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Study: The Changing World of Grandfathers

 

A new U.K. study has found men charting new territory as they respond to the challenges and opportunities arising from being a grandparent today.

The Contemporary Dynamics of Grandfatherhood Project draws on interview data from 60 grandfathers in Britain, ranging in age from 48 to 94.

This specific study, led by Robin Mann from Bangor University, focuses on five cases from the larger study. It offers a telling glimpse into the real world of grandfathers.

The findings appeared online in the journal of the British Sociological Association, Sociology, on March 19, 2015.

Changes in society

The study found that changing family patterns and lifestyles are making an impact on how men experience grandfatherhood today.

Alan

Alan, 71, has three grandchildren: a 12-year-old granddaughter from his older daughter, and a 10-year-old granddaughter and eight-year-old grandson from his son.

When his oldest daughter first became pregnant, she was unmarried and Alan and his wife stepped in to help. Although unsettled by the situation at first, Alan quickly developed a close relationship with his granddaughter.

He described himself as a "surrogate father," who oversees his grandchild's school work and fosters a "right sense of family."

"I did spend an awful lot of time with her. I mean I taught her how to ride a bicycle. I took her on bicycle rides, encouraging her in her sporting athletics and even started her playing golf for a while," he said.

Now that she is 12, he is learning that he must "stand back" and let her pursue her own interests.

Alan sees less of his other two grandchildren who do not need him so much. "They're busy with school activities . . . they come along give you a hug and they're off again."

Brian

Brian is also intensely involved with his 10-year-old grandson because "dad's not there."

Indeed, his grandson has never met his father, Brian's biological son. He has lived with Brian and his wife, since he was four years old.

A 64-year-old former secondary school physical education teacher, Brian is deeply involved in caring for his grandson. They play a lot of sports: football, swing ball and wrestling.

When something is broken at school, his grandchild tells his class mates: "Oh, Grampy will fix that."

Like Alan, he is less involved with his other grandchildren who do not "need" him. He sees them a few times a year.

Will

Divorced, and recently re-partnered, Will has four grandchildren and one step-grandchild from his current partner.

The 68-year-old former art teacher described his own grandparents as distant: "I mean my grandparents never took us for walks or played with us. They were quite authoritative."

In contrast, Will enjoys a wide range of activities with his grandchildren, including:

  • playing imaginary games
  • learning drawing techniques
  • gardening, and
  • sitting and watching children's television shows.

He also spends time with his brother and his eight grandchildren: "We play constantly with them, go on holiday with them and look after them when mums and dads are either ill or got to go to work."

Chris

Divorced and remarried with two grandchildren, Chris also has one step-grandson. The busy 51-year-old professional works long hours.

His daughter first became pregnant when she was still at school. Chris worried about the impact of motherhood on her education and career aspirations.

Nevertheless, he has developed a warm bond with his grandchildren, especially his granddaughter. "We see them about once or twice a month and they stay over on weekends, so we do spend quality time."

Chris also supports his children and grandchildren financially, purchasing items such a nappies and push chairs.

Still, he wishes he had more time with his grandchildren: "I mean, pragmatically, we both work long hours and it is difficult to really give the amount of time that we would like."

Stuart

Stuart and his second wife have seven grandchildren. Most of them live several hundred miles away.

Because of the distance, he sees his grandchildren only a few times a year: "We see them when they come down here and when we go up there."

Between visits, they keep in contact by phone and email. "I think it is important to have good conversation skills and develop a good rapport with them," he said.

Stuart, 65, does not see his grandfather role as a responsibility. He views his post-retirement years as a time for leisure and travel. "I think we are still looking for excitement and stimulation in our lives and not just settling into old age," he said.

Grandpa wears many hats

As families and lifestyles change, so too, the roles of grandfathers.

For Alan and Brian, the absence of dads meant greater involvement in their grandchildren's lives. Notably, both men became grandfathers post-retirement. This allowed them to engage with grandchildren in ways which were not available to them working long hours as fathers.

However, younger grandfathers in particular may have other responsibilities and interests. Chris, for example, struggled to weave time for his grandchildren into a busy schedule that included demanding work, a new partner and a desire to spend time with friends.

For Stuart, being a grandfather is only one dimension of an active life. "We don't want to be just grandparents," he said.

All the participants rejected the image of grandfathers as distant and passive. These men see themselves as sensitive, hands-on granddads, eager to develop special relationships with their grandkids.