Academic journal article Family Relations

Intergenerational Parenting from the Perspective of African American Grandmothers

Academic journal article Family Relations

Intergenerational Parenting from the Perspective of African American Grandmothers

Article excerpt


Grandmothers primarily responsible for caring for their grandchildren possess strengths and confront challenges. To gain insight into intergenerational parenting, 17 African American grandmothers were interviewed. Based on a qualitative content analysis, seven strategies emerged: maintaining effective communication, taking a strong role in the educational process, providing socioemotional support, involving extended family, involving grandchildren in selective community activities, acknowledging and working with the vulnerabilities, and recognizing children's feelings about the absence of the biological parent(s). Implications for clinical work with grandmothers are included.

Key Words: African American families, intergenerational parenting, kinship caregivers.

As African American grandmothers increasingly become primary caregivers to their grandchildren, their experiences in parenting a "second time around" emerge as an interesting, yet underdeveloped, topic. Of particular interest is how they parent grandchildren to become productive adults. There are approximately six million children living with grandparents and other relatives (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). Of that number, 2.1 million are being raised solely by grandparents, without the presence of the biological parent(s). Thirty-eight percent are African Americans, which is a disproportionate representation (Mason & Link, 2002).

The increase in this phenomenon has been well documented. Casper and Bryson (1998) listed 14 reasons for children entering kinship care. Among those, parental drug abuse and maternal incarceration are cited as the most prominent factors (Casper & Bryson; Minkler & Roe, 1993). Given the heightened level of vulnerability (Gleeson, 1995; Young & Smith, 2000) to negative outcomes faced by African American youths who enter kinship care (Bryant & Range, 1997; Claussen & Crittenden, 1991; Kelley, 1993; Scannapieco & Jackson, 1996), these grandmothers have a tremendous responsibility in terms of the upbringing of their grandchildren, the biological parent(s) of those children, the child welfare system, and society at large. Because collective responsibility for children is considered one of the strengths of the African American community, kinship care becomes a matter of family preservation rather than child placement (Danzy & Jackson, 1997).

Strengths-Based Perspective and Kinship Care

Little research has been conducted on African American families from a strengths perspective (Barnes, 2001). A strengths perspective emphasizes the capacities and competencies of clients (Saleebey, 1992) and is an emergent approach with an uplifting quality (Freeman & Logan, 2004). Attributes of research studies incorporating a strengths-based approach include the identification of context, the recognition of family strengths and other resources, and cultural sensitivity (Freeman and Logan). Although arguably waning, European-influenced social science (Schiele, 2000), which emphasizes ideas, interpretations, and racism that are inherent in European-American culture, still acts as a barrier to working with African American families from a strengths perspective (Hillard, 2002; McAdoo, 2002). This influence seems to extend to mental health professionals who often doubt the effectiveness of the mutual aid system of African Americans as kinkeepers in which grandparents are key (McDonald & Armstrong, 2001), which is often viewed as a strength (McAdoo). For example, Beeman and Boisen (1999) found that child welfare workers expressed concern about grandmothers being allowed to parent their grandchildren when the grandmothers had already parented children (biological parent of the grandchildren) with many social problems. Others have proffered similar concerns about the intergenerational transmission of poor parenting, resulting in out-of-home placement (Dubowitz, Feigelman, & Zuravin, 1993). …

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