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Grand-parenting as the reconciliation of kinship — by Daniel Miller

XinyuanWang10 April 2019

Kinship studies have been the bedrock of social anthropology for more than a century. But the main emphasis has been on issues of classification, the structuring of society, and the norms of relationships. Kinship will play a major role in our publications, but my hope is that the emphasis will be more on the experience of kinship. Grandparenting is a good example of this. Precisely because it comes late in life, grandparenting is so much more than simply the relationship to the grandchild. It is often a coming to terms with and sometimes a resolution of the entire experience of kinship up to that time. To understand why the people I study take a particular attitude or degree of involvement with grandparenting usually means understanding their past relationship to their own parents and to their children.

(Photo by Stacie Andrea)

For example, a man who feels he was neglected as part of a very large traditional family, and then in turn neglected the parenting of his own children, because he was in full time work, may see being a grandfather as his first opportunity to explore kinship as inter-generational love and care in depth. While a woman who had most of the burden of parenting and feels she discharged her responsibilities and has experienced that intensity of love and care, may be quite happy to keep her role as grandmother to a minimum, using this period to find the balance between personal autonomy and kinship obligations that has eluded her through a lifespan that up to now has fluctuated between too much kinship and too little kinship (such as the period of the empty nest).

When this works well grandparenting is both joyful and profound because it is experienced as the final reconciliation of so many tensions within past kinship, now at last reaching a balance in which kinship becomes pure enjoyment. But the key to this is not so much the relationship one chooses to have with one’s grandchildren but the transformation this brings about in the relationship to one’s own children. Because as a result of grandparenting, people often find that their own children, who for the period when they were teenagers or in their twenties, may have been barely in touch, are now, to at least a small degree, dependent again upon their parents. But often unlike the period when they were young, and most unlikely at the time they were teenagers, they may both acknowledge and appreciate that dependence and what their parents did for them. Welcoming their parents as the grandparents of their children demonstrates that they finally trust and respect the parenting that they themselves received. I have also been struck by how grandparents contrast this situation with the trauma and neglect they felt at being raised in traditional large families which seem to have resulted in many tensions with siblings and their own parents, and which now they are coming to terms with.

Often things do not work out quite so smoothly, a daughter wants her mother to mind both her grandchildren so she can go back to work. But the grandmother refuses because she wants to remain their grandmother not an ersatz mother. A child with very bad memories of being parented may want to keep the grandparent away from their own children. Grandparents feel they have been replaced by smartphone screens as their grandchildren are present in their carem but not interested in the stories and toys that the grandparents have been aching to share one more time. On balance though, at least for the people in Cuan I have been studying, grandparenting often appears to be this profound coming to terms with the entire history of kinship experienced up to that time.

My point is that studying grandparenting in depth has helped me towards an alternative anthropology of kinship itself, one that is perhaps more holistic and based on kinship as cumulative experience, a rather different perspective to the traditions of kinship studies I was taught as a student.

Empty nesters and ‘under-occupied’ homes — by Pauline Garvey

LauraHaapio-Kirk14 October 2018

Quinn, David 17/04/15, If grandparents went on strike, we would all be sunk, The Irish Independent, available electronically as https://www.independent.ie/opinion/if-grandparents-went-on-strike-we-would-all-be-sunk-31149507.html

Amongst the proposals for the recent Irish budget 2018, government ministers looked to the grey vote and weighed up options for a grandparent grant, reported on in the media as the ‘granny grant’.  The idea was advocated by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, who calculated that 70,000 grandparents could be eligible for the grant, costing the state €71 million a year. The proposal was based on the widespread recognition that grandparents undertake a substantial burden in a country where childcare is exorbitantly expensive and state subsidies limited. Many young couples turn to their retired parents to look after their offspring, and these grandparents undertake their labour often in their own homes. A study from 2015 found that 60% of grandparents looked after their grandchildren once a month, while one in five looked after them more than 60 hours per month.

At the same moment as talks of the granny grant circulated however, the same minister argued in favour of introducing a ‘granny-flat grant’ in order to encourage older people to transform the upper floors of their houses and rent them to lodgers, thus contributing to the housing pool and giving elderly householders a source of income. Piloted in one house in north Dublin, the granny-flat grant is far more controversial among people I meet in the course of my fieldwork.

One woman complained that it is seemingly fine for grandparents to bear the brunt of childcare but somehow their undisputed rights to their own home is cast in doubt. As she said ‘my parents worked their whole lives and paid tax, as did I. I inherited this house and paid for its upkeep from my wages since I started working fifty years ago. But now “the boys” are talking of taking my first floor?’

Another woman commented that the logistics of building a kitchen and finding a suitable tenant seemed a daunting task. While a third pointed out that ‘no one expects a 40-year old singleton in a 3-bedroom house to downsize, so why should I?’ In media reports there is no sign that the search for ‘under-occupied’ houses includes all spacious residences in the state, but instead focuses squarely on the homes of the elderly, and occasionally those in social housing. One question that this prompts is why does the idea of under-occupied housing seem to apply only to the elderly, leading some of my research respondents to feel that their right to their own homes diminishes with every passing decade?