Caring for Aging Parents
As we have seen, caring for aging parents can be both very stressful and uplifting.
On the stress side, adult child caregivers can experience significant health effects from long-term stress. Stress may also be a factor in elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Thus, doing what is necessary to help deal with the stressful aspects is key.
Communities typically have several sources of help for adult children who are caring for their aging parents. Find out what is available in your area. Check with local social service agencies, organizations dedicated to serving older adults, hospitals, colleges and universities, and churches.
You may be quite surprised to learn of the many options and
opportunities there are for adults to get assistance. These may range from workshops and classes to support groups to formal and informal outings.
Make a list of the programs you discover, and discuss them in class. If possible, talk with some people who run the programs and with people who take advantage of them to learn from their experiences.
with their grandchildren. Categorizing these styles has been attempted over the years (e. g., Neugarten & Weinstein, 1964), but none has been overly successful because grandparents use different styles with different grandchildren and styles change as grandparents and grandchildren age (Stephens & Clark, 1996).
An alternative approach involves considering the many functions grandparents serve, which can be understood as reflecting different levels of the social and personal dimensions (Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1986). The social dimension includes societal needs and expectations of what grandparents are to do, such as passing on family history to grandchildren. The personal dimension includes the personal satisfaction and individual needs that are fulfilled by being a grandparent. Many grandparents pass on skills, as well as religious, social, and vocational values (social dimension) through storytelling and advice, and they may feel great pride and satisfaction (personal dimension) from working with grandchildren on joint projects.
Grandchildren give grandparents a great deal in return. For example, grandchildren keep grandparents in touch with youth and the latest trends. Sharing the excitement of surfing the Web in school
may be one way in which grandchildren keep grandparents on the technological forefront.
Being a Grandparent Is Meaningful. Does being a grandparent matter to people? You bet it does, at least to the vast majority of grandparents. In her groundbreaking research, Kivnick (1982, 1985) identified five dimensions of meaning that grandparents often assign to their roles. However, additional research shows that grandparents can derive multiple meanings (Hayslip, Henderson, & Shore, 2003). For some, grandparenting is the most important thing in their lives, termed centrality. For others, meaning comes from being seen as wise (valued elder), from spoiling grandchildren (indulgence), from recalling the relationship they had with their own grandparents (reinvolvement with personal past), or from taking pride in the fact that they will be followed by not one but two generations (immortality through clan).
Most grandparents derive several different meanings, regardless of the style of their relationship with the grandchildren (Alley, 2004). Similar findings are reported when overall satisfaction with being a grandparent is examined; no matter what their style is, grandparents find their role
meaningful (Hayslip et al., 2003). These findings have resulted in viewing grandparenthood as an aspect of generativity from which most grandparents derive a great deal of satisfaction (Thiele & Whelan, 2006, 2008).
Grandchildren also highly value their relationships with grandparents, even when they are young adults (Alley, 2004). Grandparents are valued as role models, and for their personalities, the activities they share, and the attention they show to grandchildren. Grandchildren also note that when their grandparents are frail, helping their grandparents is a way for them to act on their altruistic beliefs (Kennedy, 1991). Young adult grandchildren (ages 21-29) derive both stress and rewards from caring for grandparents, much the same way that middle – aged adults do when they care for their aging parents (Fruhauf, 2007).
Ethnic Differences. How grandparents and grandchildren interact varies in different ethnic groups. For example, African American grandmothers under age 40 report feeling pressured to provide care for grandchildren they were not eager to have; in contrast, those over age 60 tend to feel that they are fulfilling an important role (Kivett, 1991). African American grandparents tend to be more involved in teaching their grandchildren and more willing to take a grandparent education course than are European American grandparents (Watson & Koblinsky, 1997). African American grandparents also play an important role in religious education of their grandchildren (King et al., 2006). African American grandfathers tend to perceive grandparenthood as a central role to a greater degree than European American grandfathers (Kivett, 1991). And Latino American grandparents are more likely to participate in childrearing due to a cultural core value of family (Burnette, 1999).
Grandparenting style also varies with ethnicity, which may sometimes create tension within families. Kornhaber (1985) relates the case of an 18-month – old girl who had one pair of Latino grandparents and one pair of Nordic grandparents. Her Latino grandparents tickled her, frolicked with her, and
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doted over her. Her Nordic grandparents loved her just as much but tended to just let her be. Her Latina mother thought that the Nordic grandparents were “cold and hard" and her Nordic father accused the Latino grandparents of “driving him crazy” with their displays of affection. The child, though, was flexible enough to adapt to both styles.
Native American grandparents appear to have some interactive styles different from those of other groups (Weibel-Orlando, 1990). Fictive grandparenting is a style that allows adults to fill in for missing or deceased biological grandparents, functionally creating the role of surrogate grandparent. These adults provide a connection to the older generation that otherwise would be absent for these children. In the cultural conservator style,
How grandparents and grandchildren interact varies across culture.
grandparents request that their grandchildren be allowed to live with them to ensure that the grandchildren learn the native ways. These grandparents provide grandchildren with a way to connect with their cultural heritage, and they are likely to provide a great deal of care for their grandchildren (Mutchler, Baker, & Lee, 2007). In general, Native American grandmothers take a more active role in these styles than do grandfathers.
Asian American grandparents, particularly if they are immigrants, serve as a primary source of traditional culture for their grandchildren (Yoon,
2005) . When these grandparents become heavily involved in caring for their grandchildren, they especially want and need services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate. Grandparents caring for grandchildren is a topic to which we now turn.
When Grandparents Care for Grandchildren. Grand – parenthood today is tougher than it used to be. Families are more mobile, which means that grandparents are more often separated from their grandchildren by geographical distance. Grandparents are more likely to have independent lives apart from their children and grandchildren. What being a grandparent entails in the 21st century is more ambiguous than it once was (Fuller-Thompson, Hayslip, & Patrick, 2005).
Perhaps the biggest change for grandparents is the increasing number who serve as custodial parents for their grandchildren (Waldrop & Weber,
2001) . Estimates are that about 5.7 million U. S. grandparents have grandchildren living with them, and 2.5 million of these grandparents provide basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) for one or more of their grandchildren (U. S. Census Bureau, 2007). These situations result most often when parents are addicted, incarcerated, or unable to raise their children for some other reason (Cox, 2000; Hayslip & Goldberg-Glen, 2000), or because of discipline or behavior problems exhibited by the grandchild (Giarusso et al., 2000). Lack of legal recognition due to the grandparents’ lack of legal guardianship also poses problems and challenges, for example, in dealing with schools and obtaining records. Typically, social service workers must assist grandparents in navigating the many unresponsive policies and systems in order to provide the best assistance to their grandchildren possible (Cox, 2007). Clearly, public policy changes are needed to address these issues (Smith et al., 2000).
Raising grandchildren is not easy. Financial stress, cramped living space, and social isolation are only some of the issues facing custodial grandmothers (Bullock, 2004). Rates of problem behavior, hyperactivity, and learning problems in the grandchildren are high and negatively affect the grandparent-grandchild relationship (Hayslip et al., 1998). The grandchildren’s routines, activities, and school-related issues also cause stress (Musil & Standing, 2005). Native American custodial grandparents report more symptoms of depression than European American custodial grandparents, especially those who have lower household income and spend less time with their grandchild (Litiecq, Bailey, & Kurtz, 2008). All of these stresses are also reported cross-culturally; for example, full-time custodial grandmothers in Kenya reported higher levels of stress than part-time caregivers (Oburu & Palmerus, 2005).
Even custodial grandparents raising grandchildren without these problems report more stress and role disruption than noncustodial grandparents (Emick & Hayslip, 1999). And custodial grandmothers who are employed report that they arrive late, miss work, must leave work suddenly, or leave early to tend to the grandchild’s needs (Pruchno,
1999) . But most custodial grandparents consider their situation better for their grandchild than any other alternative and report surprisingly few negative effects on their marriages.
Great-Grandparenthood. As we have seen, grandparenting is an important and enjoyable role for many adults. With increasing numbers of people, especially women, living to very old age, more people are experiencing great-grandparenthood. Age at first marriage and age at parenthood also play a critical role; people who reach these milestones at relatively younger ages are more likely to become great-grandparents. Most current great – grandparents are women who married relatively
young and had children and grandchildren who also married and had children relatively early in adulthood.
Although surprisingly little research has been conducted on great-grandparents, their investment in their roles as parents, grandparents, and great – grandparents forms a single family identity (Drew & Silverstein, 2005). That is, great-grandparents see a true continuity of the family through the passing on of the genes. However, their sources of satisfaction and meaning apparently differ from those of grandparents (Doka & Mertz, 1988; Wentkowski, 1985). Compared to grandparents, great-grandparents are much more similar as a group in what they derive from the role, largely because they are less involved with the children than grandparents are. Three aspects of great-grandparenthood appear to be most important (Doka & Mertz, 1988).
First, being a great-grandparent provides a sense of personal and family renewal—important components for achieving integrity. Their grandchildren have produced new life, renewing their own excitement for life and reaffirming the continuance of their lineage. Seeing their families stretch across four generations may also provide psychological support, through feelings of symbolic immortality, to help them face death. They take pride and comfort in knowing that their families will live many years beyond their own lifetime.
Second, great-grandchildren provide new diversions in great-grandparents’ lives. There are now new people with whom they can share their experiences. Young children can learn from a person they perceive as “really old” (Mietkiewicz & Venditti, 2004).
Third, becoming a great-grandparent is a major milestone, a mark of longevity that most people never achieve. The sense that one has lived long enough to see the fourth generation is perceived very positively.
As you might expect, people with at least one living grandparent and great-grandparent interact more with their grandparent, who is also perceived as more influential (Roberto & Skoglund,
1996) . Unfortunately, some great-grandparents must assume the role of primary caregiver to their great-grandchildren, a role that few great – grandparents are prepared for (Bengtson, Mills, & Parrott, 1995; Burton, 1992). As more people live longer, it will be interesting to see whether the role of great-grandparents changes and becomes more prominent.
1. What are the key aspects in the parental role and how do they differ across ethnic groups?
2. What happens to parent-child relationships as children and parents age? What are the key considerations in taking care of aging parents?
3. What are the major styles and meaning of grandparenthood?
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SOCIAL POLICY IMPLICATIONS
Elder abuse and neglect is a major, underreported global problem. To help protect vulnerable older adults, the U. S. Congress has been working on the Elder Justice Act since 2007. Introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch and former Representative Rahm Emanuel (who now serves as President Obama’s Chief of Staff), the bill amends the Social Security Act to create an Elder Justice Program under Title XX (Block Grants to States for Social Services).
In brief, the bill would direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants to states for them to develop forensic expertise to improve the ability of health care and other professionals to gather evidence of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Additional grants would be provided for training of staff in long
term care facilities that would improve residents’ health and safety, and to perform investigations of alleged abuse, neglect, or exploitation more thoroughly. Adult Protective Services departments in states would be required to provide more complete data and better training for staff. Ombudspersons and owners or operators of long-term care facilities would be required to report suspected cases. Plans for better enforcement of laws, prevention, and treatment of victims would also be required.
If adopted, this bill would greatly strengthen the reporting, investigation, and prosecution of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, as well as provide better protection for victims. Such improvements are essential, especially for victims who have diminished cognitive capacity.
11.1 Relationship Types and Issues
What role do friends play across adulthood?
• People tend to have more friendships during young adulthood than during any other period. Friendships in old age are especially important for maintaining life satisfaction.
• Men tend to have fewer close friends and base them on shared activities. Women tend to have more close friends and base them on emotional sharing. Cross-gender friendships tend to be difficult.
What characterizes love relationships? How do
they vary across culture?
• Passion, intimacy, and commitment are the key components of love.
• The theory that does the best job explaining the process of forming love relationships is the theory of assortative mating.
• Selecting a mate works best when there are shared values, goals, and interests. There are crosscultural differences in which specific aspects of these are most important.
What are abusive relationships? What characterizes elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation?
• Levels of aggressive behavior range from verbal aggression to physical aggression to murdering one’s partner. People remain in abusive relationships for many reasons, including low self-esteem and the belief that they cannot leave.
• Abuse, neglect, or exploitation of older adults is an increasing problem. Most perpetrators are spouses/ partners or adult children. The causes are complex.
11.2 Lifestyles and Love Relationships
What are the challenges of being single?
• Most adults in their 20s are single. People remain single for many reasons; gender differences exist. Ethnic differences reflect differences in age at marriage and social factors.
• Singles recognize the pluses and minuses in the lifestyle. There are health and longevity consequences from remaining single for men but not for women.
Why do people cohabit?
• Cohabitation is on the increase globally.
• Three primary reasons for cohabiting are convenience (e. g., to share expenses), trial marriage, or substitute marriage.
What are gay and lesbian relationships like?
• Gay and lesbian couples are similar to married heterosexual couples in terms of relationship issues. Lesbian couples tend to be more egalitarian.
What is marriage like across adulthood?
• The most important factors in creating stable marriages are maturity, similarity (called homogamy), and conflict resolution skills. Exchange theory is an important explanation of how people contribute to their relationships.
• For couples with children, marital satisfaction tends to decline until the children leave home, although individual differences are apparent, especially in long-term marriages.
• Most long-term marriages tend to be happy, and partners in them express fewer negative emotions.
• Caring for a spouse presents challenges. How well it works depends on the quality of the marriage. Most caregiving spouses provide care based on love.
Why do couples divorce and remarry?
• Currently, half of all new marriages end in divorce. Reasons for divorce include a lack of the qualities that make a strong marriage. Also, societal attitudes against divorce have eased, and expectations about marriage have increased.
• Recovery from divorce is different for men and women. Men tend to have a tougher time in the short run. Women clearly have a harder
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time in the long run, often for financial reasons. Difficulties between divorced partners usually involve visitation and child support.
• Most divorced couples remarry. Second marriages are especially vulnerable to stress if stepchildren are involved. Remarriage in later life tends to be very happy, but may be resisted by adult children.
What are the experiences of widows and widowers?
• Widowhood is more common among women because they tend to marry men older than they are. Widowed men typically are older.
• Reactions to widowhood depend on the quality of the marriage. Men generally have problems in social relationships and in household tasks; women tend to have more financial problems.
11.3 Family Dynamics and the Life Course
What is it like to be a parent? What are the key issues across ethnic groups? What forms of parenting are there?
• Most couples choose to have children, although for many different reasons. The timing of parenthood determines in part how involved parents are in their families as opposed to their careers.
• Instilling cultural values in children is important for parents. In some cultures, familism changes the unit of analysis from the individual to the family.
• Single parents face many problems, especially if they are women and are divorced. The main problem
is reduced financial resources. A major issue for adoptive parents, foster parents, and stepparents is how strongly the child will bond with them. Each of these relationships has some special characteristics. Gay and lesbian parents also face numerous obstacles, but they usually are good parents.
How do middle-aged adults get along with their children? How do they deal with the possibility of providing care to aging parents?
• Most parents do not report severe negative emotions when their children leave. Difficulties emerge to the extent that children were a major source of a parent’s identity. However, parents typically report distress if adult children move back.
• Middle-aged women often assume the role of kinkeeper to the family. Middle-aged parents may be squeezed by competing demands of their children, who want to gain independence, and their parents, who want to maintain independence; therefore, they are often called the sandwich generation.
• Most caregiving by adult children is done by daughters and daughters-in-law. Filial obligation, the sense of responsibility to care for older parents, is a major factor.
• Caring for aging parents can be highly stressful. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other problems are widespread. Financial pressures also are felt by most. Parents often have a difficult time in accepting the care. However, many caregivers also report feeling rewarded or uplifted for their efforts.
How do grandparents interact with their
grandchildren? What key issues are involved?
• Being a grandparent is a very meaningful role. Individual differences in interactive style are large.
• Ethnic differences in grandparenting are evident. Ethnic groups with strong family ties differ in style from groups who value individuality.
• Grandparents are increasingly being put in the position of raising their grandchildren. Reasons include incarceration and substance abuse by the parents.
• Great-grandparenthood is a role enjoyed by more people and reflects a sense of family renewal.
11.1 Relationship Types and Issues
• How does the number and importance of friendships vary across adulthood?
• What gender differences are there in the number and type of friends?
• What are the components of love?
• What characteristics make the best matches between adults? How do these characteristics differ across cultures?
• What is elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation? Why is it underreported?
11.2 Lifestyles and Love Relationships
• How do adults who never marry deal with the need to have relationships?
• What are the relationship characteristics of gay and lesbian couples?
• What are the most important factors in creating stable marriages?
• What developmental trends are occurring in marital satisfaction? How do these trends relate to having children?
• What factors are responsible for the success of long-term marriages?
• What are the major reasons people get divorced? How are these reasons related to societal expectations about marriage and attitudes about divorce?
• What characteristics about remarriage make it similar to and different from first marriage? How does satisfaction in remarriage vary as a function of age?
• What are the characteristics of widowed people? How do men and women differ in their experience of widowhood?
11.3 Family Dynamics and the Life Course
• What ethnic differences are there in parenting? What is familism and how does it relate to parenting?
• What are the important issues in being an adoptive parent, foster parent, or stepparent?
What special challenges are there for gay and lesbian parents?
• What impact does children leaving home have on parents? Why do adult children return?
• What are the important issues facing middle-aged adults who care for their parents?
• How do grandparents and grandchildren relate? How do these relationships change with the age of the grandchild?
• What ethnic differences have been noted in grandparenting?
• What are the important issues and meanings of being a great-grandparent?
Integrating Concepts in Development
• What components would a theory of adult relationships need to have?
• What are some examples of each of the four developmental forces as they influence adult relationships?
• What role do the changes in sexual functioning discussed in Chapter 3 have on love relationships?
• What key public policy issues are involved in the different types of adult relationships?
abusive relationship A relationship in which one partner displays aggressive behavior toward the other partner.
assortative mating A theory that states that people find partners based on their similarity to each other. battered woman syndrome A situation in which a woman believes that she cannot leave an abusive relationship and in which she may even go so far as to kill her abuser.
cohabitation Living with another person as part of a committed, intimate, sexual relationship. exchange theory A theory of relationships based on the idea that each partner contributes something to the relationship that the other would be hard-pressed to provide.
familism Refers to the idea that the well-being of the family takes precedence over the concerns of individual family members.
filial obligation The feeling that, as an adult child, one must care for one’s parents. homogamy The notion that similar interests and values are important in forming strong, lasting interpersonal relationships.
kinkeeper The person who gathers family members together for celebrations and keeps them in touch with each other.
married singles Married couples who have grown apart but continue to live together.
sandwich generation Middle-aged adults caught between the competing demands of two generations: their parents and their children. socioemotional selectivity A theory of relationships that argues that social contact is motivated by a variety of goals, including information seeking, self-concept, and emotional regulation.
www. cengage. com/psychology/cavanaugh
Visit the companion website, where you will find tutorial quizzes, glossary, flashcards, and more. You can also access the following websites from the companion website.
Research findings and professional materials about all aspects of families can be obtained through the National Council on Family Relations.
The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on domestic violence education, prevention, and public policy reform. The National Center on Elder Abuse provides focused information on older adult victims. Grandparents Raising Grandchildren at the USA. gov website provides much information for assistance.
The Family Caregiver Alliance provides a wealth of information about medical, policy, and resource issues concerning caregiving. It is intended for people caring for older adults.
American Bar Association. (2009). You and your aging parents. New York: Random House. An excellent reference for information on legal, financial, and health care matters. Easy reading.
Connidis, I. A. (2009). Family ties and aging. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. A good summary of how families relate across adulthood. Moderately difficult reading.
Gottman, J. M., Gottmann, J. S., & Declaire, J. (2007).
Ten lessons to transform your marriage. New York: Random House. A practical guide from leading researchers on the factors that create successful marriages. Easy to moderate reading.
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