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Nurturant Grandfathering: Let’s Get Involved

HYG 5800
Family and Consumer Sciences
Date: 
08/31/2021
James S. Bates, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Field Specialist-Family Wellness, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences

A recent national study found that there are an estimated 31 million grandfathers in the United States of America (Survey of Income and Program Participation 2018). That is about 9.5% of Americans. Interestingly, nearly 94% of American men who have children 40 years of age and over are grandfathers (Szinovacz, 1998). Because men today are living longer than men of previous generations, they will likely have more years to devote to grandfatherhood than their predecessors.

Grandfathers in the Family

As men’s roles in the family have changed in recent decades toward a greater variety of nurturing behaviors, there has been an increased interest in the roles and responsibilities of grandfathers. Early scholarly research depicted grandfathers as the wise, authority figure in the extended family clan, people who primarily gave advice about getting an education, finding a job, or managing money (Hagestad 1985). Grandfathers were also depicted as recreational playmates who enjoyed grandchildren in leisure activities (Neugarten and Weinstein 1964). More recent research paints a picture of grandfathers performing a wider range of roles, including being a surrogate parent (Chan 2007), a participant in religious ceremonies (Taylor and Bates 2014), a babysitter (Lesperance 2010), a financial provider (Roberto, Allen, and Blieszner 2001), a playmate (Scraton and Holland 2006), a family historian (Waldrop et al. 1999), an example of fatherhood (Bates and Goodsell 2013), and a kinship caregiver (Brunissen et al. 2020). Active involvement in grandchildren’s lives is not only linked to grandfathers’ well-being and mental health (Bates and Taylor 2012; Bates and Taylor 2016), but young adult grandchildren reported that their grandfathers were influential in their personal growth and attitude development (Roberto and Stroes 1992). 

Grandfather with dark moustache and baseball cap holds grandchild on shoulder.

Figure 1. Grandfather holding grandchild. Photo: by STockSnap, Pixabay

Aging and Human Development

In 1950, developmental psychologist Erik Erikson proposed the term generativity to refer to a stage of human maturity in which adults develop “the interest in establishing and guiding the next generation” (Erikson 1950, 231). This generative interest and motivation occurs in the seventh of eight stages of lifespan development and is marked by a crisis or struggle between generativity and its antithesis, stagnation (Erikson 1950). Generativity is concerned with “teaching” (Erikson 1964, 130) and encompasses learning “to know what and whom you can take care of” (Erikson 1974,124). It involves contributing “to the life of the generations” (Erikson 1975, 243), and when it is successfully achieved, it gives rise to the virtue of care, or “a widening commitment to take care of the persons, the products, and the ideas one has learned to care for” (Erikson 1982, 67). If generativity is not achieved, then the individual experiences feelings of stagnation and being self-absorbed.

Erikson did not originally specify that generativity was linked to a certain age or life role, although he implies that such inclinations arise in parenthood and the care of other humans. In his later work, however, he wrote that “old people can and need to maintain a grand-generative function” (Erikson 1982, 63). Later, Erikson, Erikson, and Kivnick elaborated that the grandparent role offered older adults opportunities for development through “the possibility of caring for the newest generation” (Erikson, Erikson, and Kivnick 1986, 91). Scholars continue to study generativity in adulthood and among grandparents (Thiele and Whelan 2008).

Generative Grandfathering

Generative activities or actions with and/or for grandchildren are conceptualized as generative work. As such, grandfathers are actively engaged in caring for, guiding, and nurturing their grandchildren. In 2009, I proposed the generative grandfathering conceptual framework, not as a comprehensive theory of involvement, but as a way to characterize the breadth of care activities grandfathers participate in with and for their grandchildren. The term grandfatherwork, “defined as the effort, energy, time, and resources grandfathers put forth to care for, serve, meet the developmental needs of, and maintain relationships with their descendants,” (Bates 2009, 338) encapsulates grandfathers’ efforts to be generative. Seven framework concepts were derived from the grandparenting literature and represent dimensions of well-established grandparenting behaviors (Bates and Taylor 2013). They are lineage work, mentoring work, spiritual work, character work, recreation work, family identity work, and investment work. These grandfatherwork concepts are discussed in detail in this “Nurturant Grandfathering” fact sheet series.

This Fact Sheet Series

My goal in creating this “Nurturant Grandfathering” fact sheet series is to translate theoretical concepts into activities that any grandfather can do with his grandchildren. The material encourages grandfather involvement in grandchildren’s lives and promotes stronger grandfather-grandchild relationships. Each fact sheet highlights a different dimension of grandfatherwork. You will notice that some material is repeated in each fact sheet to give readers who might not have access to the entire series important background information.

One key aspect of this series is the reporting and explanation of data collected from grandfathers on each of the grandfatherwork dimensions. The data presented in the fact sheets highlight the important connections between research and practice. They bring to life the realities of what healthy, meaningful grandfather-grandchild relationships can do for both grandfathers and grandchildren.

Each fact sheet includes a list of generative activities that grandfathers can do with their grandchildren. The lists do not include all possible activities that families can do but are a starting point for helping grandfathers get involved.

This fact sheet is part of the Nurturant Grandfathering series, including: Let's Get Involved (HYG-5800), Lineage Work (HYG-5801), Mentoring Work (HYG-5802), Spiritual Work (HYG-5803), Character Work (HYG-5804), Recreation Work (HYG-5805), Family Identity Work (HYG-5806), and Investment Work (HYG-5807).

References

Bates, James S. 2009. “Generative grandfathering: A conceptual framework for nurturing grandchildren.” Marriage & Family Review, 45, 331–352. https://doi.org/10.1080/01494920802537548.

Bates, James., and Alan Taylor. 2012. “Grandfather involvement and aging men’s mental health.” American Journal of Men’s Health, 6, 229-239. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557988311430249.

Bates, James, and Alan Taylor. 2013. “Grandfather involvement: Contact frequency, participation in activities, and commitment.” Journal of Men’s Studies, 21, 305-322. https://doi.org/10.3149/jms.2103.305.

Bates, James, and Alan Taylor. 2016. “Positive affect and depressive symptoms: Does grandfather involvement matter?” Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 14(2), 93-103. https://doi.org/10.1080/15350770.2016.1160730.

Bates, James S., and Todd Goodsell. 2013. “Male kin relationships: Grandpas, grandsons, and generativity.” Marriage & Family Review, 49, 26-50.

Brunissen, Ludivine, Eli Rapoport, Kate Fruitman, and Andrew Adesman. 2020. “Parenting challenges of grandparents raising grandchildren: Discipline, child education, technology use, and outdated health beliefs.” GrandFamilies: The Contemporary Journal of Research, Practice and Policy, 6(1), 16-33. https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/grandfamilies/vol6/iss1/6/.

Chan, Zenobia C. Y. 2007. “The grandfather-grandson relationship in Hong Kong.” International Journal of Men’s Health, 6, 115-126. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/244941205_The_Grandfather-Grandson_Relationship_in_Hong_Kong.

Erikson, Erik H. 1950. Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Erikson, Erik H. 1964. Insight and responsibility: Lectures on the ethical implications of psychoanalytic insight. New York: Norton.

Erikson, Erik H. 1974. Dimensions of a new identity. New York: Norton.

Erikson, Erik H. 1975. Life history and the historical moment. New York: Norton.

Erikson, Erik H. 1982. The life cycle completed. New York: Norton.

Erikson, Erik H., Joan Erikson, and Helen Kivnick. 1986. Vital involvement in old age. New York: Norton.

Hagestad, Gunhild. 1985. “Continuity and connectedness. In V. L. Bengtson & J. F. Robertson (Eds.),” Grandparenthood, 31–48. Beverly Hill, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Lesperance, Duane. 2010. “Legacy, influence and keeping the distance: Two grandfathers, three stories.” Journal of Men’s Studies, 18, 199-217. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3149/jms.1803.199.

Neugarten, Bernice, and Karol Weinstein. 1964. “The changing American grandparent.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 26, 199–204. https://doi.org/10.2307/349727.

Roberto, Karen, and Johanna Stroes. 1992. Grandchildren and grandparents: Roles, influences and relationships. International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 34, 227-239. https://doi.org/10.2190/8CW7-91WF-E5QC-5UFN.

Roberto, Karen, Katherine  Allen, and Rosemary, Blieszner. 2001. “Grandfathers’ perceptions and expectations of relationships with their adult grandchildren.” Journal of Family Issues, 22, 407–426. https://doi.org/10.1177/019251301022004002.

Scraton, Sheila, and Samantha Holland. 2006. “Grandfatherhood and leisure.” Journal of Leisure Studies, 25(2), 233-250. https://doi.org/10.1080/02614360500504693.

Szinovacz, Maximiliane. 1998. “Grandparents today: A demographic profile.” The Gerontologist, 38, 37-52. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/38.1.37.

Taylor, Alan, and James Bates. 2014. “Activities that strengthen relational bonds between Latter-day Saint grandfathers and their adult grandchildren.” Journal of Religion, Spirituality and Aging, 26, 41-64. https://doi.org/10.1080/15528030.2013.796505.

Thiele, Dianne Michelle, and Thomas Anthony Whelan. 2008. “The relationship between grandparent satisfaction, meaning, and generativity.” International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 66, 21–48.

“2018 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) Data,” United States Census Bureau, 2018, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/sipp/data/datasets/2018-data/2018.html.

Waldrop, Deborah P., Joseph A. Weber, Shondel L. Herald, Julie Pruett, Kathy Cooper, and Kevin Juozapavicius. 1999. “Wisdom and life experience: How grandfathers mentor their grandchildren.” Journal of Aging and Identity, 4, 33–46.

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