The Darwinian Heritage and Sociobiology

By Johan M. G. Van Der Dennen; David Smillie et al. | Go to book overview

15
Grandparental Caregiving and Intergenerational Relations Reflect Reproductive Strategies

Harald A. Euler and Barbara Weitzel

If asked whether you had a favorite grandparent, we would assume that most of you would say yes, and further we would predict that the majority with a favorite, the maternal grandmother would be the most cherished grandparents. For example, the senior author here belongs to that majority. His maternal grandmother died over forty years ago, but she is still in his heart because she took care of him in a most loving way, although he was not her only grandchild. He grew up as a single child and has four children himself. His own mother, however, the paternal grandmother, of his offspring although once a loving mother, does not show much interest in her grandchildren, which he has often saddened him and for which he has reproached her at times. He tended to think that his mother was a special case, but found out that instead, this situation appears more common than might be assumed.

From the grandchild's viewpoint, discrimination between grandparents seems to be the rule. People often feel close to one grandparent, usually to the maternal grandmother. How can this discrimination be explained? Early childhood experience may be a possible answer. The influential attachment theory of the London psychiatrist John Bowlby ( 1969) specifies how persons become "mother figures," namely, through unconditional, responsive, and available care. But are grandparents themselves discriminatory in their love for grandchildren? Bowlby does not elaborate this point. In the ethological tradition, he considers the inclination for care of offspring as a general primate endowment. Discriminative caregiving, in his theory, is not part of this endowment, but instead is due to particular circumstances ( Porter & Laney, 1980). So he probably would have argued that a grandparent might become the grandchild's favorite because he or

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