Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Relationship between Grandparents and Their Grandchildren in the Black Families in South Africa

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Relationship between Grandparents and Their Grandchildren in the Black Families in South Africa

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Increasingly grandparents are assuming parenting responsibilities for their grandchildren in the family (Dolbin-Macnab, 2006). Although grandmothers comprised the majority involved in grandparenting activities, grandfathers also play a significant role as primary caregivers to their grandchildren. These grandfathers have been understudied even though they, like their grandmother counterparts, provide children, families, and society with valuable unpaid, under-recognised care (Keene et al., 2012). Black grandparents in the contemporary family often play a pivotal role in raising their grandchildren and giving parental support. On the one hand, Black parents, regardless of gender, view grandmothers as a primary source of support, relying on them more frequently than anyone else (Hunter, 1997). On the other hand, grandmothers also play a crucial role in the parenting support networks of Black fathers. Although most are married men, they nominate grandmothers as their parenting resource. The existence of influential and authoritative grandparenting styles in Black families is not only a response to family difficulties but may also reflect a way of thinking about and organising family relationships that push grandmothers to the forefront of parenting support (Hunter, 1997).

Grandchild care takes different forms. There are grandparents who assume full care without a parent in the household (custodial grandmothers) and those grandmothers who assist their adult children by housing parent and grandchild (co-parenting grandmothers) (Goodman and Silverstein, 2002). The assumption of the grandparent caregiving role normally occurs in response to a variety of factors: a family crisis due to the impaired ability of birth parents to adequately care for the child, substance abuse, death, incarceration, financial difficulties, mental illness, abuse, and neglect, HIV/AIDS, to name a few (Conway et al., 2011; DolbinMacnab, 2006; Goodman and Silverstein, 2002; Langosch, 2012). In other cases divorce, work demands, or school commitments compel parents to seek help from their parents in raising the next generation (Goodman and Silverman, 2002).

According to Sadler et al., (2001) grandmothers play an influential role in parental competencies among urban African American adolescent mothers during the early stages of the adolescent's transition to parenthood. Since few African American adolescent mothers marry the father of their baby, the maternal grandmother often assumes some of the more traditional supportive paternal roles and responsibilities, while she simultaneously holds the role of mother for the adolescent mother (Sadler et al., 2001). The authors further argue that, in families with adolescent mothers and infants, the grandmothers usually have large first order and second order effects on the baby's development and well-being. This is because not only do they provide large amounts of direct care, but they are usually the mother's primary source of advice, emotional support, and functional support in her new role. For African American mothers, especially those who are younger than 15 years of age and living in lowincome communities, there are some distinct advantages to living in the grandmothers' household. This is during the time the mother needs to complete her education and raise her child through infancy and early toddlerhood (Sadler et al., 2001). Basically, the importance of the grandmother's role in the transition to parenthood is found to be a central force in the parental adaptation of the young mother (Sadler et al., 2001). Grandparents may also provide other types of assistance to the parents, such as advice or emotional support. This assistance could translate into decreased parental stress or improvements in parental emotional health, which could then be associated with improved parenting behaviour. Grandparents may directly contribute to the well-being of the children by serving in a parenting role themselves. …

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