quality, and report few or no significant effects (Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1986; King & Elder, 1995). However, Silverstein and Marenco (2001) considered a broader array of grandparenting measures and found that unmarried grandparents reported weaker involvement with grandchildren in several domains, including less frequent baby-sitting, activities, family gatherings, feeling less close, and attributing less meaning to the grandparent role. Unfortunately, by comparing married and unmarried grandparents, these studies do not differentiate among the unmarried group-- some are divorced, but many others are widowed. Widowhood is not likely to influence ties to children and grandchildren in the negative way that divorce can (Aquilino, 1994; Pezzin & Schone, 1999). In addition, the married group includes those who have divorced and remarried-a group that is likely to differ significantly from grandparents still in first marriages (Uhlenberg & Hammill, 1998; White, 1992). …

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