"Grand" Expectations: The Experiences of Grandparents and Adult Grandchildren *

By Kemp, Candace L. | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

"Grand" Expectations: The Experiences of Grandparents and Adult Grandchildren *


Kemp, Candace L., Canadian Journal of Sociology


Abstract: Within the context of social and demographic change and in dialogue with theories of individualization and the concept of intergenerational ambivalence, this paper explores the existence of normative "grand" role expectations among grandparents and adult grandchildren. The data from qualitative life-history interviews with both generations (n=37) indicate that while sometimes proscriptive rather than prescriptive, there are identifiable, albeit general, normative behavioral expectations associated with both familial roles. According to both generations' accounts, these expectations are instructive and provide a general framework as individuals negotiate and evaluate their interactions and relationships with one another. Placed within a wider social context, these expectations reflect and reinforce cultural emphasis on personal freedom and independence, as well as prevailing social discourses relating to youth, old age and family life.

Resume: Dans un contexte de changement social et demographique et de dialogue relatif aux theories de l'individualisation et du concept de l'ambivalence entre les generations, cet article explore l'existence d'attentes << normatives >> du role de grands-parents chez les grands-parents et les petits-enfants adultes. Les donnees provenant d'entrevues qualitatives sur les cycles de vie avec les deux generations (n=37) indiquent que, bien qu'il s'agisse souvent de proscriptions plutot que de prescriptions, il existe bel et bien des attentes normatives identifiables, quoique generales, en matiere de comportement relativement aux deux roles familiaux. Selon les temoignages des deux generations, ces attentes s'averent revelatrices et fournissent un cadre general permettant aux individus de negocier et d'evaluer les interactions et relations qu'ils entretiennent l'un avec l'autre. Vu dans un contexte social plus large, ces attentes traduisent et renforcent l'importance culturelle de la liberte et independance personnelle ainsi que les discours sociaux dominant en matiere de jeunes, d'aines et de la vie de famille.

Introduction

Increasing longevity in Western societies has created the opportunity for grandparents and grandchildren to negotiate their relationships with one another and to know one another for historically unprecedented amounts of time (Hagestad, 1988; Uhlenberg, 1993). In fact, most grandparents and grandchildren will experience at least twenty years of intergenerational overlap, and in many cases their lives will overlap for thirty, possibly even forty years or more (Kemp, 2003a; Uhlenberg & Kirby, 1998). These demographic trends are well established in the literature, yet the roles and behaviors of grandparents and adult grandchildren and the wider sociological significance of their interactions have received insufficient scholarly attention.

Against the backdrop of social and demographic change and within the context of emerging sociological debates pertaining to individualization, as well as the concept of intergenerational ambivalence, this paper is concerned with the demographically "new" phenomenon of grandparent-grandchild relationships that involve two generations of adults (rather than one of adults and one of children). Drawing on qualitative life history interviews (n=37) conducted in an urban, industrial city in Southern Ontario, this paper explores grandparents' and adult grandchildren's perceptions of their family roles, examining what, if any, normative prescriptive and proscriptive expectations members of each generation have of the other and of themselves. It also considers how the presence or absence of behavioral expectations guides interactions, enters into the negotiation of grandparent-adult grandchild ties and sheds light on the character of contemporary family life, intergenerational relationships and obligations. First, however, the paper examines theories of individualization and the concept of intergenerational ambivalence and their potential application to grand roles. …

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