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Grandparenting Styles

Having all of one's grandparents alive was a rare event in the past. It is possible for today's grandparents to be young enough to be in their thirties and for some grandchildren to be old enough to retire. As a result, despite a clearly defined status of grandparenthood, there is not a clearly defined role of grandparenthood. Without good role models or clearly defined social roles, today's grandparents tend to interact with their grandchildren in a more flexible manner, relatively unconstrained by rules and expectations (Johnson 1988).

Traditional literature on grandparenthood focused on how grandparents interact with their grandchildren. Bernice L. Neugarten and Karol K. Weinstein's (1964) pioneering study examined whether grandparents engage in a formal, funseeking, or distant-figure style of grandparenting. A formal style of grandparenting follows its traditional norms, which are clearly distinct from those of parents. A fun-seeking style is characterized by informality and playfulness, whereas a distant-figure style is characterized by infrequent contacts, mostly on ritual occasions.

Using different criteria, Andrew J. Cherlin and Frank K. Furstenberg, Jr. (1985) classified styles of grandparenting into five groups: detached, passive, supportive, authoritative, and influential. Although both detached and passive grandparents have little interaction with their grandchildren, the detached do not see their grandchildren often whereas the passive do. The supportive type refers to those who have interactions involving helping each other and running errands or chores for each other. The authoritative type refers to those who have high scores on parent-like behaviors such as disciplining, giving advice, discussing problems, correcting behavior, and being asked for advice by grandchildren. Finally, the influential type refers to those who have high scores for both supportive and authoritative dimensions. As for cultural norms about dealing with young grandchildren in the United States, Colleen L. Johnson (1988) states that there are more "should nots" than "shoulds" on enacting a grandmother's role. Grandmothers should not interfere, should not give too much advice, and should not discipline young grandchildren. Grandparents should not overpower, spoil, or buy love from grandchildren. They should not nag, and should not be disappointed if the grandchildren do not return the favors. On the other hand, they should be fun to be with, should be loving, and should make it easier for parents by A grandmother plays peek-a-boo with her one-year-old grandson. The traditional image of the grandparent is being replaced as increasingly younger people are becoming grandparents, health conditions improve, and the age of retirement increases. LAURA DWIGHT/CORBIS providing such service as baby-sitting. Other than baby-sitting activities, these "shoulds" are not well delineated.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelatives & Extended FamilyGrandparenthood - Prevalence And Increasing Interest, Grandparenting Styles, Quality Of Relationship, Gender And Relationships, Demographic Factors And Grandparenthood