What is your most typical grandparenting activity? Is it preparing food, providing discipline, or playing games? The answer may depend upon your exact circumstances, but it is also likely to be influenced by your grandparenting style.
The idea of grandparenting styles is a relatively new one. For years few researchers seemed interested in the role of grandparents in our society. Grandparents led unexamined lives. In 1964 two University of Chicago researchers, Bernice L. Neugarten and Karol K. Weinstein, undertook an analysis of grandparenting styles.
First Formal Study of Grandparenting Styles
Neugarten and Weinstein concluded that grandparenting styles could be loosely characterized as formal, fun-seeking, or distant.
This seminal study in grandparenting styles was unscientific by today's standards. In their paper Neugarten and Weinstein state their intent as generating hypotheses rather than arriving at answers. The sample of grandparents they studied was small--70 sets--and it was skewed toward maternal grandparents. All the grandparents interviewed were middle class, and 40% of them were Jewish. Perhaps most tellingly, all of the grandparents were part of a set. There were no single, divorced, widowed or otherwise atypical grandparents included in the study. Nonetheless, the conclusions of Neugarten and Weinstein evidently hit upon some fundamental truths, as their study continues to be cited today, over four decades after its 1964 publication date.
Neugarten and Weinstein noted two other grandparenting styles but described them as highly gender-specific.
In the twenty-first century, these gender distinctions are probably fairly meaningless. Many grandfathers have become actively involved in raising their grandchildren, and many grandmothers are seen as repositories of family knowledge and authority.
Cherlin and Furstenberg's 1985 Study
For about 20 years after Neugarten and Weinstein, there were no major explorations of grandparenting styles. Then, in 1985, Andrew J. Cherlin and Frank K. Furstenberg conducted a study with a greater number of grandparents, around 500. They examined the grandparenting relationship in terms of two variables.
The authoritative, supportive and influential types were grouped together as active grandparenting styles. The authoritative style rated high on parental influence but low on exchange of services. The supportive style rated low on parental influence but high on exchange of services. The third type, the influential type, rated high in both areas.
The detached and passive types rated low on both measures, with a difference. The detached style had minimum contact with grandchildren, whereas the passive style had more contact but still exerted minimal influence and provided little in the way of exchange of services.
Have Grandparenting Styles Changed?
How have grandparenting styles changed since these important studies? My research, which is primarily anecdotal rather than scientific, indicates that two of the categories proposed by Neugarten and Weinstein have seen significant growth.
The time is ripe for another Neugarten/Weinstein or Cherlin/Furstenberg duo to conduct a study which will help us understand grandparenting in the twenty-first century. Until that occurs, most grandparents will just muddle along, leading our unexamined but interesting and very rewarding grandparenting lives.
Cherlin, Andrew J. and Frank F. Furstenberg. The New American Grandparent: A Place in the Family, a Life Apart. Harvard University Press, 1992.
Neugarten, Bernice L. and Karol K. Weinstein. "The Changing American Grandparent." Journal of Marriage and the Family. May 1964. 199-204.