Grandfathers and the Impact of Raising Grandchildren

By Bullock, Karen | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Grandfathers and the Impact of Raising Grandchildren


Bullock, Karen, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


Objectives. As grandparents are continuing to take on the responsible of raising their grandchildren in the absence of parents much attention in the literature is given to women. Little is known about the adjustment that older men make in these families. This study explored the experiences of grandfathers raising grandchildren.

Methods. Data were gathered by semi-structured interviews in a rural community in southeastern North Carolina and analyzed using a qualitative content analysis mode. Twenty-six men, age 65+, who were responsible for the care of at least one grandchild, participated.

Results. Eighty-one percent (N = 21) reported that their perception of powerlessness occurred either in the role transition or in the activities of daily parenting. Many expected to continue experiencing powerlessness throughout the parenting of the child.

Discussion. Grandfathers experience powerlessness that has not been reported in the literature on grandmothers raising grandchildren. Results affirm the need for special attention to elderly men who take on the role of parent for their grandchildren.

Key words: grandparents, rural men, grandfathers, parenting, caregivers

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Grandparents have always played important roles in taking care of their children and grandchildren. However, in the United States, we are witnessing an unanticipated change in the role of the elderly. Increasingly, grandparents are raising grandchildren in the absence of the child's parents. Growth in grandparent-headed households has not occurred in a vacuum. Rather, it has been accompanied by a large number of other demographic, social, economic, and political changes (AARP, 1998) that potentially have profound implications for the welfare of both the old and the young. During the past 30 years, grandparents have become full-time parents for grandchildren whose parents are unable to do so. The number of grandchildren living in grandparent-maintained households is increasing steadily, with over 4.5 million such families in 2000 (Bryson 2001), up from 2.2 million in 1970 (Casper & Bryson, 1998). Several studies have focused on grandmothers (Bullock, 2004b; Dowdell, 1995; Edwards, 2003; Goodman & Silverstein, 2002; Roe, Minkler, Saunders, & Thomson, 1996; Solomon, & Marx, 1995; Whitley, Kelley, & Sipe, 2001) and their particular risks of increased psychological stress, physical health problems, social isolation, and inadequate resources when raising grandchildren.

Grandfathers on the other hand have received less attention. Because women tend to provide the bulk of the care provided to family members, an easy oversight is the impact of raising grandchildren on older men. Much of what we do know about grandparents raising grandchildren has come from data on urban families. Far less is known about older men living in rural areas who assume these childcare responsibilities. Many rural communities have suffered depopulation and job loss as their economies have struggled in the changing national and global marketplace (Glasgow, et al, 1993). As these communities depopulate, the informal caregiving base for rural elders shrinks, leaving them with little availability of social support options (Bullock, 2004a) compared to elders living in urban communities (Burnette, 1999a).

It is especially important to focus on grandfathers as a resource in grandparent-maintained families in rural areas due to the fact that rural elders generally have access to fewer community-based health and social services (Stoller, & Lee, 1994). The present research seeks to fill a gap in the literature by offering insight into the experiences and adjustments that older men in rural areas make when they are responsible for the care of at least one grandchild. Most importantly, the present data highlight the existence and concern of this increasingly vulnerable population, which is often overlooked in social welfare policies and practices. …

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